Getting home from work at the end of a long day is one of the best feelings in the world. You park the car, get out and unlock the front door, absently jingling your keys while you think about what to have for supper.
But as soon as you open the door, the odor wafting out from your pet’s litter or bedding smacks you in the face and drives all thoughts of food from your head. You just cleaned that box this morning, so what gives?
The truth is, just scooping through the litter or shavings isn’t enough to help keep things odor-free. Whether you have a pet who uses litter or one who resides in an enclosure with shavings, you’re going to have to go a bit further to maintain cleanliness — which not only keeps the smell at bay but is also much safer and healthier for your pets.
Most homes with cats have at least 1 litter box, and often more. These boxes can generate a very unpleasant odor quickly if not properly cared for, and just scooping once a day usually won’t do the trick.
In The Cat Lover’s Survival Guide: Helpful Hints for Solving Your Most Pesky Pet Problems, Karen Commings says:“To cut down on litter box odor, use scented litter. If your cats object to a perfume-smelling litter box, sprinkle some baking soda into your cat’s box instead.”
Commings goes on to outline some other ways to reduce odor:
- Clean the litter box monthly with sudsy water, then follow with a vinegar rinse or odor neutralizer.
- Use a covered litter box with a charcoal filter in the top.
- If you can find one, use a box that is not plastic — plastic tends to retain odors.
Another way to reduce odor is simply scooping properly. Make sure you’re getting down into the corners, where build-up tends to happen. Use the scoop to turn over the litter and scrape the sides and bottom of the box. Lastly, ensure you are scooping frequently enough. Ideally, it should be done 1–2 times a day.
Rodents, rabbits and ferrets all have cages or enclosures where they spend most of their time — and eliminate. Many small animals are fastidious about their housekeeping habits, but they’re still going to need your help to keep their enclosures waste and odor-free.
“Features of optimal enclosures are slide-out or easy-to-remove bottoms for ease of cleaning [and] bottoms with high sides to contain bedding [helping minimize shavings and other material from being flung from the enclosure],” say Katherine Quesenberry and James W. Carpenter in Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents E-Book: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. “Frequent cleaning of the cage is critical … Failure to clean the cage results in the buildup of ammonia and contributes to stress and illness.” Failure to properly clean the enclosure will also result in a strong odor.
Remove and discard any waste or soiled shavings daily. Once a week, inspect and clean the enclosure thoroughly, including corners, food and water dishes, toys or exercise equipment, bedding and hideaways, with a nontoxic cleanser — and dry thoroughly before adding new shavings.
“[You’ll want] to notice the odor of the bedding,” say Quesenberry and Carpenter. “Anything other than the scent of clean litter indicates that the cage should be cleaned.”
Check out this tutorial on thoroughly cleaning a crested gecko’s habitat:
Reptiles — think turtles, lizards and snakes — have different needs when it comes to cleaning and odor maintenance. Reptiles are susceptible to skin and bacterial infections, so a clean enclosure is critical to their health as well as good odor maintenance.
Note that reptiles can carry salmonella in their waste, so it’s important to designate cleaning tools solely for their enclosures and accessories, and to maintain scrupulous hand-washing habits. If possible, wash reptile equipment outdoors. Designate cleaning areas and sanitize them once you’re done.
With reptiles, remove waste as soon as it is noted or at least once daily. Inspect all areas of their enclosures for waste or for any signs that anything is amiss. “Organic waste should be removed from the enclosure immediately,” advise Mark Mitchell and Thomas N. Tully in the Manual of Exotic Pet Practice: E-Book. “Any surface that comes into contact with the organic waste must also be cleaned and disinfected.”
Different reptiles have vastly differing needs when it comes to enclosure cleaning frequency. Before you bring your reptile home, be sure you’ve researched their specific needs thoroughly. Anywhere from once a week to every few months, depending on the species, you’ll need to completely empty their enclosure. Discard and replace substrate or bedding, frayed or damaged toys, and wash, disinfect and dry their enclosure.
Bad odors indicate that it’s time for a deep clean of their environment and possibly illness. So before placing your reptile back into the enclosure, be sure it is sterile, as well as any material you’ll be placing into it, to ensure your pet’s continued health.
Whether we’re talking litter boxes, enclosures or cages, there is 1 running theme: cleanliness. Quite simply, keep your pet’s elimination areas and environments properly clean, and you should notice very little odor. If you do notice a pungent odor and your pet’s areas are unquestionably clean, consult a veterinarian to make sure your pet is not ill.