6 Gross Pet Problems (and How to Solve Them)

Feathered and furry family members are cute, but man, can they be pigs. These cleanup strategies should help.


Dirty Cage

Photo by Aaron Dyer

A daily wipe-down with a damp paper towel is the best way to clean droppings from a hamster, a rabbit, or another small animal. “Moisture keeps the droppings from turning to dust that can be inhaled,” says cleaning pro Donna Smallin Kuper. Be sure to dry it thoroughly afterward, as a cage with damp spots can quickly grow mold (also true for crates and kennels). For a deeper cleaning (at least once a week), mix drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water and scrub the entire surface with a nylon-bristle brush. Rinse with a handheld showerhead or a garden hose to reach the corners, says pet pro Charlotte Reed. Dry completely with a paper towel, or let sit in the sun for an hour.


Raunchy Pet Bed

Bathing your pooch at least once a month (if vet-approved) can keep doggie stench at bay. Wash the bed on the same day, so the dog doesn’t contaminate his clean sleeping spot. (A bed with a machine-washable shell and cushion is, obviously, easiest.) First vacuum the shell to remove as much fur as possible. Then toss both pieces in the washing machine and clean with laundry detergent plus four squirts of an odor eliminator, such as Zero Odor Laundry ($25 for three 16-ounce bottles, zeroodor.com).


Stinky Litter Box

Litter upkeep is cringe-worthy but crucial: Even small traces of pet waste can carry harmful viruses, bacteria, and parasites. (Plus, the odors!) At least once a day, scoop out any clumps. Do a full cleaning as needed or at least every few weeks: Dump all the old litter into a large trash bag, then scrub the pan and the lid with hot, soapy water using a nylon-bristle brush. Rinse with a hose or under the faucet of a utility sink; dry fully with a paper towel before refilling with two inches of fresh litter.


Grimy Toys and Food Bowls

A monthly cleaning will reduce dirt and bacteria buildup on toys. Most cloth toys can be machine-washed on a cold cycle; place them inside a pillowcase first. Chew toys (such as treat stuffers) that get gunky can typically go in the dishwasher. Toss food and water bowls into your daily dish-washing cycle; or rinse with hot, soapy water and dry thoroughly.


Fur-Covered Furniture and Rugs

A rubber squeegee is the best tool to get floor coverings clean. Rub it over a rug; the friction will push the hairs into easily disposable piles. On upholstered furniture, swap the squeegee for a damp rubber glove—the method is the same. To cut down on pileups in the first place, says Smallin Kuper, it’s helpful to brush cats and dogs regularly: a couple of times a week for long-haired pets and about once a week for short-haired ones.


Smell Urine But Can’t Find the Source?

A black light (sold at hardware stores) can illuminate the stain. Mark off the area and apply the solution for set-in stains in number 6 (below).


Stained Carpet

Tracked-in mud is easier to remove if you let it dry first, says cleaning pro Nancy Bock. Once it’s dry, brush off or vacuum up as much as you can, then treat the stain with laundry detergent, blotting with a damp paper towel. To eliminate a fresh urine stain, lay a stack of paper towels over the spot, then stand on top of it to soak up the liquid. Next, use a cotton cloth to apply a mixture of ¼ teaspoon dish soap and 1 cup warm water, says Smallin Kuper, then blot with a fresh paper towel; repeat until no color or smell remains. For older urine stains, apply an enzyme-based cleaner, which, Smallin Kuper explains, will break down the organic proteins.

The Pet Experts