· 6 min read
The Bark Side: Keeping Your Pet Healthy at Home
Let me introduce Kathy Burkett and her 5-year-old daughter, Cara; her husband, Brian; and their 13-and-a-half-year-old pit bull mix rescue dog, Maya, who is a beloved family member.
No question—dogs, cats, goats, hamsters, rabbits, horses and all pets are our best friends. But we’re also theirs. Our responsibility as good pet owners is to keep Billy the goat and Theo the cat safe, germ-free and out of harm’s way.
There is nothing like the feeling of walking in your house and being greeted by your dog. They love you unconditionally, and especially during difficult times, they offer you emotional stability. You love them, and they give that love back to you in wonderful ways.
Burkett, a microbiologist for NSF, knows that both personally and professionally. So as pioneers in a rapidly growing trend, the family adopted Maya when she was 11 weeks old. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, one in five households acquired a new dog or cat during the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond simply bringing joy and amusement to families like Kathy’s, pets can boost our mood and health. Having a pet can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol and feelings of isolation, and they inspire you to be active and get outside.
“There’s nothing like the feeling of walking in your house and being greeted by your dog,” says Kathy, who worked at a vet’s office for three years before joining NSF. “They love you unconditionally, and especially during difficult times, they offer you emotional stability. You love them, and they give that love back to you in wonderful ways.”
With so many people becoming pet owners over the past couple of years, I’ve received many inquiries about how to keep our beloved animals safer at home. I reached out to Kathy and other NSF pet owners and experts to get their tips on everything from how to wash your pet’s paws to cleaning and sanitizing their feeding bowls:
After taking a walk on the city sidewalk, or in the park or another landscape, it may gross you out to realize what’s on your pet’s paws. It’s best to clean them at least several times a week with special animal wipes or diluted soapy water on a paper towel or a clean rag. This keeps the paws from bringing debris and disease inside.
Brushing your dog’s teeth makes their mouth healthier. Pet toothpaste and toothbrushes are available at your local pet supply store.
“Pet bowls can be a breeding ground for bacteria and other microbes that can make your pet and your family sick,” says Lisa Yakas, a fellow NSF microbiologist. Soaking your pet bowls before washing is an excellent way to loosen up debris and dislodge bacteria for the best cleanability.
Give your pet’s toys a good soak too. Those that are not absorbent can be soaked in a 5% white vinegar solution. Plush toys may be washed in your clothes washer without detergent or with the addition of a quarter cup of white vinegar.
Keep your toilet lid down to minimize your pet’s urge to explore its contents and their potential exposure to bacteria that could make them sick.
Woof and Wash
If you’ve been playing with your dog and their toys, or petting your dog or handling their waste, it’s essential to wash your hands thoroughly. It’s also important to wash your pet’s bedding routinely. One other helpful tip: Using a steam cleaner can help keep germs from spreading, growing and being embedded in your carpet.
You need to clean up your dog’s feces, your cat’s litter box or your bird’s cage to prevent the spread of germs. That means cleaning your backyard frequently if it’s “the bathroom” for your pet, as they romp around the area and can carry bacteria inside your house.
Furry Fido and/or your favorite feline leave trails of fuzzy hair. Using a good vacuum cleaner with strong suction to pick up pet hair is helpful for a healthy home. In addition to the rug, don’t forget the chairs and curtains.
One of the best ways to keep your pet healthy is an annual examination with vaccinations at the vet’s office. This appointment may also include protecting your pet from heartworm, fleas and intestinal parasites.
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