Mold-Inviting Scenarios in the Life and Home of a Pet Owner
While the most ideal locations for mold to grow are kitchens, bathrooms, and basements—as they generally provide mold spores daily access to a bountiful supply of decaying organic material (dirt, dust, sweat, food, urine, hair, body oils, etc.)—mold will grow wherever its needs are even remotely met.
With the potential of microscopic mold spores naturally teeming in the thousands (if not millions) inside and outside the home, it should come as no surprise that your chances—of acquiring mold growth at all—are incredibly high. In fact, it is a constant battle, especially in more humid climates or in homes that have moisture issues.
Even if a home does not suffer from moisture issues, the simple daily tasks performed as a pet owner could be inviting and maintaining mold growth. The purpose of this article is to reveal the mold-inviting scenarios you’re faced with as a pet owner.
Aquarium, Tank, and Caged Animals
- Fish Aquariums: If your water aquarium is sporting green or brown muck on the submerged sides of the tank and on the décor (i.e. castle, mermaid, treasure chest, glass pebbles, etc.), that is what is called algae or fungus and is a strong indication that conditions are perfect for regular mold to grow, as well. Even if you don’t have algae or underwater fungus evident, conditions for mold growth may still be present at or around your aquarium.
You can prevent mold by keeping the aquarium clean—this includes the inside, as well as the outside. Pair the right fish together and maybe invest in a fish that “cleans an aquarium” (by eating the algae or fungus). Maintain the functionality of the tank’s components at all times—this includes the filter, tubing, temperature, lighting, water flow, etc. Avoid food spillage or water splashing on the outside of the tank. Clean the fish net after each use, too. Lastly, check the lid of the tank often because of condensation, which will provide an excellent source of usable moisture for mold.
- “Dry” Tanks: Depending on the type of habitat, “dry” tanks are generally easier to keep mold-free. Unless, of course, you are faced with one of the more difficult exceptions, such as tanks for amphibians (and reptiles that require a large body of water or lush greenery). Because of the presence of moisture (usually a water dish or a small scaled-to-size “pond”) and a heating lamp, a “dry” tank for an amphibian will be at a greater risk of contracting mold growth.
The best you can do is keep it as clean as possible. Don’t let condensation accumulate on the sides or lid of the tank. Be mindful of the food—avoid spilling—and make sure the uneaten portions aren’t left to rot and draw mold spores or flies. Remove any reptile skins as it is still considered mold’s favorite treat: decaying organic material. The same goes for any plant life that has fallen off the base or is withering/dying. Check wood chips and rocks for excess moisture or mold growth. Keep all its components functioning and performing at their best, such as the light fixture, the light bulbs, the temperature, etc.
For tanks that are literally dry—such as habitats for desert reptiles—your main concern will be the food (spillage and rotting uneaten portions), the water dish (keep it clean), and skins.
- Cages: Caged or kenneled animal habitats share the same moisture concerns as tanked habitats, but the biggest difference between the two is the amount of feces that the caged animals produce (usually mammals). Feces from plant-eating animals—like rabbits—is especially nutritious and moist to mold and it can accumulate rather quickly in just a single day.
Be sure to read up on the living and comfort requirements of a caged animal. Many caged animals—like the rabbits mentioned earlier—have a digestive necessity that requires them to ingest their feces in order to absorb all the nutrients from the food you originally fed them earlier in the day. Because of this, you will have to be careful about removing too much excrement during cleaning. If you don’t leave behind a few expelled pellets, the animal will develop a nutritional deficiency, grow sick, moody, shed a lot, and eventually die.
In spite of that, the cage must be kept clean. Wood chips, shredded newspaper, or whatever it is you’re using at the bottom of the cage, should never be damp. Some caged animals drink and urinate frequently. Some may even need to have their bedding changed out daily—it depends on the habits of the animal. Some drip-style water dispensers will actually drip when not in use by the pet. This means that water will accumulate in the bedding below and if it is left unmanaged, the cage has a greater chance at developing mold. (Note: there are types of wood chips that repel mold growth and make upkeep easier on the owner.)
