Once the noise is over, animals generally adapt to home improvements. If their humans are happy with the change, so much the better.
Unless you’ve changed the floors. Then, as Ricky Ricardo would say, you’ve got some splainin’ to do.
Here’s an example: A friend’s cat developed raw bald spots from over-grooming and retreated to a back bedroom instead of snuggling or playing the way she usually did. As it turned out, my friend and her husband had just replaced most of their flooring.
Flooring changes can be traumatic because cats and dogs navigate the world through their feet in a way we do not. Your cat or dog knows your carpet, tile, or hardwood intimately — its contours, textures, smells, and squeaks — and has left his scent with his paws. He knows how to walk on it so his feet don’t skid.
So when you rip out that carpet with years’ worth of daily debris, you’re removing part of what he knows as home. Whatever you replace it with might look and feel tons better to you, but to him it’s strange, smelly, maybe even hazardous.
Some distant Reiki, reassurance, and one-on-one time soon had my friend’s feline purring and playing again, and her fur growing back. But what if we could make these projects easier on our pets from the start?
This was on my mind last winter when my spouse and I swapped out carpet and linoleum for vinyl planking on most of the main floor. The planks were delivered ahead of time, so our dog and two cats had a chance to check the new stuff out. A day or two before the install, I told them the carpet and linoleum would be going away and the planks would go down in their place. As I spoke, I pictured the new look and texture, and how much happier the overall feel of the house would be. (A happier atmosphere, with happier humans, is a strong selling point.)
Our animals know and love Sam, the remodeler we work with, as well as his crew. So I pictured them when I told the animals who would be coming in to do the work. During this time, the cats would be kept in an upstairs room with water, litter box, and a view of the front of the house so they could monitor all comings and goings. I let the dog know she’d be allowed to say hello to the guys, and then she and I would keep out of the way in my home office behind a baby gate. I told all three there would be some noise and strange smells, but they would be safe.
During the two-and-a-half-day install, there were a few meows of protest from behind the closed door. The dog got tired of the confinement but refrained (mostly) from barking. As soon as the crew left for the day, I let everyone out to inspect what had been done so far. While they did so, I pictured all the furniture back where it was on the new floor, and them getting used to the new surface under their paws. Even when fully informed, animals are skeptical about change — but they went with it.
Once the work was done and everything back in place, they walked gingerly, especially in the rooms that previously had carpet and therefore better traction. Within a day or two, our older cat acted as if nothing had changed, and what were the other two edgy about? The younger cat soon discovered that skidding around corners just added to the fun of thundering through the house. For about a week, the dog stayed on area rugs as much as possible to avoid the new surface. Gradually, she figured out how to sit, lie down, and stand up on it without her feet skidding out from under her.
Still: no loss of hair, no behavior changes, and no pee-mail. The new floor did in fact improve the energy of the house. I call that a win.
If you plan on making changes to your flooring or floor covering, here are a few quick tips to help all family members keep their feet on the ground:
1. Buy the good stuff
It’s worth doing this right. Invest in eco-friendly, pet-friendly materials that wear well and clean up easily. Get information from unbiased sources (Consumer Reports is a time-tested one) and work with a contractor you trust.
2. Brief the troops
Using words and mental pictures, tell the animals what will change in which area(s) of the house, where they will be while the work is being done, about how long it will take, and that there may be some noise and new smells. If you have the new material or even a sample, let them sniff it. Hold a positive picture in mind of how much nicer the house will feel once it’s done, and assure them you will keep them safe. You may still face some resistance just on principle, but keeping them informed eases the overall process.
3. Create a safe space
Animals should be kept where they will not be in the way, get hurt, or get outside, and they should have access to water, a litter box, and maybe a blanket or favorite toy. I try to sequester the cats before the crew arrives and resist the temptation to open the door even a sliver to check on them. Paws can get injured in doors, and entire kitty bodies can slither through and be someplace they shouldn’t in the blink of a well-intentioned eye. For dogs, baby gates generally work better, as they don’t feel as shut off. Offer reassurance along the way.
Animals absorb and understand far more than we think, so it’s important to keep your own energy calm and positive — even as you’re corralling them for the day’s work. Progress of any sort can be messy, but you and your animal friends can help one another through it.