Pet-Friendly Cleaning For Your Household
By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
We always want a clean home, but when cleaning a household with pets it is important to include our pets in our thought-process when tackling these chores! Keeping our furry friends in mind is important year-round when it comes to cleaning; both because their areas and items need the same thorough cleaning as our personal areas and items do, but also because our normal cleaning supplies can contain ingredients that are toxic to our pets and their use and/or improper storage can unknowingly put our pets in serious danger. There are several different things that should be taken into consideration when cleaning and considering what products to use to ensure things are as safe as possible for our pets. The Poison Control Center receives a large number of calls throughout the year due to pets becoming ill due to ingestion of household cleaners, so it is important to avoid using any products that may be harmful to your pet or ensure that they do not have contact with these products if you are going to use them. Also, remember that even though we may do a big “Spring Cleaning” for our entire house, it is important to thoroughly clean our pet’s bowls, toys, blankets/beds, and litter boxes at least once a week all year long.
All pets, even those that we consider to be more hypoallergenic, shed dander or skin cells all the time and so it is important to regularly vacuum or steam clean (with hot water only) the entire area where your pet has access. The favorite spots of your pet, whether it is their cozy bed or a window seat that has the best view of the action outside, will be more heavily contaminated with dead skin cells or dander and all the other debris your pet may track in from outside. I recommend vacuuming or steam cleaning these areas several times a week to decrease the build-up of this dirt and also help eliminate any potential triggers of allergies in both you and your pet. It is not recommended to use a carpet powder or deodorizer since they can be irritating to your pet’s respiratory tract and even cause contact allergies. Any item that is labeled as deodorizing and/or disinfecting often contains cationic detergents which can cause serious harm to your pets, so be sure to check all your labels!
It is also important to wash all the items your pet is in contact with, including fabric (blankets, rugs, etc.), food and water bowls, toys, and the litter box, at least weekly. When you need to wash your pet’s favorite beds, blankets or cloth toys, it is best to use a hypoallergenic, non-scented laundry detergent and wash the items on the warm/hot setting, and do an extra rinse after washing with detergent just to be sure to get all of the detergent out so it does not irritate your pet’s skin.
When washing your pet’s food and water bowls and any dishwasher-safe toys, it is best to hand-wash them in Dawn dishwashing detergent prior to placing them in the dishwasher. I recommend using the heavy-duty setting, using hot water and your normal dishwashing detergent, and then repeating the cycle with no detergent so the warm water can act as a rinse for any potential residue. I always recommend using stainless steel bowls for your pet’s food and water and not plastic bowls due to the fact that plastic has the potential to cause contact allergies resulting in “chin acne” in your pets. Keep this in mind if it is time to get new bowls or if you ever notice that the area around your pets face tends to get red or develop bumps.
You should scoop your litter box several times a day and clean and totally change out the litter once a week to avoid having a cat that starts to have litter-box issues and develops inappropriate urination habits. Since this is the number one reason that cats are taken to the shelter, it is very important to stay on top of keeping your kitty’s litter box clean. When cleaning the litter box, you can follow the same routine as you did with the food and water bowls, but add one additional step at the start of the process. After you have emptied all the litter out of the box, before starting the process of hand-washing with Dawn, it is best to scrub out the litter box with diluted bleach at a 1:32 dilution of bleach to water. You always want to make sure that you are correctly diluting the bleach and that is not expired so that it still has its disinfecting properties. Most people are not aware that bleach must be diluted in order to work as a disinfected or that it expires. However, while expired bleach will still get your whites white, it does expire as a cleaning agent within one month of opening the bottle or by the expiration date on an unopened bottle. It is also important to use regular bleach and not the “Ultra Clorox” form, which is much more corrosive and dangerous, or the “Color-Safe” form, which releases hydrogen peroxide when mixed with water. You want to rinse the litter box with fresh water after scrubbing it with bleach and then follow the same steps starting with the Dawn dish detergent and finishing with a plain hot water rinse in the dishwasher to be sure your pet is not exposed to the bleach itself or the fumes. Again, this cleaning process should be done weekly with litter boxes and the litter box itself is best to be replaced every three months, so if you have not replaced it lately “Spring Cleaning” is a great time to do this!
When cleaning the rest of your house or storing your cleaning agents, it is important to make sure your pets do not have contact with these agents and are not around the area while you are cleaning or directly after you finish since they can be toxic. Cats are more sensitive than dogs to household cleaners, but exotics are the most sensitive (especially birds, which can immediately perish due to the fumes of some cleaners and Teflon products). Most household cleaners are designed to be surface cleaners that allow you to clean your countertops and feel good about cooking in your kitchen or tidying up the bathroom. Most of these cleaners are a mixture of water, alcohol, and some fragrance which are not as dangerous to pets as the more heavy-duty cleaners. It is best to pet-proof your household cleaners and use them with the same caution you would if you were dealing with your infant or toddler. Another good way to stay informed about the danger level of a cleaner is to read the label and see if it says “caution” versus “danger”. If it says “danger” that generally indicates that it contains a very corrosive agent which will pose much more harm to your pet. That is the big difference in the two bleaches mentioned previously – the Ultra Clorox is much more concentrated, meaning much more corrosive and dangerous. It is very much overkill to use this form of bleach when cleaning inside, but the bottles are often side-by-side in the store so it is easy to grab the wrong one.
There are many other household cleaning products other than bleach that are dangerous to your pet, either due to being corrosive or caustic, too acidic or alkaline, being cationic, or containing alcohols. Again, it is important to read the labels on all your products and avoid products that mention these properties or anything that has Sodium Hypochlorite or Quaternary Ammonium Compounds and anything that ends with “phenols” or “phenolics”. Some common products that are dangerous to our pets include machine dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, toilet bowl tank drop-ins, toilet bowl cleaner, anti-rust compounds, pool sanitizer and cleaning agents, drain openers, radiator cleaning agents, and liquid fabric softeners. These items are toxic enough that they can cause damage to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system if your pet is exposed to them through touch or inhalation of the fumes and if swallowed or licked cause serious, often fatal, internal damage. If your pet is exposed to any of these toxic items, seek immediate veterinary care. It is important to keep in mind, just because things appear to be fine at the time and you do not see any clinical signs, does not mean that there is not damage occurring that just is not visible yet and the key to treatment when it comes to exposure to poisons in pets is getting them immediate care.