If you find yourself rifling through a pile of your pet's collars, leads, old towels and broken brushes looking for their shampoo or supplements, it could be time for a spring clean. Here's how best to go about it.
Check expiry dates and POAs
Whether it's a half-used tube of cream or an old pack of treats, there are bound to be a few surprises lurking at the back of every pet cupboard. If it's past its expiry date or it has been open for longer than recommended (look for the period-after-opening (POA) symbol, which looks like a little jar) throw it out.
Decant and organise
If your pet's dry food tends to get everywhere, decant into air-tight containers. As well as saving mess, this will help preserve its nutritional value and shelf-life, particularly if you buy big bags. Bear in mind that organic foods, which have no (or fewer) preservatives will also spoil quicker.
If you do decide to decant your pet's food into containers, make a note of expiry dates and POAs before throwing out the packaging. Some people like to cut these bits off the packaging and attach them to the top of the container, or you could mark expiration dates on your calendar or even set an alert on your phone.
Our pets' food needs to be stored properly, to ensure it doesn't degrade and is safe for them to eat.
If you bulk-buy wet food in cans, always check the can before using. Although cans can retain the nutritional content of the food for up to five years if stored properly, if the can is punctured, rusty or bulges, dispose of it.
Medications and supplements should be stored in their original packaging, which, with reputable companies, will be appropriate to protect the product from environmental factors (which can cause medications to degrade before their expiration dates). As a general rule, foodstuffs and medication should be stored out of direct sunlight, in a dry place, at room temperature or refrigerated, as per the directions.
Take an inventory
While you are there, make a list of everything you are missing or need to re-stock. We recommend a pet first aid kit, as well as plenty of their favourite treats and any supplements they take regularly. We also suggest at least two sets of pet bowls (so there's one set available while the other is being washed) and, for the same reason, extra sets of pet bedding.
If you have the opposite problem, with too many blankets or towels, brushes or toys, remember that nothing needs to go to waste. Help a good cause and donate anything you no longer want or need to your local animal shelter – even unopened (and in date) food or snacks.
Sort worse-for-wear toys
In the same study, the NSF placed pet toys at number seven in their list of the most germy household spots. The good news is that hard toys can be washed on the top shelf of the dishwasher (just skip the heated dry setting, to avoid melting them). If you're unsure about the safety of your detergent, give them another rinse under clean warm water when they come out.
If you'd rather avoid the dishwasher, you can clean toys by hand. Spot clean with a soft cloth to remove any obvious debris, then fill a bucket with two parts warm water and one part distilled white vinegar. Leave the toys to soak for about half an hour, then rinse them with clean warm water and dry them thoroughly before returning them to their happy owner.
Check your pet's toys regularly for any loose parts. If they can't be safely repaired, throw them out.
For soft toys, simply pop them in an old pillowcase and put them in the washing machine. Many toys will have washing instructions on the tag, but if that's long gone, go for a cold rinse, with a pet-safe, perfume-free soap. When the wash is finished, squeeze out any excess moisture then hang them up to dry or put them in the tumble dryer. Before returning them, always check for loose parts; eyes, stuffing and even lose threads can be dangerous. If they are not salvageable, throw them out (when your pet's not looking!).