When we add a pet to the family, we don’t make an “in sickness and in health” vow (though maybe we should!). Cats and dogs depend on their human families to take care of them, but there’s more to pet ownership than a daily bowl of kibble. What’s more, we can’t exactly take care of our animals if we’re sick, so we also have to make sure we’re keeping our homes free of any critter-born pathogens. And if we want to live happily ever after, we have to co-exist peacefully.
Here are six tips for keeping your entire family — creatures and all — healthy and happy. Of course it starts with preventative care; don’t wait till your pet is sick to see the vet. Instead, stick to a regular schedule of wellness exams.
If you share the bed with your pets, do this
If you share your bed with pets you might not want to let yourself get too lax on washing the sheets. While twice a month may suffice for an animal-free household, according to the Cleveland Clinic, “pets are common harbors for fungal organisms that can come in contact with your skin,” says Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Alok Vij, MD. “This can cause simple infections like ringworm, but can also lead to more aggressive infestations like scabies, which is caused by mites that can live on dogs and be transmitted to humans.” Eek! Other parasites can also be transferred from pets to parents, “so make sure you’re washing your sheets often,” he adds.
Don’t slack on grooming (and check your pets ears)
Grooming is about more than looking cuter in all those Insta photos. “Regular grooming should be performed to prevent mats from developing,” American Kennel Club Chief Veterinary Officer Jerry Klein told NBC News BETTER. Not just irritating tangles, mats can cause serious dermatitis, he explained. Whether you do it yourself or take Fido to a groomer, “pay special attention to the inside of ears,” he said, “as bacterial and yeast infections can occur with exposure to moisture (after bathing and swimming). Always dry your dog’s ears after a bath or swimming.”
Think flea season is over? Think again
Once summer’s over you’re free from worry about fleas and ticks, right? Not necessarily. While flea season peaks during warm weather months, the length of the season varies depending on where you live, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “It can last four months in some places, but in other places, like Florida, fleas can live all year long,” says Ann Stohlman, V.M.D., a veterinarian in the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. And in a warm house? Fleas can live inside year-round wherever you live. Ticks, too are found in some places year-round.
Beyond being a nuisance (ask anyone who’s dealt with fleas in the house and the word that always comes up is “nightmare”), fleas and ticks can transmit diseases to humans, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. And it’s a host of stuff, ranging from bartonellosis (aka cat scratch fever) to Lyme disease to plague(!). There’s no one-size-fits all approach to parasite protection, the AVMA says; factors including the age, species, breed, lifestyle and health status of your pet, as well as any medications they take all play a role in determining the best approach. This is definitely a decision to make in consultation with your vet.
Let sleeping dogs lie … on the couch?
If you believe your furry family members belong on the furniture with the rest of the family (or even if you don’t, but they disagree!) your battle with stains, tears, and stray hair likely never ends. But, before you start thinking about building a doghouse, consider changing up your furniture material. Experts give the thumbs up to leather; tight-weave fabrics like canvas, denim, microfiber, or twill; and performance/outdoor acrycle material like Sunbrella and Perennials. Meanwhile. High maintenance materials like silk, suede and velvet are best left to pet-free households.
Of course if you’re willing to put in the work you can also train your pets to stay off the furniture. For example, for dogs, you might consider crate-training them, especially as puppies, to keep temptations at bay while you’re away. And if they have plenty of (authorized) chew toys, they may be less interested in that throw pillow.
Protect your floors
Pet-proofing starts from the ground up, with the right flooring material. If you don’t want to spend your life feeling like Margo in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, you probably want to skip carpet. If you just can’t go the hard surface route, carpet tiles are at least easier to deal with when pet disaster strikes. The best options for homes with pets, according to Realtor.com, are concrete, tile, luxury vinyl, and laminate. And you might want to invest in a robot vacuum!
Good dogs have more fun
Everybody’s happier when Fido gets plenty of exercise and has good manners. Remember, dogs do what works, so if you’re frustrated with their behavior, first take a look at yours. Training isn’t limited to new pups; it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks. Making sure your dog knows what’s expected and feels safe and secure goes a long way toward a peaceful, happy home for everyone.