Pets and Pet Odors
by Building Inspector and Indoor Air Specialist, Dan Schilling
© Copyright 2002 Residential Inspections LLC, All Rights Reserved
It is amazing how much people love their pets. This is evidenced by pet owners with asthma and allergies who would rather take drugs and risk the side affects, than to give up Fluffy or Rover. However, as much as we love them, pets can contribute to indoor air quality problems in two ways; by shedding dander, and by relieving themselves indoors, whether by accident, or by designation, such as in a cat box.
There are doctors who recommend forfeiting a pet in cases of allergies and asthma, however, in most cases it would not be necessary if the advice in this article is closely followed. Further, forfeiting a pet does not solve allergies and is certainly not a solution to indoor air problems. In fact, pets themselves develop allergies and the incidence of pets with allergies is at an epidemic level along with their human counterparts.
Now, despite the fact that most pet owners would never believe that "their" pet would urinate indoors, it happens everyday. Not only can the odors of pet waste be offensive, but it can affect the indoor air quality and health of those living in the home. In order to eliminate unhealthy conditions, one must understand how pets and pet waste can become a health problem to us, and to themselves.
Let's remember that all animals were designed to urinate and defecate outdoors. Before modern plumbing, even our toilets were “out houses” for a reason. Animals urinating or defecating inside of enclosed houses are simply a violation of this rule.
Outdoors there is no harm because the fecal matter readily breaks down, and all the metabolic gasses dissipate into the air where nature takes over. In fact, it is nothing short of a miracle how nature rids the air of all the daily waste and gaseous odors from billions of humans and the incalculable number of animals on the planet.
In our enclosed homes, the story is entirely different. We have sealed out nature's goodness, disallowing natural purification of our indoor air. If you have pets living indoors, then you have a need for serious attention to indoor air purification and filtration measures, along with diligent cleaning.
Bird and rodent cages, cat boxes, pet accidents, and shedding contaminates the air we breathe indoors. This can cause allergies, asthma, and other indoor air related illnesses. The contaminants can consist of airborne fecal and dried urine particles, animal dander, and chemical gasses from metabolism which are recognized as “pet odors”. Indeed, if we are to have animals living indoors, we need to follow specific strategies to prevent unhealthy living conditions for both humans and pets.
Start with simple steps:
1) Bird, reptile, and rodent cages should be cleaned frequently, and without fail.
2) If you have someone in your home who suffers breathing sensitivities, it is best to keep pets out of that individual's bedroom, and certainly off of the bed.
3) Wash your pets often to prevent excessive dander. Think about how you feel if you haven't bathed for a while. Just because pets attempt to lick themselves clean, does not mean that they should not be bathed when living indoors.
4) Frequent dusting and vacuuming is essential to controlling airborne allergens. In order to trap the allergens and prevent them from being blown back into the air during vacuuming, the vacuum should be equipped with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration, or at minimum, the best quality bags available should be used. When dusting, use damp or treated cloths and mops to trap the dust and prevent it from becoming airborne again.
5) Dogs that urinate or defecate indoors will typically do so because of owner negligence. Either the owner did not take the time to properly train the dog, or the dog is made to wait too long before going outdoors. Remember that dogs would rather go outdoors than indoors if given the choice. If you have a dog urination or defecation problem, it is time to commit to a serious training program, or be more sensitive to your dogs need to go outside. Fortunately, dog urine is not as pungent as cat urine and therefore a little easier to eliminate, however, their urine and fecal matter can contaminate the air we breathe just the same.
6) Cat urination can cause a tremendous amount of damage to a home. Remediation costs can quickly range from hundreds of dollars to many thousands of dollars. Some cats will urinate around a home to mark territory. This often occurs when a cat is moved into a new home or when another cat comes to visit. Other cats will urinate around a home simply out of desperation due to owner negligence of the cat box. To prevent this, there should be one cat box for each cat present and the boxes should be cleaned on a daily basis. Cats can be quite finicky and will readily go elsewhere if their boxes are dirty, or if they have to share a box with a different cat. Cats will usually be faithful to their boxes if they are kept clean.
