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What is hygiene?

Hedgehogs have some grooming skills such as using their back lets to remove debris from their body and using their mouths to clean their reproductive organs. In the wild, hedgehogs employ sand baths to remove pests and debris. Hedgehogs do not use their from legs to clean their faces. 

Hedgehogs do not masturbate. This is a common myth found everywhere on most hedgehog websites and social media pages. Owners and breeders find it humorous to sexualize the animals they keep. Here we observe their behavior in question in a more realistic way.What others are calling masturbation, is actually the animal cleaning it's reproductive organs. Sometimes during the stimulation of cleaning, the natural process of ejaculation occurs. 


Hygiene is how well you keep your hedgehog and it's cage clean. You can have good (clean) hygiene or poor (dirty) hygiene. As Hedgehog owners we want to keep our prickly friends as healthy as possible, so we must practice good hygiene. 

   Poor hygiene often results in serious illness; respiratory infection, air way irritation,  bacterial infections, urine scald and fungal infections are all diseases that can be caused caused by insanitary conditions. 


Both Body and Environmental Hygiene are important to keeping your hedgehog healthy. 


 Body hygiene = baths and nail trims. How clean your hedgehog is.


Environmental hygiene= How clean the hedgehog's cage is.


Remember: Your hygiene matters too. Always wash your hands before & after holding your hedgehog.Use hand sanitizer that is at least 70% alcohol if you cannot wash your hands right away, but do not skip washing your hands all together.


Cross contamination

   Be aware of cross contamination risks when handling items at the same time as handling your hedgehog. An example of a potential cross contamination would be; 

If you have your hedgehog out exploring your room, 

you take out the trash, 

you then handle your hedgehog after taking out the garbage. 

There is a cross contamination risk of germs from the trash making their way to your hedgehog.  

    Cross contamination is not only a hazard to your hedgehog, it's a hazard to you! 

    Never  putting your hands on your face or in your mouth while/after holding your hedgehog  and changing your clothes if your hedgehog poops on you are some ways you can reduce cross contamination from your hedgehog to you. 

Keeping your hedgehog and it's cage tidy are very important in preventing yourself from falling ill due to an illness you've contracted from your hedgehog. 

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Bathing is an important part of hygiene

Hedgehogs are small mammals that live in a confined space .Because of this bacteria can build up quickly within their cage and on their bodies.  A hedgehog with a frequently dirty body is a ticking time bomb for illness. 

Do hedgehogs bathe in the wild?

   In the wild hedgehogs don't give themselves traditional baths. Though They have been observed rolling in sand. Many other animals that live in similar habitats to hedgehogs also roll in sand to "clean themselves", mostly they're rolling in sand to rid themselves of external parasites. In captivity sand bathing can cause secondary issues in hedgehogs, so it is not a recommended form of bathing. 


How often should a pet hedgehog take a bath?


For the average hedgehog, a bath 1x a month is sufficient. The average hedgehog should have it's cage cleaned of feces and debris daily and fully cleaned weekly, therefore bacteria levels will stay in check. 


For messy hedgehogs a bath may be needed more frequently, even weekly. Messy hedgehogs tend to dirty their wheels daily, poop in their food bowls, and even anoint with feces. Due to their silly habits, these hedgehogs should be cleaned much more frequently in order to stay clean and safe.


Hedgehog bathing 


When bathing your hedgehog  you will want to use a shampoo or body wash free of eucalyptus or tea tree oil. Paraben and sulfate free products are preferred. If you want to get really fancy, you can try to find a lauryl sulfate free wash.  

    You can also use a conditioner to wash your hedgehog instead of soap.  Conditioner tends to be very  gentle on the skin. 

Baby washes may also be used, however most of them contain ingredients that are actually very unsafe. 


There are a lot of forums online that recommend giving oatmeal baths, especially for hedgehog's with very dry skin or during quilling. An oatmeal bath is when you add oatmeal to bathwater and use it in place of soap.  

   Oatmeal baths haven't proven to be very effective in aiding with quilling or preventing dry skin. Oat meal baths seem to be more of a trend than an beneficial practice. Oatmeal baths can also leave a residue on the skin consisting of caked powder from the bath mix. This residue can cause discomfort, itching, and even infections.  A natural conditioner is more likely to keep skin comfortable than oatmeal. 


