By Christie Keith
Universal Press Syndicate
Your home is spotless, and the inviting aromas of a holiday meal fill the air. But as you open the door to your guests, their twitching noses suggest they smell something you didn't.
"I see you still have that cat," your older sister says disapprovingly. Her nose twitches again. "And the dog, too."
But pet odors aren't irresolvable. Eliminating them can be challenging, but following a few simple tips from the experts can leave your house smelling fresh and clean this holiday season.
One source of pet odors is urine, whether from long-ago puppy training days or from a pet who is having accidents now. Pete Duncanson, director of training for ServiceMaster Clean, a leading provider of residential and commercial cleaning services, says the key to effectively eliminating pet urine odor in carpet is to use a bacteria/enzyme digester.
"Bacteria/enzyme digesters work well, but they work slowly. So be sure to leave the solution on as long as directed," he said. "Urine has probably penetrated down into the carpet and pad, so use enough solution to reach as far down as the stain did." He recommends covering the area with plastic for several hours after treatment, and he warns that heavily soiled carpets may need professional cleaning and deodorizing.
Not sure where the urine smells are coming from? A simple black light, available in pet supply stores and catalogs for less than $20, or even free with purchase of many odor removal products, will pinpoint any sources of urine in carpet, baseboards or walls.
Bacteria/enzyme digesters can also be used to deodorize litter boxes, although if the surface has become scratched or roughened, they should be replaced. Look for boxes with Microban already in the plastic to fight odors from the start.
What about "eau de dog"? Its source is hair, dander and oil -- on your pet, and in your carpets and upholstery. The cure for both is the same: a brisk brushing and a good shampooing. Start by having your dog professionally groomed, or brush out all her loose hair and bathe her. Next, tackle your carpets and upholstery.
"To remove pet hair from carpets, use a vacuum that has a good beater brush or roller brush," said Debra Johnson, a training manager for the cleaning professionals at Merry Maids. "Plain vacuums don't generate enough 'lift' to get all the pet hair up from the floor."
Johnson also recommends pet owners use vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters if possible and has one more hint: "Vacuum bag fresheners are an easy way to enhance your guests' perceptions of 'clean' when they enter your home," she said. Follow up by shampooing your carpet with an extraction cleaner, which can be rented from many stores.
To get pet hair out of dog bed covers and upholstery, purchase a rake made for this purpose from a pet supply or home improvement store. Use your vacuum's upholstery tool to pull up loose hairs and dander, and finish with an upholstery cleaning and deodorizing product.
Keep odors from returning by using a slipcover on your sofas, scooping or changing your cat's litter box daily, washing your dog's bedding at least weekly, and keeping washable mats and throw rugs on your pets' favorite spots on the carpet.
Finally, check out true vapor steam cleaners. Using the same Italian technology that powers espresso machines, they deliver pressurized vapor at between 240 and 260 degrees Fahrenheit. They're as easy to use as a vacuum cleaner and are completely safe for you, your kids, your pets -- including birds -- and the environment. Unlike extraction cleaners, including those with onboard hot water heaters, true steam cleaners will also kill fleas, flea eggs and dust mites, will wipe out mold, mildew, fungi, bacteria and viruses, and won't leave any chemical or soapy residue behind to attract dirt.
High-quality residential units can cost as much as $2,000. A sturdy home-use model, such as the DeLonghi SteamIt, runs around $400.
(What are your favorite tips for cleaning up after pets? Send them to email@example.com and we'll share them.)
Coyotes put pets at risk
Q: I live in an area not too far from a big regional park. I'm always seeing "lost cat" signs, and I suspect coyotes are killing my neighbors' cats. (That's one reason why I keep my cat in at night.)
I know you've mentioned this before, but maybe it's time for another warning. -- P.G., via e-mail
A: Coyotes are everywhere, and they are just as happy to eat pets as wild animals.
Work with your neighbors to remove or move food sources that attract coyotes, such as pet food left outside, garbage cans that aren't securely closed or compost piles. If food sources are denied to them, the animals will move on to a more promising area.
Large dogs are not at high risk of attack, but small dogs and cats are tempting to coyotes. The only way to keep cats truly safe is to turn them into indoor-only pets, since a free-roaming cat is not safe day or night. For small dogs, do not let them out unsupervised, and walk them on leashes to keep them close to you. While there have been incidents of dogs being taken off the end of the leash, most coyotes won't want to get that close to a human to risk it. And try to avoid letting any of your dogs out at night if you can.
