Pets have come to be cherished family members in many households – and for good reason, because they provide us with plenty of joy and happiness. But sharing a roof with animals does come with its own set of rules, which is why some homeowners make special arrangements to ensure their pets feel right at home. Find out the ways you can go the extra mile for your pawed, winged and finned companions.
The Internet’s favourite animal is agile and versatile, giving its owners the most freedom to experiment with customised features at home. Cats feel just as comfortable on the ground as they are high up in trees, and they also love to hide and escape. Sam Chua, co-owner of Cat Cafe Neko no Niwa, tells us more about these curious creatures.
Scratching: Cats need and like to scratch, especially on textured and contrast surfaces like rattan chairs or sofa seams. Upholstery that is smooth to the touch, like cotton and satin, reduces the chances of this. It’s important to give them other avenues to scratch, like sisal-roped bedside tables or poles on each end of the sofa, and throughout the house – because just one spot is hardly enough!
Straying: A magnetic insect mesh is an easy way to prevent access to windows. Some meshes look opaque from low or high angles, tricking the curious cat into thinking there is nothing to explore. For open balconies, you can either use grilles (with widths no wider than your cat’s shoulders), or paste sticky tape or plastic bird spikes on ledges as well the areas leading to them.
Hiding: If you don’t want them hiding in hard-to-reach places, get a low sofa or a storage bed. However, you can still give cats a sense of security by creating safe spaces to hide in, such as behind the curtains or in teepees. Modular scratching boxes that allow cats to scratch and then hide in are great, too.
Dogs have been dubbed man’s best friend for their loyal and fun nature. Ethan Loke, founder of dog-training company Urban K9 and winner of reality TV contest Cesar’s Recruit: Asia, shares with us tips on how homeowner and designer can work together to create a dog-friendly space.
Flooring: Homeowners should avoid slippery or hard floors. “Smooth laminates and marble tiles may cause slippage while running, whereas too-hard floors might give medium- to large-sized canines elbow blisters. Padded floors are the best, but you can have a mix of smooth and cool floors, which dogs can cool down on, as well as large carpeted areas where they can be more comfortable,” says Ethan.
If you want flooring that looks and feels like solid wood, Arjan Twilhaar, principal designer of interior firm Aiden T, says commercial grade, scratch-proof vinyl flooring is a suitable option. Next, accessorise and protect these floors with natural and durable cotton or jute carpets, as suggested by Imran Mir from Lotto Carpets Gallery.
“A dog’s complex and sensitive sense of smell also means parents need to be discerning about the dyes used on the rugs. From my experience, natural vegetable dyes are far less likely to irritate our pets, reducing the chances of peeing and markings,” he adds.
Stains and dirt: Walking and playing in the park means dirty paws, and there is also the issue of drool stains – though only the brachycephalic breed, such as pugs and bulldogs, tend to drool heavily. Opt for easy-to-clean and washable furnishings and wall finishes, and train the dogs to pee and/or clean their paws before entering areas with soft furnishing, Ethan suggests. Sofa and bed throws are a good first line of defence.
“Minimise dirt and fur in a dog-specific area by keeping nooks to a minimum. If you’re grooming your dogs at home, it’s best not to have a shower screen as you need ample space to handle the pet,” says Arjan.
When accidents occur, speed is key. Imran suggests using cold water and a damp cloth or sponge to blot the area until it’s clear and dry. Do not rub. Large stains can be removed with professional help, such as with Lotto Carpets Gallery’s herbal washing programme.
Some rabbits are playful, others are shy and timid – ensure your personality fits theirs before adopting. According to Betty Tan, a volunteer at the House Rabbit Society of Singapore, rabbits are often mistaken as “easy” pets for young children. Rabbits are fragile, and need the care of a responsible adult to prevent mishandling. With proper TLC though, they can live up to 10 healthy years.
Chewing and biting: A rabbit’s teeth grow fast and long, hence its constant need to chew. Keep your shoes and wires hidden or off the ground, and keep your cables organised in plastic tubings or removable cord covers.
“You can make no-chew areas hard to access, especially in the initial stages of training. Cardboard houses or toys will also keep them occupied and away from furniture. A complete home or condominium for rabbits should include: A litter box, food bowls, chewable items such as natural willow branches or grass-based toys, as well as something to burrow and hide in,” says Betty.