Bath Procedure


1.)  Add warm, comfortable shower temperature, water to a sink or tote. The water should be deep enough to cover the hedgehog's belly.

2.) If using a sink, place a wash rag in the bottom of the sink to prevent slipping.

3.) Add your washing agent  and blend with water using hands or a spoon. Blending the soap (or conditioner) after water is added will prevent a bunch of bubbles forming that can cover your hedgehog's face or scare your hedgehog. 

4.) use your hands  or a small cup to pour the soapy water over your hedgehog. You can use you finger tips to gently rub your hedgehog's body. Some people recommend using a tooth brush, however a toothbrush could traumatize or hurt your animal (if not soft bristled). If you are opting to use a toothbrush, practice extra caution.  

5.) Rinse your hedgehog off in appropriate temperature water.

6.) Dry with a towel or micro fiber cloth.







Foot baths


Foot bathing  is a topic heavily asked about in online forums. There seems to be a bit of confusion as to what a foot bath is. 


Foot bath= washing or wiping debris from your hedgehog's feet.


A foot bath might be necessary when your hedgehog steps in it's feces often or after a long night of running on a wheel. Hedgehogs tend to get their feet dirty just from normal activity.  A hedgehog that needs a foot bath will have feces caked on it's feet and nails.

Foot bath procedure

1.)  Fill a sink or tote bucket with  a small amount of warm water, just enough to cover the hedgehog's feet. The water's temperature should be comfortable to the touch. Similar in how you would determine your own shower temperature. (If you use a cleansing agent add it to the water now to ensure it blends with the water well)

2.) Place a cloth/ wash rag in the bottom of the sink (if using sink) to prevent the hedgehog's feet from getting stuck in the drain. 

3) Let your hedgehog walk around in the water for a little bit to loosen foot debris.

4.) Gently remove any other caked on debris with your fingers or a soft paper towel.

5.) If you have used a soap or conditioner, now you rinse the hedgehog off with shower temp water.

6.) Dry the hedgehog off.

Learn More

The below links are to natural based brands and products that carry washes that have been used on hedgehogs.  Remember that individual hedgehogs may have different levels of success with products/brands. Always research the ingredients within your selected wash. Do not use any oil based (oil in first ingredients) shampoos, conditioners, soaps, or washes. Remember lavandar oil, mint oil, orange oil etc are not the same as sunflower oil, coconut oil or mineral oil.  the lavandar oil and others are essential oils, distilled extraction of aromatic substances from a plant. Essential oils do not clog up pores like other oils can. 


Renpure website 


Nature's Gate Website (affordable and most shampoos contain very little if any oils)


Alba Botanica Website


Jason Body Care website


Vita cost website- great prices

Body Checks an important part in monitoring hedgehog health and can help owners identify disease or injury early on


   It is important to check your hedgehog over every day for physical injuries or signs of illness. We will call this a body check. 


Body check= when a Hedgehog is visually examined for any signs of physical injury or indicator or illness.


Things that should be checked are: 


1) Eyes- should be bright and alert. Any crusting should be further observed and noted. If crusting is excessive or reoccurring a veterinary exam is in order. 

 Any haze or film in the eyes should also be noted and further observed. 

Any discoloration should be immediately assessed. This includes red "blood shot" eyes and grey or milky white looking eyes. Both of these symptoms could be indicative of serious illness. 

 It may be important to remember that a hedgehog's eyes should not have holes in them, excessive, thick or colored fluid leaking from them, and the eyes should be in the sockets. Hedgehogs are apt to suffer eye injuries and should be observed to see if they've suffered any regularly. If the hedgehog has appeared to suffer an eye injury, an immediate veterinary visit is in order. 

  Some hedgehogs present a condition in which extra "fat pockets" extrudes from the corners of the eye. A small amount of this extra flesh is not harmful, however the condition must be monitored for changes. As the Hedgehog ages, the "fatty pockets" may get larger and cause pressure within the eye, this can be very dangerous and requires veterinary Attention.