While these steps will not completely protect your pets, they will reduce the risk from these ever-more-common predators. -- Gina Spadafori
Q: I want a Christmas tree, but my cat can't resist the decorations. Suggestions? -- T.D., via e-mail
A: Cats love to follow motion, pouncing on toys as if they were prey. When stringy substances are eaten, however, they can bind up in a cat's intestines and often must be surgically removed. Strings that are electrified, such as power cords and lights, offer even more hazards.
If you can't keep your cat away from the tree -- by keeping him out of the room when you're not around, for example -- then I'm afraid the danglies can't be part of your holiday decor. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Good neighbor saves a dog
-- A heroic man saved his neighbor's dog from a house fire in Weymouth, Mass. The dog, a German shepherd named Isabel, was home alone when the house caught fire. Neighbor Sal Litterio broke through a window in the burning home when he heard the dog barking and was able to pull the scared Isabel out through the thick smoke. "As long as Isabel is safe, the house can be replaced; my neighbors can't (be)," he said.
-- Bottled water for dogs? You bet, and in flavors such as parsley, ice cream, chicken, hot dog and lemongrass. Dogs also have their variation of the sports drink in K-9 Quencher, which provides a powdered formula with vitamins, trace minerals and electrolytes. The powder can be added to water to improve taste and increase drinking.
-- Researchers are pioneering a way to develop human skin. The skin, called Episkin, has been developed by L'Oreal in Lyon, France. Skin is collected from people who have volunteered to donate their skin after having cosmetic surgery and is then able to be grown in the laboratory. Episkin not only will decrease the need for animal testing, but will also make products for humans safer, since the testing medium is closer in properties to human skin.
-- The jellyfish population is exploding worldwide because of global warming. Reproduction is temperature-related, and with the increased temperature of the seas, mating and "blooming" (when jellyfish reproduce in huge numbers in the same area) are happening sooner, allowing jellyfish to eat fish eggs from spawning fish before they get a chance to hatch, rapidly depleting many fish populations. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Communication key to good veterinary partnership
Many pet lovers make the mistake of believing veterinarians are pretty much interchangeable. In fact, you're doing your pet a disservice if you don't put a little effort into choosing the right veterinarian.
Any veterinarian you consider should be technically proficient, current on the latest treatments, and willing to seek out more information on your pet's behalf or work with a veterinary specialist. A good vet should be able to explain what's going on with your pet in a way you can understand and be willing to answer your questions, so you can make a responsible decision on your pet's behalf.
Ask friends, co-workers and neighbors for recommendations. Over the years, animal lovers can tell which veterinarians are knowledgeable, compassionate and hardworking. Those veterinarians are always talked up by satisfied clients. Other factors may help you narrow down your list of possibilities:
-- Is the clinic or hospital conveniently located, with hours you can live with? If you have a 9-to-5 job, a veterinarian with a 9-to-5 clinic doesn't do your pet much good. Many veterinarians are open late on at least one weeknight and for at least a half-day on Saturday.
-- What kind of emergency care is available, if any? Although emergency veterinary clinics are prepared for any catastrophe, they are not familiar with your pet. If your veterinarian's practice does not offer 24-hour care, does it work with one that does?
The final call on whether a particular veterinarian is right for you comes down to intangibles. If you don't feel comfortable, you're less likely to ask your veterinarian questions, and the lack of productive communication hurts your pet in the long run. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Dog-care gear popular
Keeping a dog well-groomed is as much about health as appearance. Fortunately, most dog lovers do purchase at least the basic equipment for the grooming needs of their pets. What they own (multiple answers allowed):
Brush 92 percent
Nail clipper 69 percent
Comb 44 percent
Toothbrush 28 percent
Electric clippers 19 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Cut food when using treats
If you are using treats to train your dog, reduce the amount of food you provide during meals to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Treats are an important part of training, but you don't want to end up with a well-mannered pet with weight problem.
If your dog is always a little hungry, you may be able to use 10 percent of his daily kibble for training and save treats for teaching him new behaviors.
If your dog does not work for kibble, even when hungry, then you may need to increase daily exercise during training. Exercise is a great relationship builder, as your dog associates you with an enjoyable excursion. Exercise is also a great stress reliever and may help your dog focus better during training sessions.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
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