Making your home safe and comfortable for both your pets and your children is top priority for any pet and person parent. Family life can be chaotic, so you need a clear strategy and the right equipment.
Whether the baby, dog or cat came first, here’s how to make sure everyone’s got the space they need to live happily under one roof.
Pet and child safety: the golden rule
You’ll have heard this before, but it’s worth re-stating:
Never, under any circumstances, leave pets and young children together unsupervised.
You might have a placid child, or a tolerant dog, but the fact is both can be unpredictable and things can go wrong in a flash. An overenthusiastic hug, a misinterpreted grab at a food bowl, an attempt to play ‘horsey’ - all of these things can and do lead to a bite, a scratch or an injured or nervous pet.
Most pet-child incidents are avoidable. You just need the right safety equipment and some very firm ground rules.
Ideally, have either the pet, child or both come with you if you need to leave a room.
Alternatively, for a brief trip to a nearby room, you can place either your pet or your child on opposite sides of a barrier like a safety gate or a playpen. You should still be within earshot.
This might sound arduous at first, but it’s a habit you quickly get used to. It means that every single interaction between your pet and child will be supervised.
Here's a typical busy family home. Can you spot all the potential dangers to children and pets?
Pet and baby-proofing equipment
There are some similarities between puppy-proofing and baby-proofing your home, but a lot of the hardware you use to do the job is actually pretty similar:
Cameras and monitors
Cat trees, wall-beds or shelves
Ok, the last two are mostly for cats and dogs, but for everything else you’ll have the choice of buying either baby or pet versions.
So is there really a difference between a pet gate and a baby gate? A puppy pen and a playpen?
Are baby gates and puppy gates the same?
Not quite. Baby gates, baby playpens and lots of other child-specific products should comply with BS safety standards which certify that they’re safe for young children.
For example, baby gates should meet BS EN 1930 which says they’re safe to use as a safety barriers for children under two.
There are no specific safety standards for the pet versions of things like playpens or baby gates. In fact, the only pet-specific BS standard we found was for dog muzzles.
That doesn’t automatically mean dog gates and pet playpens are unsafe, but it does mean that you shouldn’t use them for your children, unless they meet the relevant BS standards. The latches might not be childproof and they could have gaps that allow clothing to catch or heads and limbs to get stuck.
If you need safety equipment like gates and pens for both pets and children, there’s a simple and cost-effective solution: buy the baby version. It’ll be safe for your toddler and your dog.
If you’ve previously puppy-proofed your home with pet-only gates and playpens and now have a baby starting to crawl, the bottom line is you’re going to have to do some shopping.
Now let’s look at how to use all this equipment to make your home safe for pets and children.
Stair gates are probably the number one piece of safety equipment for a multi-pet-child home. They’re invaluable for separating dogs, cats and small children.
Get a few if you can - here are some ways you can use them to create gated zones in your home:
Gate at the top of the stairs to prevent children falling down
Gate at the bottom of stairs to keep muddy dogs out of bedrooms
Gate with a cat-sized gap at floor level so your cat can access an area but your dog and child can’t
Gates across doorways to create dog-free rooms for children to play in
Gates across doorways and openings to separate pets while they’re eating – particularly useful if one eats faster than the other
Safety gates can be pressure mounted or permanently screwed to walls. A word of advice: if you think they’re going to be a long-term fixture for the dog after the child outgrows them, go for ones that screw to the walls.
I’ve been routinely re-tightening pressure-fit ones for the last few years before finally giving in, now my children are old enough to open the gate themselves, and fitting a screw-to-the-wall barrier at the bottom of the stairs to keep wet, sandy dogs in the kitchen.
Best safety gates for pets and children
BabyDan Elin Safety Gate – BabyDan is probably the best known child home safety product manufacturer. They have a number of dog-specific gates and barriers that also meet child safety standards, but what we particularly like about this wooden stair gate is its versatility. It's wall mounted, safe to fit to the top of stairs and adjustable to the size of your stairs or doorway.
It’s a great option for keeping the dogs downstairs long after your kids have outgrown it because it also has a smart, Scandi-style aesthetic. Because of that, we think it’s a top option for long-term use.
Dog G8 – The Dog G8 is an ingenious option if you’re adding a dog or puppy to your family and your children are past the crawling and toddling phase. It’s not rated as a child barrier, so don’t use it for that. But using the various extensions and ad-ons, the G8 can keep a new pup safe by fencing off doorways to stop them pinching food in the kitchen or chewing up kids toys in the lounge.
