Out, darned Spot!


Help pet owners kick pet stains-before they boot their kitties and puppies to the curb. Offer effective solutions to keep pet owners' homes looking-and smelling-clean to preserve their relationships with their furry friends.

Let's get real for a moment: House soiling is the No. 1 behavior problem of pets. Accidents are serious, and it's easy for pet owners to be dismayed by them. That's why it's so important to remind clients that they've brought an animal into the house, out of its natural outdoor environment and elimination habits. Although cats may easily use the litter box and dogs can be housebroken, accidents may occur.

To veterinary professionals, cleaning urine, feces, or vomit from carpet or rugs looks like a simple problem, but your work in offering support and guidance on properly cleaning and removing pet stains and odors can keep pet owners happy with their furry friends, helping maintain the pet-owner bond.

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Keep it clean and odor-free

Start by teaching pet owners that thorough cleaning is important to remove messes, odor, and potentially harmful bacteria. Offer this advice to help minimize the mess:

  • Teach clients to clean up quickly after soiling, if possible. This not only removes the contaminants but also keeps the spot from becoming a stain. Working on soiled areas soon after the accident reduces the risk the carpet will be permanently discolored and helps thoroughly eliminate odor. Remind pet owners that odor is more than offensive; it also may draw the pet back to soil the area again.

  • Discuss how the liquid from urine, feces, or vomit will not only penetrate the carpet, but also saturate the padding and flooring below. The dirt needs to be removed from the entire area and depth. If the pet owner sees a six-inch area at the carpet surface, the liquid might create a 12-inch soiled area down below. Once the client applies a cleaning solution, it's important to rinse the residual solution and dry it thoroughly. Using a wet-vac or cleaning vacuum cleaner can help to completely clean and dry the area, and cleaning and spot stain removal products can help deodorize the area.

  • Remind clients to totally remove contaminants and odors. Before cleaning, pet owners should realize that carpet types—wool, synthetic, cotton, and so on—clean differently. Nylon is more stain-resistant, especially if treated with a stain and durable water repellent. Some stains need hot or cold water, and some need enzymes to dissolve proteins, detergents to clean, and surfactants or other ingredients to help dissolve and remove staining ingredients.

  • Offer a quick how-to for effective stain and odor removal. To clean, the client must first remove the solid material with a spoon or spatula, working from the outside of the soiled area to keep from spreading the mess. Next, they will absorb the liquid by blotting—not rubbing—with a clean cloth or paper towel. It doesn't need to be a white towel, as long as the color won't fade onto the spot. Old towels work really well, even if they're colored. Once pet owners remove the majority of solid material, they can use a cleaning product to complete the job. Even with a cleaning vacuum, it's important to first remove the solids. Depending on the stained material, the pet owner may use cold water or a vinegar solution before using a cleaning product.

A quick word on products

A stain remnant might show, especially on a light-colored carpet. Repeated cleaning and rinsing might help. Toweling will help to thoroughly remove the stain. After a while, the stain might wick up from deeper in the carpet, padding, or flooring and show a stain at the surface, even a few weeks later. Extracting all the material, cleaner, and water from the carpet will help. It will also help keep the padding and flooring from being damaged.

Remind pet owners that Berber or looped carpet can be most difficult to clean. Although it wears better, it tends to hold stains, trapping the material in the tightly woven carpet fibers.

How to clean urine, feces, and vomit

In some cases, it may be important to give pet owners a quick primer on the two types of reactions that can take place between chemicals in animal urine and the carpet fibers and dyes. The first is immediately noticeable, as the urine may discolor the fiber dyes as soon as it contacts the carpet. The second reaction occurs slowly and may take several days or weeks to develop. It can result in permanent color change and weaken or destroy the fibers.

Decomposing urine also can produce an offensive odor. Remind pet owners that it's important to immediately absorb as much of the urine liquid as possible and treat the area with a standard detergent solution. Absorb this into toweling, blot with the standard vinegar solution, and towel dry as possible. (See "Sudsy solutions" for detergent and vinegar recipes.) Then place towels weighted down on the area and leave them for a few hours.

