Home Repairs and Pet Safety

By Lynn Buzhardt, DVM

Pets make a house a home! As pet owners, we try to give them the safest, most inviting home possible. Often that entails renovating or repairing our current dwelling. Since working on a house is stressful for all those living in it, here are a few things to consider before you tackle your home improvement project.

What are some potential construction site problems?

Your usually busy house will be even busier during construction. The frenzy may present aggravations and dangers for you, your pet, and your construction crew. Anticipate these potential problems so you can be ready to deal with them.

  1. Worker Interference. Cats and dogs are curious. They can get underfoot while exploring a construction zone and interfere with the safety and efficiency of workers. Tripping over a cat while holding a nail gun is not good!
  2. Pet Escape. During construction, workers continuously go in and out of the house. Open doors and windows provide tempting escape routes for indoor pets.
  3. Construction Hazards. There are many hazards lying around a construction site. Exposed electrical wires, nails, screws, chemicals, paint, insulation, spackle, putty, saw dust, and ladders are a few of the dangers lurking about.
  4. Loud Noise. The whir of electrical tools and the bang of hammers can upset a cat or dog that is accustomed to a quiet house. Stressed pets can develop medical problems.
  5. Noxious Odors. Volatile organic compounds given off from paint, varnish, wood stripper, and glue can be offensive and cause illness. Pets, with their keener sense, are more sensitive to these odors, so if these odors bother you, they probably bother your pet even more.

How can I make my home safer for my pets during construction?

Now that you are aware of potential home remodeling problems, here are a few considerations to help prevent or deal with those issues.

Recognize the significance of your home to your pet. Your home is the center of your pet’s universe. He does not have an expanded world that includes work, gym, school, dining out, and so on. His world is anchored in your home; therefore, household changes can affect him more than they do you.

Find the right contractor. Find a contractor who agrees to work around pets. And remember that construction workers are not pet sitters. It is your responsibility to keep your pet is safe and secure while the workers work. Even pet loving builders will be annoyed by cats or dogs that roam the site, bark incessantly, or beg for lunch!

Create a safe work environment. Safety of both workers and pets is vital. A pet underfoot can precipitate work related accidents resulting in injury to the pet and/or the worker. And If a worker is bitten or scratched by your pet, there could be legal ramifications. Keep pets confined to a kennel or secure room and inform all workers about the presence of the pet and place a sign on the door that reads, “Do not open…Pet inside”. If home confinement is not a viable option, consider day boarding.

Take secondary precautions. Despite the best safety precautions, pets still escape. Make sure your pet is micro-chipped to facilitate his safe return. As added insurance, have your pet wear a collar with your name and phone number on it. If the person who finds your cat or dog lives in your neighborhood, you could have a quick reunion and your pet will be grateful to avoid a trip to the veterinarian or animal shelter to have his microchip read.

Introduce your pet to the construction site. Walk your pet through the construction zone to familiarize him with the sights and smells. Experiencing these new things in the secure presence of his owner may help him accept the changes more readily.

Make a daily survey of the construction site. Regularly inspect the work zone and remove any hazards. Elevate hanging electrical wires. Move all paint, chemicals, wood stripping agents, and varnishes out of your pet’s reach to avoid poisoning or gastrointestinal (GI) upset. Pick up loose nails and screws that can cause minor injuries if stepped on or serious problems if swallowed. Secure all scaffolding, ladders, and loose boards that could fall on your pet. Sweep up saw dust to avoid inhalant allergies or GI issues. Insulation, putty, and spackle can also cause GI upset or impaction so clean these up, too. Sweep up any paint chips scraped from walls or molding. Paint applied before 1978 may contain lead that can cause serious medical issues.

Know how to handle accidents. If your pet chews an electrical wire, seek emergency care immediately. Electrocution can be fatal. If your pet gets wet paint on his fur, remove it, but do not use paint thinner or mineral spirits. Use soap and warm water to remove water-based paint. Let oil-based paint dry and cut off the affected fur. Use an e-collar or cover the painted fur to make sure your pet cannot lick it while it dries. If your pet steps on a nail, put pressure on the injury to stop the bleeding and proceed to an emergency clinic. If your pet is injured by fallen boards or ladders, quickly assess physical injuries. If your pet is bleeding, seems disoriented or limps, seek medical care. Ingested nails, sawdust, spackle, putty, and insulation can all cause serious GI problems. If your pet drools excessively, vomits, strains to defecate, has bloody stool or just seems “off” call your veterinarian. Brush or wash any debris (insulation, sawdust) off your pet’s coat. If your pet eats chips of lead paint, call your veterinarian. Lead poisoning may cause muscle tremors and seizures.

Create a welcoming environment for your pet. Strange noises can upset your pet. Leave the TV or radio on and close the door to your pet’s room to muffle construction sounds. Make sure his room is well ventilated to reduce exposure to volatile organic compounds and leave an article of clothing that smells like you in his bed. Give your pet an interesting toy or food puzzle to entertain and distract him. Use a comforting pheromone spray to help calm him.

Maintain household stability. Even though your house may be chaotic, maintain your pet’s routine. Walk and feed him on schedule. Make sure he has his favorite toys. Keep his bedding and bedtime consistent even if the bed is not in the normal place. If you are a DIY remodeler, you will be really busy but try to find time to spend with your pet so he does not feel abandoned.

Call in reinforcements if needed. If keeping your pet at home during construction does not work out, ask for help. Perhaps your pet can stay at a neighbor’s house for a play day. Or maybe you could try day boarding, or if you’re office is pet friendly, take him to work! Get a work schedule from your contractor so you will know when the team will be on site so you can make appropriate preparations for your pet.

Be alert for behavioral or medical problems. If your pet responds to the household changes with changes of his own, react quickly. Some pets become agitated or aggressive. Some hide. Some act out with inappropriate eliminations. Some become destructive. If you note any changes in your pet’s demeanor, call your veterinarian. Changes in appetite, vomiting or diarrhea may be stress induced or could be the result of exposure to the hazards listed above. Call right away if your pet appears sick.


Home Sweet Home…Eventually

Every household member anxiously awaits the last hammer blow or last paintbrush stroke. Your home project will end sooner if your pet is not interfering with the construction team. And your pet will tolerate the construction process better if properly cared for on or off site. With a little preparation, you will all survive the construction process and your home will be “home sweeter home” in the end!

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