Sore hocks: Rabbit feet can turn sore and red when they are always on floors that are too slippery, as they exert more force and pressure to balance themselves, or on wire cages that are abrasive to their feet. Being too heavy or having claws that grow too long can also affect the way they stand and walk, contributing to sore hocks.
“Wire cages or hard-flooring are not appropriate at all – after all, wild rabbits hop on soil, sand and grass. Apart from padded flooring or rugs that give them respite from unsuitable flooring, you can also allow them to be free-roaming (as long as you rabbit-proof your home) to expose them to different types of spaces and textures. This complex environment is mentally stimulating and enriching for them,” says Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of SPCA.
Hiding: Rabbits are prey animals and will feel safer when they are sheltered. Create little hideaways but ensure they are not too deep or far from your reach. Keep dangerous areas, such as the back of cupboards and refrigerators, covered. “Place play pens in non-sunny, well- ventilated areas away from heavy traffic and noise – using an aircon is a bonus,” says Betty.
Birds are often seen as animals that do not return affection the way cats and dogs do, but while birds are unable to sit on your lap or join you in bed, many bird owners will attest to other interesting ways they show their love. These winged creatures – be they budgies or cockatoos – are curious and intellectual, and owners can bond with them through hand-feeding, hand-training and playing music they can sing along to.
Biting and nipping: Birds that turn one year old usually start biting hard, whether out of fear when being grabbed or to explore the many uses of their beak. Females bite when they are in heat or about to lay eggs, too. Rule out concerns by observing and weighing them regularly.
Feather-plucking: Indoor birds who are isolated and lack social interaction may turn to plucking their own feathers, so keep your bird entertained by allowing it to frolic around the home (under supervision) or giving them toys such as mirrors and ladders to play with. However, feather mites may also be a cause of feather biting; bring your bird to a vet if it appears restless, is sneezing or has lost a lot of weight.
Space to fly: Providing ample space for your bird to stretch its wings is of the highest importance. “Your enclosure should be as large as possible, so the bird can express its natural behaviour – which is to fly. If you allow it to roam freely around the house, ensure your windows are secured and fans will not get in its way. Birds get lead poisoning easily, too, so check that what they peck at is safe,” says Dr Gill from SPCA.
Homeowners are no longer impressed by just a fish in a bowl. Aquascapes or planted tanks are common ways to spruce up a home, as well as create a natural environment for aquatic creatures. Roland Seah from Green Chapter, an aquarium company that also does green walls, shares with us some tips for maintaining a beautiful and healthy aquarium.
Fish-specific needs: To ensure the long life of both fish and plants, owners need to ensure the contents of their aquariums match the needs of the fish. For instance, small tetra fish, guppies, and shrimps are more suitable for plant aquariums than larger fish like arowanas; the former would not feed on the aquatic plants or cause disturbances in the environment, whereas the latter tend to dig holes and move wood. And as a rule of thumb, small fish appreciate dense plants to hide in.
“Owners also need to prevent fish from cross-infecting each other with diseases. Before placing new fish in an aquarium, quarantine them and disinfect the water to remove any bacteria. However, some fish have dormant viruses that will be activated when the fish is stressed,” says Roland.
Water care: “Take care of the water, and the water will take care of the living things in it. Once you have a specific knowledge of what you’re keeping, you’ll know what nutrients are needed, how cold the water should be, and how to detect problems with the water quality,” he says, adding that the presence of algae on wood and plants is a sign of a poorly kept aquarium.
Commitment: Tempted to recreate the flawless aquarium you saw on Pinterest? It might not be practical. “Many of these photos are competition submissions; if the owners are not able to practise daily and long-term maintenance, the aquariums will most likely deteriorate and be torn down. It’s best to have a stand-alone tank you can easily remove or work around,” says Roland.
The top of the tank should have a clearance of 60cm or more, or be equivalent to the depth of the tank so you can reach the bottom of the aquarium when cleaning.
Most tanks require chillers, which let out hot air and therefore need to be placed in a well-ventilated space. Storage for cleaning equipment and filtration systems need to be accounted for, too.