Pets and a Clean House: Can They Coexist?

Of course you love Fido and Fifi, but is it possible to keep pets, and keep a house clean too?

From the WebMD Archives

Fur. Dander. Litterboxes. “Accidents.” Let’s face it, having pets in the family can add a lot to your list come cleaning time. But keeping a clean house with pets is not impossible -- it just requires some extra work. So, what do you need to know to keep a clean house with pets?

Pets and a Clean House: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The biggest cleanliness challenge for many pet owners: hair. While there are no breeds that don’t shed at all, some -- like Labradoodles, Bichon Frises, and Schnauzers -- shed very little. Others shed considerably more. “Double-coated” breeds of dog, such as Akitas and Siberian Huskies, shed their soft undercoats twice a year, in a process that can leave furballs the size of tumbleweeds on your floor.

When keeping a house clean with pets, everyone has their own preferences for scooping up hair: Swiffers, hand-held vacuums, dustpans. But you can minimize how much cleaning up you have to do if you start with proper grooming.

“Brushing your dog or cat regularly will decrease the amount of hair in the air and on the floor,” says Nancy Katz, DVM, a veterinarian in Montclair, N.J. “Ideally, you should brush your pet a few times a week, just a quick brushing to get the coat out. If you collect it on the brush, it’s not on the floor.”

Brushing a cat regularly can also decrease their health problems related to hair, such as constipation and hairballs -- something that will also keep your house significantly cleaner.

Brush your pet outside, if possible, so there’s no need to sweep up after your grooming, and select the right tools for the breed you have. Katz swears by a brand known as the “Furminator,” but advises checking with your own groomer or vet to see what best suits your pet.

What about bathing? Cats will clean themselves, unless they are ill or elderly. Most dogs should not be bathed more than once a month, unless they’ve been rolling in dirt, because too-frequent bathing can dry out the natural oils in their skin.

Particularly if you have pets that shed frequently, such as double-coated dogs or long-hair cats like Persians, it’s important to check your air filters. How often? It depends on how many pets you have and how much they shed.

“At my office, we obviously need to change our filters more often because we have a lot of animals coming through, and we do grooming,” says Katz. “Check your filters every two to four weeks and determine how much stress you’re putting on them; that should let you know how often they need to be changed. If you keep them clean, the less work your heating and cooling system has to do, so you can save money as well.”

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Pets and a Clean House: Bathroom Habits

Most dogs, if properly trained, do their business outside; you’ll need to carry disposal bags with you on your walks to keep your neighborhood clean, but you shouldn’t have to be constantly cleaning up your pooch’s messes indoors. If you are, it’s time to consult with a dog trainer to work on Fido’s housebreaking, or possibly a vet to check for medical conditions.

Cats, on the other hand, usually have their bathrooms indoors, in the form of a litter box. This small plastic rectangle can be the scourge of anyone trying to keep a house clean with pets. How do you keep it from turning your home into a toxic waste site?

The answer is simple: don’t skimp on cleaning. “Your litter box cannot be too clean,” says Katz. For a home with two cats and one litter box, for example, she recommends scooping the box at minimum twice a day, and changing it completely about every 10 days. That means after the litter is dumped, filling the box with water, a bleach solution, and a sudsy dishwashing detergent like Dawn, and giving it a good scrub before refilling.

“Don’t clean with an ammonia product, because that mimics the smell of cat urine,” she says. If you have more cats, or cats with medical conditions, you’ll need to clean more often and perhaps have more litter boxes.

It’s also advisable to buy a new litter box about once a year. “When cats scratch a litter box, they create divots in the plastic, and that porous material can absorb the stool sitting on top,” says Katz.

General Cleanliness to Keep Your House Clean With Pets

Some pets -- cats in particular -- tend to walk on surfaces that also sometimes have food on them. (What cat owner hasn’t caught Fluffy on the kitchen counter?) Whether you permit the cat on the counter or constantly battle him to stay off, it’s a good bet that paws that have touched litter will also periodically touch your food preparation surfaces. Even if you don’t see little sand tracks, your cat could be spreading organisms like toxoplasmosis right in the path of tonight’s dinner.

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“Always wipe your counters down with a cleansing wipe, or paper towel and cleaning solution, before and after you put food on the counter,” advises Donna Duberg, MS, an assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at St. Louis University in Missouri. “Keep things like cutting boards and cutting knives, and other food preparation tools, inside cupboards or drawers.”

Cats and dogs can also develop intestinal parasites that can spread to people -- especially children, with more vulnerable immune systems -- so keeping your house clean with pets also means keeping them free of these critters. Regular use of medications like Interceptor, which prevents parasites like heartworm, hookworm and roundworm, and Frontline, which combats fleas, protects not only your pets but your human family as well.

Of course, cats and dogs aren’t the only pets people keep. Reptiles and amphibians are also popular pets. While they don’t expel fur or climb on the counter unless you put them there, these animals can be carriers of viruses like salmonella and shigella. To avoid spreading them, wipe down cages and habitats daily and clean once a week, wearing gloves. Don’t wash habitats in the kitchen sink, says Duberg. If you have a laundry sink, use that; if not, try the bathtub.

Finally, keep pet food supplies in covered containers -- left open, they can attract rodents and other pests.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 08, 2009

Sources

SOURCES:

Nancy Katz, DVM, Montclair, NJ.

Donna Duberg, MA, MS, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science, Saint Louis University, Missouri.

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