Always monitor the water and food dishes. Clean up spills, keep the water fresh, and don’t let uneaten food rot. This goes for both types: mammals and birds.
Groom your caged animals frequently, whether it’s a guinea pig or a bird. Offer baths and research what soaps are best for their pH balance (or, in the case of birds: use only water and let them groom themselves). Pet dander and hair is an excellent source of nutrition for mold, so bathe and brush them regularly.
Oftentimes, caged animals will kick their bedding or food out onto the floor. It is important that you maintain cleanliness outside the cage as well as inside. Don’t let these spills sit for long. Also, be sure your caged pet is not making these spills out of boredom. Perhaps they are in need of some one-on-one time with you outside the cage or a romp through the house.
Dogs and Cats (or similar types of pets)
- Supply adequate, regularly-cleaned potty areas for cats and frequent potty breaks for dogs so that they do not soil your home with urine or feces. If either is absorbed by carpet or porous flooring material, you may not be able to clean it up entirely and mold will then have an acceptable feasting ground. (Note: cats won’t continue to use a litter box that is full, and will, instead, start spraying or defecating elsewhere to let you know how unhappy they are about it.)
- Exercise/play with your dog or cat regularly so that they are more interested in organized fun and less interested or energized for getting into the trash or making other types of messes that could spill or spread decaying organic material throughout your home.
- Cats are excellent mouse-catchers but it is best that you set traps yourself so as to avoid mouse body parts being strewn about the house and later discovered with mold growing on or near them.
- Dogs may be part of the family, but have them wipe their feet at the door. You never know what they might be tracking in to feed the mold spores.
- Groom your pets every week. Bathing with the right pH-balanced shampoos while scrubbing and massaging them all over helps to remove dander and loose hair (that would have been spread throughout your home). Brushing them yourself or taking them to a groomer’s for brushing and hair-cutting will also remove dander and excess hair. Be sure to wash out the tub or basin immediately, and put the towel(s) through the wash a.s.a.p. (Note: if your pet’s hair is thick and takes hours to dry, consider first towel-drying well and then blow-drying their hair so that they a) aren’t cold and wet for hours, and b) aren’t possibly catching happy little mold spores that are quite capable of growing in hair if all the conditions are met and the pet isn’t groomed regularly—like some outside pets.)
- As tempting as it is, don’t feed pets at the table or in other living spaces of the home. Aim at giving them treats only in the kitchen, outside, or near their food dishes. This is because food often falls from their mouths onto the floor (sometimes in small, hard-to-see pieces) where it is often covered in saliva and mucous, and left to be ground into the carpet and spoil.
- Make it a habit of wiping your dog’s mouth after he eats or drinks. Dog lips are excellent at dripping food, saliva, and water as they walk away from their dishes.
- Keep your house clean and with plenty of fresh air circulating through it. Not only will that be a natural mold-deterrent all on its own, but it will keep the animals from becoming stressed. A lot of the time, pets will urinate or defecate more in dirty homes, which could be a sign of anxiety due to the mess or maybe even a form of protest. In any case, any waste production outside of the proper potty areas is a very bad mold-inviting issue.
- Keep the pet’s bedding dry and clean. You don’t want mold to grow in their bedding and cause them (or yourself) mold-related health issues or help spread the spores throughout the house.
There is so much more that could be shared, but it really depends on the type of pet and its specific care requirements. Above all, maintain a clean home and practice proper hygiene for you and your pet, as well as mold-prevention techniques immediately. Don’t supply spores with moisture to thrive in or decaying organic material to feed on. Nurture your pets, not mold.
Amanda Mott is the mother and personal chef of two boys, the domestic technician of a three-bedroom town home, and occasionally, a freelance writer and editor. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @TheWifesLife