Sudsy solutions

Pet fecal matter can be easier to clean up, especially if it's firm and dry. Remind pet owners to use care when picking up feces. If the fecal matter is firm, pick up and then blot the area with clean toweling and clean with the standard detergent solution.

Diarrhea is a problem, since it is more liquid and provides further problems to try to absorb and clean up. It requires similar cleaning to urine. When cleaning up pet feces, there's a possible concern for zoonotic diseases—toxoplasmosis for pregnant women and bacteria and parasites for everyone, especially when pets experience diarrhea. Using rubber gloves and washing hands thoroughly will reduce these risks.

Vomited food can be a particular problem, since it is not only acidic, but also contains dyes—especially dry pet food—that may soil carpet. In these cases, you may recommend professional cleaning agents. Once the area is thoroughly dry, vacuuming will help restore the carpet texture, brushing the pile.

Nose knows: retraining cats and dogs

Once clients master the messes, they'll likely be eager to make sure their pets don't repeat these mistakes. Start by explaining that pets can sniff out smells that don't tickle our noses the same way. Counsel clients that their noses smell urine and fecal odors quite differently than pets' noses do.

For the client, whatever the cleaning product, the importance is obviously its effectiveness in removing the stain and the odor. Both are offensive to the owner. The pet owner's assessment of a product's cleaning ability is one priority, but the odor will still most likely be able to be detected by the dog or cat, since its olfactory capability far exceeds the owner's.

The primary goal with products is to get rid of odors, says Dr. Bonnie Beaver, MS, DACVB, a behaviorist and professor with Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine. "The products that are most effective are those that are enzymatic. They chemically break down the molecules associated with odor. That's what is most important in a product used to clean," Dr. Beaver says.

The key to getting a cat to use the litter box or a dog to be properly housebroken is a larger behavior issue. "For cats, if there's too much odor [in the litter box], they won't come back. Excessive odor is probably why they're not using the litter box in the first place," says Dr. Beaver. "It's a two-part solution. One, to make the litter box desirable again, and two, to prevent access to areas that could be used instead of the litter box." The area—whether it's under the dining room table (an often preferred spot) or the pet owner's bed—needs to be shut off, especially when the pet owner isn't at home.

"The No. 1 concern for cat owners is making sure the litter box is clean," Dr. Beaver says. "An excessively soiled litter box is the major problem that drives cats away from use. It's also important to make sure there isn't a bully cat in the household beating up on the problem cat, driving it away from the litter box. Simply shut the door to the dining room or bedroom to keep the cat away from those areas. If the cat really hates the smell from the litter box, or the location, it still might choose other areas. If the litter box is kept in a bathroom, one can shut the cat in the room with the box for a period of time to refamiliarize the cat to using the litter box and gradually give it access to the rest of the house."

For dogs, one has to re-establish the housebreaking rules. It's important to assure that the dog is properly trained not to soil carpet, couch, or human bedding.

Problems often start because of bad weather, Dr. Beaver says. An owner assumes the pet has eliminated because it's spent time outside. "In reality, the dog spends its time next to the door, trying to get back inside because it doesn't like getting wet," she says. "In these cases, it's important to go back to basic house training for a few weeks, when the owner should go out with the dog and praise it for eliminating outdoors."

Pets' elimination habits may seem less than pressing when you're seeing pets with life-threatening conditions in your practice daily, but they can be just as deadly. Some pet owners just aren't willing to keep a pet that soils the living room carpet or leaves a similar mess under the bed. With your assistance, pet owners may be able to ditch the stains and bad odors and address the bad behavior.

Ed Kane, PhD, is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology, and veterinary medicine with a background in horses, pets, and livestock. Kane is based in Seattle. Share your thoughts at dvm360.com/community.

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