When it comes to your necessities—food, clothing, jewelry, and even your kids' toys—you know exactly how often things need to be cleaned, where everything belongs, and how to keep it all tidy. But can you say the same for your furry friends' food and toys? According to a recent survey by Petco, nearly one-third of pet parents are unaware that their pets' toys collect dirt, bacteria, yeast, and mold. What's more? At least one in five pet parents wait a month or more to clean their dog or cat's feeding bowls, despite the fact that pet bowls are one of the dirtiest items in the house. (That's according to NSF International, which found that pet bowls are the fourth germiest item in the home behind kitchen sponges and dish rags, kitchen sinks, and toothbrush holders.)
"Pets shouldn't be overlooked in spring cleaning," Dr. Whitney Miller, director of veterinary medicine for Petco, said in a statement. And while that annual deep-clean is important, responsible pet parents should make an effort to make cleaning up after their pets a weekly (or even daily) habit to keep their homes clean and healthy. But properly caring for these items takes a little know-how. And figuring out where to store odd-shaped toys, cat litter, dry food, and bulky pet beds can pose a challenge to even the most organized person. If you're struggling, follow these expert tips to keep all of your pets' necessities just as clean and uncluttered as your own.
Cat and Dog Food
There are two types of pet food—dry and wet—and each have their own special requirements for storage. Store dry food in a sealed container in order to control the consistent exposure of food to air, says Miller. This keeps the food as fresh as possible while keeping out any unwanted pests (including overzealous pets themselves). If you prefer not to transfer food to a reusable container, there are many brands of food that come in resealable bags—these bags are designed for easy storage to maximize usable space in your home, says Miller.
Wet food is typically canned, so these items can be stored in the pantry until you're ready to use them. Once opened, however, wet food is prone to spoilage so it should be sealed and stored in the refrigerator. To keep things as fresh as possible, invest in a few snap-on lids. If your pet's wet food comes in a pouch, transfer it to a resealable bag or reusable container prior to storing. And always use opened wet food—whether cans or pouches—within a day or two, says Miller.
To keep your dog or cat's feeding area tidy, keep pet bowls on a non-slip, waterproof mat in an area that's free from heavy foot traffic. And make it a habit to wipe the mat clean and wash pet bowls daily with hot water and antibacterial dish soap to prevent germs and bacteria from breeding.
Many types of cat litter come in resealable bags, but they aren't foolproof. To keep litter fresh and trap odors in, store it in an airtight storage container that you can refill while using a scoop to add new litter to the box as needed, says Miller. Pro tip: To help cut down on dust, scoop as close to the box as possible—the higher you pour from, the more dust will be released. And don't forget to clean this item regularly. According to the Petco survey, one in five pet parents believe their cat's litter box never needs to be replaced. But Miller says litter boxes host a variety of bacteria and parasites and should be replaced at least once per year. Cleaning cat litter itself is a much more regular job—aim for every day and at least every other day. Sanitize the box and replace litter entirely at least once per week, too.
Keep grooming supplies—scissors, brushes, toothbrushes, and shampoo, for example—in a durable basket or caddy to keep everything tidy in and in one spot. Store the entire container on a shelf or in a closet away from snooping pets and children. To ensure everything stays clean, Miller says to sanitize grooming tools with mild soap and hot water between use—especially if you're treating multiple pets.
Dog and Cat Toys
Though you may be tempted by pretty wicker options, you're better off storing pet toys in an easy-to-clean bin or basket, says Miller. Because pets chew on their toys, they are hotbeds for bacteria (including staph), as well as yeast and mold. As for cleaning the toys themselves? Check the label—some are suitable for the washing machine; others can be washed with mild soap and hot water. And don't forget to regularly inspect your pets' toys. Miller says to replace any toys that are worn, frayed, or show other visible signs of damage. Damaged toys pose a threat to pets—they often have sharp edges that can injure pets' mouths and stomachs.
Put your pet's bed in a warm, quiet, and safe area that doesn't get much foot traffic—the corner of the kitchen or family room might be a good spot. And keep beds away from doors and windows, which can be drafty. To ensure your dog or cat's bed is a suitable place to sleep, it's also important to clean it regularly. Aim for once per week to limit dirt, bacteria, and allergens. Most pet bedding is machine-washable, but check the label for specific care instructions. And if you notice any tears or damage—loose stuffing, for example—replace the bed entirely.
Like all medication, any prescription or over-the-counter drugs your pet takes, including flea and tick medication, should be stored safely out of reach or in a locked cabinet. And don't forget to check expiration dates. For optimal results and to ensure the health of your pet, throw out and replace any expired items.