2.) Teeth/mouth- You may not be able to check your hedgehogs oral cavity (inside the mouth) daily, most hedgehogs refuse frequent inner mouth checks. It's important to check as frequently as possible. A small tongue depressor made for infants can be effective when assisting a Hedgehog in keeping it's mouth open for a check. 
  Look at the hedgehog's gums. They should be a nice pink color and not dull or gray. A hazy gray color around the base of the gums can be an indicator of periodontal disease. 
 Be sure there are no sores or growths on the gums. Any of these should be observed by a veterinarian. 
  The roof of the mouth should also be a nice pink color free of sores and gray hazy areas. 
  The tongue and cheeks should be bright pink with no discolored areas. There should be no growths protruding from the tongue or cheeks, as they could be an indicator of oral cancer. 
  Any black "open" or "rotted" looking areas are caused for immediate concern. 
  The teeth should be intact. They should not be overly broken or missing. Hedgehogs can wear down their teeth with age and even loose them (as can babies) which are not necessarily concerning. It is important to know the difference between a worn down tooth and a tooth that is unevenly broken,infected or loose in an unusual way. 
  If the hedgehog "screams" during an oral exam or while eating, it may be an indicator of severe oral pain and a vet visit should be scheduled. Sometimes if a hedgehog refused to eat it can indicate oral problems


3.) Nose/ nasal cavity- A hedgehog's nose should be clear of mucus or active discharge. The nose should not have Any red flaking crust, noticeable inflammation, or open sores around it. Such symptoms being present may be indicator of a bacterial infection and will require medical attention. 
 Excessive mucus may indicate a respiratory infection. Some hedgehogs may experience environmental allergies, which may display as mucus/discharge being present. Allergies can be diagnosed by a medical professional and other causes must be ruled out. 
  Hedgehogs are burrowing animals so may experience mild irritation due to excessive rooted at the substrate. Substrate residue may also become stuck to the area around the nose. After observing your hedgehog for a prolonged amount of time, the differences between normal and concern will become more clear.


4.) Ears- Ears should be softly furred. There should not be any crusting (slightly dry skin is normal), scabs or crust around the outside of the ears. Ears should not emitt a foul odor. The inside of the Ear should not be excessively moist looking, crusty, scabbed or appear to have dried blood.

5.) Chin and neck- The chin and neck should not have Any open sours or be lacking noticeable amounts of fur. No bald spots. The chin may contain a raised mole with or without a little whisker protruding out of it. This mole is normal and present in many (if not most) hedgehogs. 


6.) Arm pits- The under arms are often a target area for hedgehogs that self mutilate ( harm themselves due to stress, disease, or nutrient deficiency). If the hedgehog's underarms are very red, have evident bite marks, scabbing, appearance of dried blood, wounds, leaking winds, crust or anything else that appears inconsistent with body form and color, a veterinary visit is in order. 


7.) Torso and Abdomen
- A hedgehog's torso and Abdomen should be furred, dry ( not Greasy feeling as this may indicate yeast) , and intact. There should be no open or healing wounds, crusty areas, scab clusters, or dried discharge. Any of these symptoms should be monitored closely and may require a veterinarian visit. A males testicle bulge should not appear swollen or red. The males genital area should be flesh colored with fur.   There should be no inflammation nor smelly discharge. 


8.) Legs- All for legs should be of proper alignment. The animal should be able to carry weight on all four limbs and walk without wobbling, swaying, stumbling or falling. The legs should move freely upon the hedgehog's demand without struggle. Limbs should not be dragging or favored by the animal. Lumps should not be felt in the legs.lumps may indicate tumor growth and a veterinary visit is in order.


9.) Feet- all four feet should be supple and intact. No open wounds should be present. No foreign object such as hairs or string should be stuck to the feet. Hedgehogs are apt to get human hairs and strings wrapped around their feet. It is important to be sure None of your hair falls in to the hedgehog's cage. If you have medium to long length hair, wearing it up in a tight bun or hat is a good idea.
  If a tangled hair is present do not pull it. This can tighten it's strangle on the foot. Tangled hairs or string can be very harmful and if not "worked off" or untangled easily, require veterinary attention. A tangled hair can cut off circulation in a limb, causing tissue to die and serious infection to occur. 
   Nails should be kept trim. Long nails can cause difficulty walking & extreme pain. 

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Hedgehog Skin Care

 Hedgehogs are arid environment animals. This means that in their natural habitats it is very dry.  One of the most common complaints of hedgehog owners is that their animal's skin is dry or flaky from being dry. 