It’s also designed to attach to the front door and open with it, which could prevent an opportunistic escape incident if your new furry family member – dog or house cat – is likely to make a dash for the door.
You can use playpens to create zones in the same way as safety gates, but with a bit more flexibility over where to put them. Large dog playpens can be used as a sort of giant dog crate for puppies and dogs that can be destructive if they have free range of the house.
Some can even be opened out and fixed to walls to create room dividers, which is handy in open-plan living spaces. Using a dog pen when you leave the house can also avoid over-exuberant greetings sending hapless toddlers flying down the hallway like bowling pins.
Playpens really come into their own for dividing up kids from dogs, dogs from cats, or dogs from other dogs during meal time.
Handy tip: when your baby starts on solid food, put their high chair inside a playpen while you feed them. It’ll stop your dog from getting into bad habits of scrounging and stealing food from toddlers. Although I have heard that a hungry Labrador is the most effective floor cleaner you can get for the weaning process.
Best playpens for pets and children
Dreambaby Royale Converta – We like this sturdy metal playpen because it looks like it’ll prove useful long after your children outgrow it. At 74cm tall it’ll contain dogs up to medium size and you can fix it to the walls as a room divider, letting you use it for baby, puppy and your adult dog in a variety of ways.
Safetots Deluxe Fabric Pet Playpen – This interesting travel pet pen is rated for child safety but marketed for dogs. You can use it outdoors so we can see it serving multiple purposes on family picnics, days out and camping trips.
There are a variety of locks you can get for your kitchen cabinet to keep toddlers from emptying out the contents and dogs helping themselves to snacks.
It’s especially important if you’re storing every toddler’s favourite snack – raisins. These dried fruit can be really toxic to dogs. In 2021, just over a third of all pet insurance poisoning claims we dealt with in dogs were caused by raisins and grapes.
Best cupboard locks for pets and children
BabyGo Magnetic Child Safety Locks – The big selling point of these magnetic locks is that they fit to the inside of your cabinets. That means an inquisitive dog won’t be able to chew or scrabble at them in pursuit of extra treats. They’re also quick and easy to install with 3M adhesive pads.
Cameras and monitors
Video baby monitors are the norm for babies these days - but rather than spending twice, consider a system that you can use for your pets as well.
A video monitor with wi-fi will let you check your dog isn’t showing signs of separation anxiety while you’re out. Cat owners can find them useful as well – it’s reassuring to be able to check your cat’s coming and going while you’re away, even if you have a pet sitter or neighbour popping in.
Best monitors for pets and children
Kamibaby and Mini - The Kamibaby is Yi Technlogy’s infant-specific home camera with all the baby-friendly features you’d expect like cry detection. But handily, you can add other home cameras to the same app, like the Mini, which can give you a lot more versatility over the years for monitoring your pets, children and home in one place.
Cat trees, wall-beds or shelves
Cats can find the arrival of a baby a bit of an upheaval. When baby starts to move around, they’ll appreciate some out-of-reach perches around the house.
If you have a multi-pet household where some of your cats and dogs would rather not cross paths, try positioning cat trees, raised beds and shelves in hallways and ‘pinch points’. It can really help break the tension and make your pets more relaxed by creating conflict-free passing points.
Best cat trees and shelves
Omlet Freestyle – What we love about this modular cat tree system is that it recognises that not all homes and families are the same. You can build it just how you need to make sure your feline family members have vantage points, while discouraging adventurous toddlers from trying to join them on their perch.
Home-made cat shelves - If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t after having a baby) then you could follow these instructions from Hills Pet Food to make your own cat shelves. Try creating a few as steps to help aging felines hop over safety gates and access areas that are off limits to toddlers and dogs. Or stagger them up a flight of stairs to create a passing place for multi-pet households.
If your baby ate dog food, firstly, you are not alone.
But a microchip feeder could help avoid a repeat of this unsettling scenario if gates and playpens aren’t an option.
The feeder will open only for your pet, so your baby won’t be able to access the food. It’s a very useful safety device, particularly if you feed your pets raw food, which can pose health risks to babies.
Best microchip feeders
Sureflap Microchip Feeder – Sureflap’s Microchip feeder is the only one on the UK market, but it’s an excellent choice for multi-pet-child households. As well as stopping different species eating each other’s dinners, it’s extremely useful when you have one pet on daily medication and can’t risk any swopping over mid-meal.