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Ask Dr. Jenn: Sanitizing Your Pet Supplies

My local thrift store has a pet supply section. There are toys, bowls, kennels, hamster cages, and tons of other items. Are they safe to purchase for my pets?

December 8, 2021 4 min read
Ask Dr. Jenn: Sanitizing Your Pet Supplies

Our pets need a lot of supplies, and the cost can add up quickly. I remember when my son won a goldfish at the July 4th Carnival. After dropping off our new family member Pluto in his little plastic baggy of water, we headed to the pet store. Pluto needed a bowl, rocks, decorations, food, and drops for water treatment. That “free goldfish” cost me a pretty penny!

Not everything needs to be brand new. Used pet supplies can be a very economical way to create a happy home for your pet. However, there are some important steps to ensure they are safe for your pet.

First, before you purchase an item, inspect it closely. Does the door latch properly if it is a rodent or rabbit cage? No one wants to be awakened by a hamster running across their face in the middle of the night because the door won’t close properly. Are there any sharp edges on the cage where your pet could get scratched or cut? Is there any rust?

If you are looking at a travel kennel for your dog or cat, again inspect the door to ensure it latches properly. Many kennels are designed to come apart. Does it come apart easily, and, more importantly, does it stay together when you pick it up? Is the size appropriate for your pet?

When looking at toys, make sure they are in good shape. Look for holes that may cause the stuffing to come out. Make sure there are no loose pieces or parts that can easily be chewed off and swallowed. Is the size of the toy appropriate for your pet? If it’s a hamster wheel, make sure it moves easily and that there are no places for little legs to get trapped.

Now that you have thoroughly inspected and paid for your gently used pet supplies, it is time to sanitize them. Most people don’t realize that viruses and bacteria can live on toys, bowls, and other surfaces for a long time. These bugs have the potential to make your pet sick, especially if vaccines are not up to date, if the pet has a weakened immune system, or if it is a new virus that your pet has never been exposed to before.  

Bacteria and viruses often enter the body through mucus membranes, especially the nose, eyes, and mouth.  Animals also use their nose, eyes, and mouth to investigate new things, so it is especially important to sanitize new toys, bowls, kennels, and cages.

Wash your new items in warm, soapy water to remove any organic material, such as dirt, feces, urine, and dried saliva. Just washing removes many of the potential pathogens, but not all. Some viruses are quite hearty and survive in tiny crevices we can’t see with our naked eyes. Some items can be placed in the dishwasher, such as stainless steel bowls and rubber chew toys.  If the thought of washing a used pet bowl in the same place you wash your silverware is not appealing, or if the items won’t survive the heavy wash cycle, bleach is your friend. Even though it is one of the oldest disinfectants, it is still one of the best. Bleach should be diluted one to ten, one cup bleach in ten cups of water. The bleach should have contact with the items for at least five minutes to kill the most hearty viruses. Toys and bowls can be soaked in a bucket of bleach. For kennels and cages, use a spray bottle to clean both the inside and outside surfaces. After adequate contact time (five minutes or more), rinse the bleach off with plain water. Once the item is dry, you can feel comfortable surprising your pet with a new toy.

Pet clothing and blankets should be washed in hot water in the washing machine. Color-safe bleach can be added. Beds often have washable covers that can be removed and washed as well. If the cover can’t be removed, either don’t purchase it or find a waterproof cover you can place over it.

If you donate your used pet supplies, follow the above guidelines: make sure toys, kennels, and cages are safe and clean, wash clothes and blankets, and check to see if everything is in working condition. Disinfect the items because most pet parents won’t know how to do this. Help keep their pets safe as well.

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