With spring cleaning upon us, I've decided it's not only time to do the deep-cleaning the floors, carpet, and surfaces deserve right this moment, but it's time to use this celebration of sanitization to kickstart myself into better cleaning habits all year round, for myself, and my pets.
From cat trees to recirculating water fountains and beyond, Dr. J and I discuss a lot of the pet-related cleaning that we should be doing with some frequency, that many of us (myself very much included) probably aren't.
I've got some friends who seem as though they glide on a Swiffer through life with glee. I've always wished I enjoyed cleaning, but the reality is, I'm not even the person who can tell you where most of the cleaning products in my household are.
Recording this episode was a real wake up call for me to get my tush in gear and do right by my dog and cat by providing them with a cleaner, and therefore healthier, environment.
Here are just some of the pet-related things you should probably be cleaning more often than you are.
Your Pets Themselves
Prior to working at Preventive Vet, I bathed my dog, Marshall Jolie-Pitt, about once a month, because I was concerned about stripping away too much of the body oils he needs for healthy skin. And while Dr. J would caution against using anything like dish soap, which is ok for using on animal victims of oil spills, but not for normal use, more frequent bathing of our animals using proper pet-friendly shampoos is ok, and even recommended, when it comes to animals like Marshall who love to roll in the grass while also suffering from severe grass allergies.
Check out our podcast episode Resting Itch Face to learn more about how to help dogs and cats with allergies.
And don't forget to always check the ingredients list of the products you purchase. It may surprise you to know that some human shampoos and soaps include xylitol, which is absolutely toxic to dogs.
Harnesses and Collars
Harnesses and collars, and even leashes, can get wet and/or dirty, grow bacteria and yeast, and cause local irritation and even cause skin infections if not cleaned — and dried — properly. And if your dog or cat has environmental allergies, their harnesses and collars are absorbing those allergens and it becomes even more important to clean more frequently.
Depending on how active your pet is, how sensitive their skin is, depending on how often you let them in the water with their collars and harnesses on, you may have to wash their accessories once a month, or depending on how their skin is reacting, even more frequently.
And again, it's incredibly important to make sure they have dried properly before putting them back on your pet, otherwise it creates the perfect damp breeding ground for bacteria and yeast to build up and create more problems.
Your Pet's Toys
It may not be doable for all of your dog and cat toys, but there are plenty around the house that can be thrown in with the laundry and dryer, or in the dishwasher. It's especially important for things like interactive toys and feeders.
And if you're anything like me, and especially if you are someone getting a subscription service like Barkbox, chances are really good that you have way too many toys to even know what to do with. Every so often, you and your animals may want to check in and channel your inner Marie Kondo to ask whether or not the toys are bringing joy.
If they've never been used, it would be a really sweet idea to donate the toys to a local shelter or rescue. Same thing goes for clothing, beds, and blankets. Just make sure to wash them ahead of time.
Much like your smoke and carbon dioxide alarms need to have their batteries replaced and tested every six months to a year, it's important to also clean and replace the filters in your air conditioning and heating units.
This is important no matter what, but is especially important for cats and dogs with existing respiratory issues, like kitty asthma, or brachycephalic pets (flat-faced like Marshall the Frenchie, and Mazel the exotic shorthair).
As an added bonus, this will help your own respiratory system, and will help keep your HVAC unit running smoothly. Everyone is a big winner!
Cat Trees and Scratch Pads
As soon as I get home today*, I'll be taking some time to clean Mazel's cat trees really well. For some reason, it never really occurred to me to do this, besides maybe rubbing my hand over the area he usually lays to take some hair off.
Instead, I'll be following the directions from this article from the Kitty Wire and using a scrub brush, comb, vacuum, and hydrogen peroxide to disinfect. The article also has some tips for cleaning stains from your cat tree.
*Update: Literally the second I wrote this, my wife texted me that she did a deep clean of one of Mazel's cat trees and the results are embarrassing for me, but also shows why it's so important.
I could make myself an Einstein wig out of all that cat hair, and I'm sure there's plenty more to be found elsewhere.
If you live in a house with electric wall heaters like I do, it is recommended to clean them every six months regardless of your pet situation, but I'm here to tell you, these should really be cleaned more often when you've got pets, not just for the air quality, but also to avoid fire hazards.
Pet Beds and Blankets
Thankfully, a lot of beds these days come with a removable cover that can be thrown directly in the wash along with blankets. But another way to clean these items, especially while you're already cleaning the rest of your space, is to use the vacuum cleaner on them to pick up debris, and use one of the accessories to brush off and suck up hair and dander.
An ideal frequency for washing pet beds will depend on the animal's overall cleanliness, but monthly is a good place to start. Dr. J and I both need to start setting monthly reminders.
Food and Water Bowls
Food and water bowls should really be cleaned daily, especially food bowls, but water bowls as well. If possible, have multiple bowls to rotate through while others are waiting to be washed.
The type of material your pets' food and water bowls are made of is probably more important than you think. Stainless steel is the best option for keeping things sanitary and preventing bacteria while plastic is the worst choice.
What and how you're feeding your pets also makes a big difference. One of the reasons Dr. J is very much against free-feeding (topping off bowls as needed), is because those bowls likely don't get washed regularly, and are likely harboring a lot of germs, bacteria, and even forage mites in the kibble.
And speaking of water bowls, the recirculating water fountains get so gross, so quickly, even with their filters. You have to be sure to not only replace the filter regularly, but you also need to disassemble the entire unit to clean inside the motor. I actually bought special cleaning tools specifically for this de-gunking process because it was too difficult to get to all of the nooks and crannies without them. The ones I use are below.
I'd also love to hear if you've got a water fountain you really love that is easy to keep clean. Drop us an email or post in the comments!
Litter boxes should really be scooped daily, and possibly multiple times a day. Urethral Obstruction is such a devastating condition, especially in male cats, we want to be doing everything we can to ensure our cats are happy to use their litter boxes.
And by that same token, a lot of people don't realize that most of the litter boxes being sold on the market are actually too small for cats, which can also make them less likely to use them properly over time. Learn how to choose the best litter boxes for your cat.
You should also be changing out your litter weekly, and doing a full clean out, wash and dry of the litter box as a whole on at least a monthly basis. Even if you have a self-scooping litter box, there are parts that will need to be sanitized every so often.
Remember that Eco-Friendly Does NOT Mean Pet-Friendly
While we're on the topic of cleaning, it's important to be aware that just because a product says it is environmentally-friendly, plant-based, or organic, it does not mean they are actually safe for your pets. In fact, some of them actually say "pet safe", and as Dr. J said, this is a complete misnomer.
Essential oils might be great for you and help the air in your home smell nice, but some of them are actually toxic for your pets, especially cats.
A Fun DIY Earth Day Project for Your and Your Pets
While you're rounding up the clothes that no longer bring you joy (or, in my case, that no longer fit you), make a pile of the most comfortable disposables to create a bed for your pet that will smell like you and give them a cozy place to relax while you're gone. This is an especially great DIY project for anyone with a dog or cat who seems particularly anxious when you're not with them.
Here's the Molly Mutt dog bed the PV team put together. It's actually so comfy, a few of us humans have taken naps on it.
Thanks again for reading and listening. Have a story to share with us? We'd love to hear from you!