  Dry skin is very natural in hedgehogs. It is a normal occurrence that we fuss over for our benefit and not the animal's.  Dry skin doesn't look good, there fore we label it unnatural. Which is far from the truth.Hedgehog's naturally have dry skin. 

  Overly Dry, cracked skin is a concern though, as it can lead to infection.


What Can an owner do to ensure their hedgehog's skin health?


Repairing/ Preventing skin damage from the inside out is probably the safest and best way to get the job done.

To improve skin structure from the inside out, you can offer your hedgehog an omega rich oil or omega rich foods, such as various fish and grass fed beef.

 

  When using omega rich oils you DO NOT apply the oils to the hedgehog's skin. You ADD IT TO THEIR FOOD. 

   Some appropriate oils that can be added to food include; Flax (the best for inflammation according to one vet source), Wheat germ (the runner up) and, Fish oils (more complete and beneficial but can cause smellier feces). 

  Please keep in mind that animal sourced omegas and plant sourced omegas are different from each other.

 There are three types of available omega fatty acids; 3,6, and 9. All have been  important for health in mammal studies.

Omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that have not been observed being produced by the body.

Omega 3's are considered essential fats. 

  Omega 3's have been shown to be important for heart health, brain health, liver heath,bone health, among others including skin health and integrity..

  Omega 6 fatty acids are also polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are also essential fats that have not been observed to be created within by the body, meaning they need to be received via diet. Too many omega 6's can cause over inflammation. 

 Omega 9 fatty acids are monounsaturated. They are not essential fats, meaning they can be produced in the body. 

  Science tends to direct us towards the conclusion that mega 3's are the most important to whole health. 

 Marine (animal) sources of fatty acids (omega 3) contain EPA and DHA, which are needed for cell health.

 Plant based omega supplements do not contain EPA or DHA, but instead contain ALA,  which isn't as effective for cell structure health. 

  Based on this information, it may be best to offer your hedgehog BOTH an animal based AND a plant based omega fatty acid supplement. If trying to prevent / reduce odoriferous feces, it may be possible to "round off omega consumption and benefit by offering a plant based oil (such as flax) in conjunction with whole unheated (raw) omega containing meat, such as fish or beef. 

  It is not out of the realm of possibility to say that in the wild hedgehogs would consume both animal & plant based omegas. Hedgehogs eat smaller mammals/birds/reptiles/bugs that eat plants. Thus any plant based omegas contained in the belly or bodies of the hedgehog's prey would ultimately be utilized by the hedgehog's body. 

   Hedgehogs do not directly consume vegetation on an regular basis ,so it cannot be said whether they utilize plant based omegas effectively or not. Most agree it is better to be safe than sorry and provide both, whether through supplementation, gut loaded whole prey/ insects, or the fish and beef mentioned above. 


How often should a hedgehog be provided with omega/oil supplementation?


 No formal studies were found regarding this topic in hedgehogs at the time of this writing.

Based on other animal studies and the factor of how small hedgehogs are compared to other mammals in the studies, it is reasonable to say that hedgehogs can consume a small amount of omega 3's per day. Check your bag of cat kibble to see if it already contains omegas. If it does, you may want to offer the omega supplementation less frequently. 

    It may be wise to follow dosing on packaging of products specifically made for animal use. Simply reduce the dose to the amount needed for your hedgehog's weight. 1 pound = approx 450 grams for reference when figuring out dosing. 



Maintaining skin health on the outside


   Skin health can be maintained topically (on the outside of the skin) by practicing good hygiene.  Be sure your hedgehog's cage does not contain any sharp items. This prevents lacerations that could become infected. 

   Be sure you bathe your hedgehog monthly, or as needed and do not over bathe. 


  Never apply oils to your hedgehog's skin. oils of any type form a barrier on your hedgehog's skin that seals in moisture along with bacteria and fungus. This creates the perfect environment for illness. 

    Oils, especially coconut oil, are heavily advocated and solicited online as dry skin treatments for hedgehogs. However, new evidence is exposing those claims as false and potentially dangerous.  

 A growing number of hedgehogs are being diagnosed with fungal and bacterial infections after being treated topically with oil. 

