Dawn Weinberger, Freelance Writer

Menagerie living

Keep pets from sneezing and wheezing during spring cleaning

By Dawn Weinberger

Spring is here, which means flowers blooming, longer days, and everyone’s “favorite” part of the season — deep cleaning the house. Even though we all love the results of spring cleaning, the process itself can be dreadful for us and for our pets.

Not that our dogs and cats are participating in the cleaning itself (if yours knows what to do with a mop and a bottle of Mr. Clean, let me know where she went to school!), but just as they are affected by our jobs and recreational activities, they are affected by how we clean. Ever notice the strong odor of chemicals in the air after scrubbing the bathroom with a heavy-duty cleaner? Imagine how strong the smell is to a 10-pound cat.

“Any cleaning product that involves chemicals with toxins can be dangerous to pets,” says Patricia Uber, owner and co-founder of TerraClean, a local cleaning service specializing in eco-friendly products and processes. “Many commonly used products, including chlorine and spot cleaners . . . have strong-smelling fumes.”

Direct contact with these products, Uber says, can irritate skin. She recommends using home recipes or commercial products made without harsh chemicals. However, Uber warns that many bio-based cleaning products don’t provide satisfying results.

Ensuring safety for pets
Dr. Karen Johnson, a veterinarian and spokesperson for Banfield Pet Hospital in Portland, suggests looking for products specifically indicating that they are safe for pets. She also recommends following label instructions closely and keeping pets away from a mopped floor until it is completely dry. Some pets, she says, might lick their feet or decide to drink out of a mop bucket — behaviors that likely will make the pet sick. If this happens, call your veterinarian.

Dust, she says, is another issue. Cleaning can stir up dust and might exacerbate breathing difficulties in pets with respiratory problems. The best way to ensure safety: keep pets out of the way.

Uber plans to make this easy for her clients with pets by collaborating with a doggie daycare provider. The service isn’t official yet but should be in the near future.

“We’ll coordinate with them so [someone can come] and take care of the dog, walk it, or have it groomed while we are in the home,” she says.

If doggie daycare isn’t an option, Johnson advises letting the pet play outside in a fenced area for the duration of the cleaning, weather permitting. Another simple solution: make sure the pet stays away from potential danger zones. To avoid confusion, try assigning this job to a household member who won’t be participating in cleaning.

“It all depends on how you have your environment set up for your pets,” Johnson says.

Pet-friendly cleaning services
For those who hire professionals to do the cleaning, find a company that is as pet-friendly as possible. Johnson suggests asking friends and neighbors for referrals, and finding out whether the employees of the cleaning service are conscientious about pets living in the home. Also, make sure the employees won’t leave buckets and dangerous chemicals around for a pet to get into, and ask about the types of cleaning products they use.

Despite the logistics of keeping pets out of harm’s way, spring cleaning benefits the overall health of our pets.

“Over the winter, we have our house closed up and our heat on all the time,” Johnson says. “Things build up, like dust and particulates, and those kinds of things can cause sensitivity problems in pets. Cleansing the environment of all that stuff is helpful for pets, just like it is for people.”

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