My friends in the Midwest write that the snow is finally melting, and that their joy at the prospect of spring is lessened somewhat by the mud their dogs track in constantly. Even where I live, in generally sunny Northern California, the every-other-day rainstorms have me likewise tracking dogs through the house with old bath towels.
I fondly remember the days when I had one smallish dog, Lance, and he waited at the door for his paws to be wiped, lifting each in turn to make the job easier. Sure, I could train the three I have now to do the same, but I think about it only when it rains.
Mud isn't the only problem pet lovers deal with, of course. In fact, I've long considered that one of the great questions of our time is why in a house that's mostly tile and hardwood floors do dogs and cats choose the only piece of carpeting around when they feel the need to vomit?
While you're pondering that, let me offer some tried-and-true tips for keeping pet mess to a minimum.
-- Search and destroy past messes. Sometimes you can see them and not smell them; other times you can smell them and not see them. Chances are your pet knows where they are -- and will want to update the odor. Pet-supply outlets offer black lights that show old messes you might not be able to see. Veterinarians and trainers sometimes have these available for renting. Surface cleaning isn't enough. If the mess has soaked through, you must pull up the carpet and clean or replace the padding below.
-- Catch what you can. Put mats everywhere: Inside and outside of doors, under dishes and anywhere else that messes happen. If you want to experiment with color, look for car mats. They're easy to clean and come in a few colors besides basic black.
-- Don't delay cleanups. When accidents occur, you must clean them up promptly and thoroughly. Messes are easier to clean when they're fresh, and are less likely to leave a permanent stain.
-- Don't use ammonia-based cleaners on pet messes. They smell like urine to a pet -- ammonia being one of the byproducts of decomposing pet waste. So instead of making the area smell clean, ammonia products make a mess site seem even more attractive to your pet.
Instead, use products designed for pet messes. These liquid products -- Nature's Miracle, Simple Solution, Fresh 'N' Clean and Nilodor are a few on the market -- have enzymes that break down organic wastes and neutralize odors. For fresh urine, you can make up a good cleaner on your own. Dog-lover Anne Cotton of Massachusetts has a good recipe: One quart hot water from the faucet, one teaspoon Ivory dish soap, one teaspoon white vinegar (it neutralizes the odor). Shake a bit. Blot the area with paper towels, then wet with the cleaner to cover but not enough to soak the area. Let sit 15 minutes, then blot again.
I keep a "pet mess kit" -- paper towels, old bath towels and cleaning solutions -- in a bucket in the hall closet. I'm not the neatest person around, but my house is as clean as it can be with three muddy dogs tracking in and out. I'm proud of that.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Spinone Italiano is the latest breed to gain full status at the American Kennel Club, and starting in September the fuzzy dogs will be eligible to pursue AKC championships. The Spinone is a large dog with thick, wiry coat and an appealing fuzzy face. Breeders brag about the dogs' temperament and hunting ability, and insist that any potential owners have a high tolerance for messiness -- the Spinone is no dog for the white-carpet set. The Spinone Club of America's Web site (www.spinone.com) offers everything you could possibly want to know about the breed, and includes plenty of pictures and experiences from loving owners.
Bigger is better when it comes to buying a bird cage. A good rule of thumb: Whatever the pet store labels for the bird you choose, pick the next size up, at the very least. A cockatiel, for example, will be happier in a cage made for a small to midsized parrot. Buying the biggest cage you can manage does come with a word of caution, though: Make sure the bar spacing is appropriate for your bird. Your bird should not be able to fit his head between the bars. Basic spacing for a cockatiel is 3/4-inch. Finches need less room between bars, while Amazons, Macaws and other large parrots need more.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We recently bought a hand-fed cockatoo from a local breeder. It was a big outlay, not just for the bird, but also the cage, a play gym, toys, perches and more. She recommends buying an air cleaner, too. But before we pull out the credit card again, we want an assurance that this is really necessary. -- D.B., via e-mail
A: Paying attention to air quality is good for your bird, and good for you, too. Some species of pet birds --- your cockatoo is perhaps the best example -- give off a lot of feather dust, a powdery natural grooming material that originates from the powderdown feathers over the flank and hip areas. (Other dusty species include the cockatiel and the African grey parrot.)
One dusty bird can really reduce the air quality of a room. More than one can make it downright unbreathable for both you and your birds. (Remember: Feather dust is not a problem when a bird's in a natural environment outside.) It's a matter of personal preference, of course, but if you're living with one or more dusty birds, I agree with your breeder: Go for the air filter. You and your bird will both breathe better for your decision, and you can look forward to a reduction in your home's dusting requirements.
Another related item to consider is a humidifier. Our climate-controlled houses are often too dry for our birds, many of whom are of species most at home in tropical rainforests. Daily misting of your bird is a great idea but so, too, is keeping the moisture content of the air up with a humidifier. If you live in Hawaii or South Florida or another tropical environment, lack of humidity isn't a concern. In other parts of the country, however, dry air can make your bird uncomfortable.
Q: In response to the reader with the "outdoor Persian," we do have an indoor Persian who gets hairballs so bad that he vomits several times daily. Since he is not shown, we now shave him with professional pet trimmers. He is so happy. Although he is almost 12, he acts like a kitten once we are complete.
His appearance is comical when first trimmed: big head, fluffy tail, large legs and paws and a slim, stylish body. His coat is soft and velvety when growing out. Once it reaches approximately 3/4 to 1 inch (in about two months), we trim again. He is used to it and does not fuss much if we proceed quickly. -- E.Y. via e-mail
A: Nothing succeeds like excess, and that's true in a lot of dog and cat breeds. Generations of breeding for lots of showy coat have produced animals who are at least a part-time job to maintain in top form. Fine for show people, but not for pet owners -- which is why there's plenty of business for groomers.
If you cannot or don't want to keep up with the brushing, combing and dematting of a high-maintenance breed on a daily basis, clipping is best solution. Still, it seems sadly counter to the reason why many people buy these breeds in the first place. After all, the long silky coat is part of the appeal of a Persian.
If you want a shorthaired Persian, incidentally, you don't have to shave one. Most people outside the show world don't know that some popular cats come in long- and shorthaired varieties. The oddly named Exotic Shorthair, for example, is really a Persian with short hair. Like the Abyssinian but want a little more coat? Try a Somali.
In all practicality, though, most cat-lovers will find the feline love of their life among the ranks of the homeless. Kitten season is close at hand, and if you're thinking of a visit to your shelter, be sure to factor in the responsibilities that long hair brings when you're choosing your pet.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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