Some of these claims state that if the oil is mixed with water it will be "diluted" and not cause infection. This too is not true. Oil and water do not mix. The oil will still be dispersed full strength on to the hedgehog's skin. 

 

Nail Trims


 Nail trimming is probably the most difficult part of grooming your hedgehog. Keeping nails short is important for your hedgehog's overall comfort. Hedgehog's with nails that are too long may wobble when walking, refuse to walk, Limp, stop using their wheel, Or develop infections of the feet. 


   There are a few effective ways of trimming your hedgehog's nails. The easiest way is usually to do it in a tub of water. 


Procedure for trimming nails in water


1.) Fill a small tub with warm (appropriate temperature) water. Add enough water so that it is  deep enough to touch the hedgehog's belly. 

2.) Put the hedgehog in the water.

3.) As the hedgehog stands, it's legs will be easily visible, as will the nails.

4.) Place your hand under the feet (gently and slowly as to not scare the hedgehog into balling up).

5.) Use nail clippers to trim the nails, one foot at a time.

6.) Remove the hedgehog from the water.

7.) Dry the hedgehog off with a towel.


Another method many have success with is using a piece of screen to trim your hedgehog's nails.


Procedure for trimming nails using screen


1.) Place your hedgehog on a small gap piece of screen (The holes in the screen must be small enough for the nails to poke through and part of the foot to poke through)

2.) Hold the screen (with the hedgehog on it) Above your head. (2 People should be used for safety)

3.)Use clippers to trim the nails as they poke through the screen.

4.) After trimming you can put your hedgehog back into it's cage to relax and offer treats. 


 Procedure for animals that are very difficult during nail trims


  If your hedgehog is very difficult during nail trims, the owner may wish to try the following;

Place a 12 x 12 or 18 x 18 piece of porcelain tile in the cage. The tile must be placed upside down. (smooth side down)

   As the animal walks among the rough tile surface in the cage, it'll help naturally file it's nails down. It is important for the owner to monitor the nails to ensure they do not get too filed down and to be sure the tile is not irritating the animal's feet. It is best to keep the tile in the cage for 1 week per month, although this may vary depending on the animal's nail growth rate.


 

Keeping Nails healthy through cage decorations


Another way to naturally help  keep your hedgehog's nails trim by using cage applications include, providing a piece of natural slate or natural rocks to scratch upon and explore. Be sure all rocks are natural (not sealed or painted), disinfected, and stable before use.use rocks that are relatively flat and at least the length and width of your animal.

  Some hedgehog will chew on rocks then they're added to the cage. This may be because they like the scent, or they are exhibiting a natural behavior many species do the consume more minerals. If your hedgehog is insistent upon chewing the rocks , remove them and ask your veterinarian about a trace mineral supplement for your animal. 



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Keeping a hedgehog's cage clean is not only important for the hedgehog's health, it is also very important for the owner of the hedgehog's health. 

   Hedgehogs (like all animals) can carry bacteria such as salmonella and e.coli in their digestive tracts. These germs exit the hedgehog's body when they defecate.  The germs enter the outside environment when they hitch a ride in the feces, the bacteria then grows and effects the surrounding environment.

   A dirty cage will be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. These germs can infect humans . It is very important to keep the hedgehog's cage clean and use universal precautions when handling hedgehog's and their belongings to prevent humans, hedgehogs and other pets from getting sick. 

  Loose bedding, such as wood shavings and shredded paper , have a greater surface area than cage liners or fleece. This greater surface area allows bacteria more room to grow and more ideal places to reproduce. Loose bedding holds moisture better than liners/fleece and often contain more bacteria or fungal spores. 

  if you use loose bedding, it is very important to clean the cage completely at least once weekly. The same is recommended for fleece and liners , but needs to be stressed more with loose bedding. 

  A lot of owners use loose bedding due to it's ability to look less messy and hold less odor than other substrates. Loose bedding seeming as if it is less messy is only an illusion. 


A word on pine pellets. Pine pellets hold more bacteria and moisture than wood or paper bedding. It can also be uncomfortable for an animal to maneuver and sleep on. Therefore we can not recommend nor advise the use of pine pellet substrate. 


At least weekly be sure to sanitize your hedgehog's cage.


