By: Justine Lee, DVM
The one key to living happily with pets is to learn how to deal with the odors that come with all that love. The steps that combat some of your pet's worst smells also keep health problems at bay.
RELATED: 3 Pet Symptoms To Never Ignore
Here are the odor symptoms to watch out for and the moves to make if you've given your heart to animals--but want to reclaim your nose.
Fight Nasty Ear Infections
Believe it or not, you can smell an ear infection from quite a distance. Dog breeds with floppy ears (such as basset hounds) or ones that love swimming (golden retrievers) are predisposed to ear infections, because if moisture gets trapped in the middle ear, bacteria and yeast can multiply. If your dog shakes his head a lot or scratches at his ears--or if you notice brownish gunk in his ears or a sour smell--ask the vet to give his ears a thorough cleaning (he may need medicated drops, too). The vet should also show you the right, gentle way to clean his ears, as you'll need to follow up at home with a nonprescription ear solution. Note: If your pet runs away from you whenever you come near, you're probably overdoing it.
Spreading Yeast Infections
Here's another reason to jump on an ear infection fast: Your dog can spread it to the rest of his body by sticking his paw into his ear to scratch (and that’s not all--see more Top Pet Care Mistakes Even Good Owners Make). Once that happens, you'll need to use a prescription shampoo daily for about a week. I know that sounds like every pet owner's nightmare, but after that stint, OTC MalAcetic anti-yeast wipes can minimize the number of times you have to wrestle your pooch into the tub.
Combat Doggie Dandruff
Have you ever petted a dog, only to end up with a waxy film on your fingers? That's because some breeds (such as cocker spaniels) are apt to have a condition called seborrhea oleosa, a fancy term for greasy skin, which encourages the growth of foul-smelling yeast or bacteria. Frequent baths with the right shampoo can make all the difference. Try Selsum Blue (yes, the human dandruff fighter) or a vet-prescribed doggie-degreasing shampoo with chlorhexidine. Ideally, you'd wash your dog weekly, but if that doesn’t work, aim for once a month.
Banish Dog Breath
Your pet's breath will never smell minty fresh, but some breeds (hello, greyhounds and poodles) are particularly prone to bad breath because of plaque and tartar buildup. Brush your dog's teeth at least once or twice a month if he creates lots of plaque--if you let things go, he'll have to be anesthetized while the vet scrapes off the tartar, which is expensive, not to mention potentially risky. You don't need a fancy pet toothbrush; just wrap a bit of old pantyhose or gauze around your index finger, apply a small amount of pet toothpaste to it, and rub the sides of your dog's teeth. Yes, cats get plaque, too. And no, I don't recommend attempting to brush your cat's teeth (unless you have a very mellow cat)--the odds are too high that you'll get bitten.
Splurge On Litter Boxes
This isn't just about managing odors (which you can learn to get rid of using this Guide to Banishing Pet Odors)--it's also about your cat's health. Sure, it's a good idea to use covered litter boxes, because that contains the smell (and keeps your cat from accidentally spraying urine outside the box). More important, though, is the number: However many cats you have, you need that many litter boxes plus one. Cats are territorial in their bathroom habits, and if they don't have their own box, they may start using your laundry basket. Scoop frequently. I'm shocked when pet owners say they scoop their boxes once or twice a week; that's like you flushing every other day! If the box is beneath your cat's standards, he'll cut back on the number of times he uses it--and in male cats, that raises the risk of a life-threatening bladder blockage called an urethral obstruction. Scooping daily is a dirty job, but you've got to do it--for your cat's health, and for the atmosphere in your home.