Solving pet urine odors:
First, never attempt to mask urine odors with chemical deodorizers. Trying to mask over offensive odors with chemicals, vaporizing foggers, incense or candle burning, plug-in devices, or cover-up sprays, is totally ineffective. Using these products is nothing more than an attempt to fool the nose and actually makes indoor air quality worse for humans and pets alike.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that the smell of pet urine will go away on its own. The truth is, even after a pet has been removed, the urine odor, and more specifically the urine itself, can remain for a long time. Even if it doesn't smell "that bad" at the moment, the smell can return in full force. The reason is that when you smell pet urine, you really do not smell much of the urine, but rather the gasses being created from bacteria that came out of the animal and are now feeding on the urine. Once dry, these bacteria can lay dormant until moist conditions return. This could occur from increased humidity or from residual moisture after carpet cleaning. When the bacteria are reactivated, the smell can not only return, but it can become very intense, and occasionally unbearable.
Some people have had good success removing pet urine with the use of liquid enzyme treatments and others have not. The reasons have to do with everything from the type of urine, the animal's diet, the type of carpet, and the degree of urine saturation. Additionally, because of the nature of enzymes, these products can destroy carpet if not carefully used, or if used more than once in an area. Enzymes may be worth the effort, but it is best to clean and remove/encapsulate as much of the urine damaged materials as possible before treatment.
Treatments with antimicrobial liquids can also help eliminate pet urine odors. These products operate on the principal of killing the bacteria that causes the odors and are less likely to damage carpet.
Ozone treatments are a non-chemical way of eliminating pet odors. Air purifiers with adjustable ozone output are typically turned up to their highest setting and allowed to sanitize the contaminated area while unoccupied. Using a plastic tarp or sheet to cover the contaminated area with the purifier located underneath is way of concentrating the ozone over a specific spot to allow it to work faster. Ozone is the best finishing treatment for any urine odors following manual cleaning, enzyme or antimicrobial treatments, or removal or encapsulation of contaminated areas.
If urine damage is concentrated in a given area of carpet, it is best to get to the bottom of the problem. This entails pulling back the carpet and extracting as much of the urine as possible from both sides of the carpet. The foam under-matting should simply be discarded and replaced with new. Any contaminated wall board, trim boards, or wood sub-flooring materials should either be replaced or sealed with polyurethane to encapsulate them from future moisture. The carpet can then be treated with enzyme or antimicrobial liquids, and finished with an ozone treatment. If these steps are followed, the carpet can usually be saved.
When strong odors are present, it might be wise to analyze the house with moisture meters and ultraviolet light to reveal contaminated areas and determine the severity of the problem. Many carpet cleaning companies are now using these tools to better help pet owners. This service can reveal areas that will need strategic cleaning, encapsulation, carpet replacement, and perhaps structural repairs. This process is better performed prior to carpet cleaning so as not to disturb areas of evidence.
Control pet odors and allergens:
In addition to identifying and remediating odor sources, odor "control and prevention" is a wise choice for pet owners. Have you noticed that despite six billion people and countless animals on the planet, the air outdoors does not smell like urine or sewage? This is because nature creates ozone in the outdoor air. A portable air purification system duplicates this natural process indoors, allowing your indoor air to perform like outdoor air.
Not only can an ozone producing air purifier help to prevent odors on a daily basis, but the addition of electrical ions generated by the purifier can help eliminate airborne particle allergens. If you purchase an air purification system such as this, it should have the ability to produce both negative and positive ions throughout your home, and should have adjustable ozone output to allow for occasional tough odor removal, as well as, continuous air purification around your home.
A home with clean, odor free air can be a real pleasure for both pets and their owners.
with those you care about.