Cage disinfecting procedure


1.) Remove all items from the cage. Throw away soiled bedding or wash fleece/liners

2.) Scrub the cage with a brush, using dish soap and warm water. 

3.) Rinse 

4.) Spray cage down with 1:9 bleach water solution.

5) Allow to air dry or wipe dry after 15 minutes. 

6) Add fresh clean bedding to the cage.

7.) Add fresh clean decor to the cage. 


Procedure for disinfecting solid cage decor-wheels/ hides


1.) Remove decor from cage.

2.) Scrub using a brush, dish soap and warm water. 

3.) Rinse

4.) Spray down with a 1:9 bleach water solution.

5.) Allow to air dry or wipe dry after 15 minutes.

6) Put back in cage.


Vinegar for cleaning cages and decor


Vinegar is not a registered disinfectant. Some studies show that it does have SOME ability to inhibit bacteria and fungal growth, however this is not formally recognized. The EPA, CDC, and FDA do not acknowledge vinegar as a disinfectant. 

Vinegar can be used by the average owner to deodorize cages and equipment, but it should not be used a methods of killing bacteria, fungus, or virus. 


Disinfectants other than bleach


There are other approved disinfectants than can be used in place of bleach. Alkyl based products are very popular and efficient. Always follow packaging instructions and use personal protective equipment such as gloves, aprons and a mask if stated on the product label. 



 


Learn More

These links will provide more information regarding disinfecting surfaces & various methods of doing so. Every hedgehog owner should be well versed on the ins and outs of proper cleaning.


Cleaning to prevent the spread of STAPH infection


Salmonella- CDC


Disinfecting with bleach- Dept of Health


Food safety and bleach


Safety when feeding raw food to pets


Revival Animal Health- Cleaning products for pets and cages







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The cleaning of bowls/bottles and fleece is often overlooked

Washing food bowls, bottles, and fleece is very important to maintaining the health and cleanliness of a hedgehog's environment. However it is one of the most over looked aspects of good hygiene practices. Bacteria can flourish in improperly disinfected dishes, bowls, fleece and more so ,bottles.


Procedure for disinfecting water bottles


The following sanitation steps are extracted from the CDC.gov website's info regarding sanitizing baby bottles.



 

  • Boil:
    1. Place disassembled feeding items into a pot and cover with water.
    2. Put the pot over heat and bring to a boil.
    3. Boil for 5 minutes.
    4. Remove items with clean tongs.

  • Steam:
    1. Place disassembled items in microwave or plug-in steam system and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for sanitizing, cooling, and drying the items.

  • Bleach: (if you can’t boil, steam, or use a dishwasher)
    1. Prepare a bleach solution of 2 teaspoons of unscented bleach per gallon (16 cups) of water in a clean wash basin.
    2. Submerge all items completely, checking that the solution touches all parts and there are no air bubbles in the bottles.
    3. Squeeze solution through nipple holes.
    4. Soak items in solution for at least 2 minutes.
    5. Remove with clean hands or tongs. Do not rinse because germs could get back onto the sanitized items. Any remaining bleach will break down quickly as it dries and will not hurt your baby. This process is similar to what is done to sanitize dishes in restaurants.

After sanitizing, place items on a clean, unused dish towel or paper towel in an area protected from dirt and dust. Allow to air-dry thoroughly before storing. Do not use a dish towel to rub or pat items dry because doing so may transfer germs to the items.


Procedure for disinfecting bowls and dishes


1.) Remove all left overs from the bowl. dish.

2.)  Wash in hot soapy water. Use a strong detergent such as dish soap. Do not use sponges.

3.) Soak dishes in bleach water solution, 1:9 ratio.

4.) Allow the dishes to air dry completely.


Washing fleece


1.) Wash all fleece in a washing machine with hot water.

2.) Use detergent that is free of dyes and fragrance.

3.) use bleach in the wash cycle.

4.) Dry in a dryer on medium or high heat. ( some brands of fleece cannot handle high heat, therefore medium heat can be used)


*before washing be sure to remove any solid matter from the fleece*


 



Learn More

Here are some links to various information regarding cleaning bottles, bowls and fleece. These articles are from various sources and may prove helpful to pet owners. 


Cleaning bottles


CDC Baby bottle disinfecting info, great for bottle cleaning


Disinfecting bowls and dishes


Disinfecting laundry