Spring Cleaning Tips for Exotic Pets

Fish in aquarium
Now's the perfect time to freshen up your fish's tank.

Spring is coming and with the warm breezes, fresh air and sunshine comes spring cleaning. Our homes, our cars, our garages — we clean them out to start the new season right. Many pet owners forget that spring is also a great time to clean pets’ environments. Regardless of what kind of animal you have, spring is the perfect time to perk up your pet’s pad. It’s also a great time to replenish those bags of food and ensure food-storage areas are pest- and moisture-free. When cleaning your pet’s environment, be sure to gather all of your cleaning supplies up first before you start so that you can get the job done quickly. Here are some additional suggestions on how to get the job done:

1. Buff up Your Bird Cage

Bird owners generally spot-clean their birds’ cages daily, but at least once a year, it’s a great idea to overhaul the cage with a thorough scrub down. When cleaning the cage, remove all pets and place them in a temporary travel cage or, if they don’t fly, on a nearby perch on which they can rest while you clean (although make sure that, wherever they are, they will not be exposed to any cleaning fumes). Little bird cages easily can be cleaned inside by placing them in the sink, tub or shower, while big cages may be best hosed down outside. Most cages have a removable grate at the bottom that will slide out for easy cleaning. Soiled wooden, plastic or concrete perches can be scrubbed down with a soapy brush, while rope perches can be machine-washed or replaced if they are badly frayed. Heavily chewed toys should be replaced, while food and water bowls and remaining toys can generally be cleaned in the dishwasher or hand washed with hot, soapy water. Generally, hot water and mild soap are all that is needed to clean the cage and its contents. If disinfecting chemicals, such as spray cleaners or items containing bleach, are used on heavily soiled cages or cage accessories they must be thoroughly rinsed out before the bird is allowed back in the cage, or the pet may ingest or inhale toxic substances. Again, just a reminder to be sure to keep your bird far away from any fumes, aerosol sprays or hot soapy water during cleaning so that he isn't exposed to chemicals or doesn't get burned. Plan wisely, and cleaning should be a snap!

2. Scrub Your Small Mammal Enclosure

Just as bird cages are spot-cleaned daily, so are most small mammal cages. At least once a year, it’s a great idea to overhaul the environment of your small mammal ( rabbit, guinea pig, chinchilla, rat, hamster, gerbil, degu or other furry friend) with a complete scrub down. When you clean the cage, all pets should be removed and temporarily placed in a travel carrier or a chew- and escape-proof box with plenty of air access. The cage should be emptied of all bedding, hay, toys, food bowls and hide boxes, and the cage grate and tray or other flooring should be scrubbed with soap and hot water until they are free of debris. In general, soap and water are all that are necessary to scrub a cage clean. Just as with bird cages, though, if disinfectants of any kind are used to clean the cage or cage items, all traces of these cleaners must be rinsed out before the pet is put back in. As with birds, aerosol cleaners should never be sprayed near pets. All cloth items should be laundered in mild, unscented detergent, while plastic and metal items should be run through the dishwasher. Soiled and heavily chewed wooden toys and hide boxes should be replaced. Food bowls and water bottles should be inspected for cracks and chips and replaced if faulty. Spring is a particularly good time, too, to reassess the size of your small mammal’s cage and to upgrade if your pet has outgrown his original home.

3. Tidy Your Tank

Many reptiles (especially turtles) live in fresh and salt water aquariums, while other reptiles (tortoises, lizards, snakes) and amphibians (toads and frogs) live in tanks that contain both solid substrate and water. Water should be continuously filtered in all water-containing tanks, as many reptiles and amphibians both eat and defecate in the water, constantly soiling it. In addition to being filtered, the water in these tanks should be partially changed (by a third to a half) every week with water at a similar temperature. Before adding new water, it should be dechlorinated with drops that can be purchased at any pet store. Even with all this spot-cleaning, at a minimum, once a year all the rocks and toys under the water should be removed and scrubbed free of algae, debris and other organic matter. The filter contents also should be changed and carefully checked to ensure everything is functioning properly. Hot, soapy water or mixtures of soap, vinegar and rubbing alcohol can be used to clean tank contents. Stronger commercially available cleaners are necessary for tank disinfection but be sure to check all cleaning supplies or mixes with your veterinarian before using. Just as with cages, all objects must be rinsed completely free of soap and chemicals before animals are allowed in contact with them. Tanks containing substrate such as peat moss, soil, sand and other solid materials should be emptied of these substrates and refilled with fresh materials annually, at the very minimum. In addition, spring is also a great time to replace heat and ultraviolet light bulbs if they haven’t been changed in the past six months to a year, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendations. It’s also a great time to check that thermometers and humidity gauges are working properly. As with all pets, make sure these slithery, jumpy and often-curious critters are safely stowed in secure temporary housing with plenty of air access while you clean.

4. Freshen that Fish Bowl

The recommendations for cleaning a fish tank are basically the same as for cleaning a reptile’s enclosure. Fish should be completely removed to a temporary tank during cleaning, water can be syphoned off and gravel at the bottom of the tank can be rinsed and placed outside to air dry in the sun, where ultraviolet light helps kill off infectious organisms like bacteria. Plastic plants can be treated similarly and re-used or replaced, while most live plants can be left in place but trimmed up to fit the tank. Magnets that are specially made to help clean fish tanks can be used to scrape algae off the glass. You can guide the magnet outside the tank wall to move its magnetized scrubber companion inside the tank wall to help clean up algae spots. Live “helpers,” such as snails and catfish, also can be added to the aquarium to help eat organic debris and keep the tank clean all the time.

Exotic pets — from feathered or furry to scaly or finned — are a responsibility all year round. They take a great deal of time and effort to feed and house properly. Spring cleaning is a great time to get your pet’s living quarters in ship-shape condition, so that your pet can be happy, healthy and comfortable.

More on Vetstreet:


Join the Conversation

Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!