Not a lot of time is spent in discussing cleanliness in many self-sufficiency texts except to say that it’s important to maintain the cleanliness of the animal enclosures to improve overall animal health and to reap the monetary benefits of doing so. It’s true, keeping the animal enclosures clean does provide these benefits. No matter what sort of animal is in your care, dog, cat, chicken, or rabbit, cleanliness is a requirement if you want to maintain their health. Unhealthy animals are a lot more expensive to keep and you won’t obtain much financial benefit from them.
A few texts will stress that animal cleanliness also produces happier animals. Animals tend not to express happiness or unhappiness in the same way that humans do. However, each of our animals does express happiness or displeasure in specific ways. Anyone can see these emotional conditions if they care to look. Animals do feel things and the need to be clean (after a certain manner) is a characteristic that they have in common with us.
However, I’ve never encountered a text that stresses that animals have a preference for being clean or that they even have the intellectual resources to determine the difference between clean and dirty. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to keep the environment our animals live in as clean as possible. During that time we’ve also noticed that the animals definitely have a desire to be clean and that they do, in fact, have the intelligence to tell the difference.
For example, one rabbit purposely chewed a hole in the side of it’s enclosure to gain access to the middle enclosure of a three rabbit hutch. It was only after I discovered an air leak in the side of the rabbit’s current enclosure and fixed the leak that the rabbit was happy to stay in the enclosure I chose for it. The rabbit was uncomfortable and determined a method for overcoming that discomfort. It’s method of addressing the problem showed a certain level of intelligence.
As another example, in cleaning the chicken’s nest box enclosure, some of the bedding gets tromped down, but is still dry and clean. We fluffed up the bedding and added a bit more to ensure the chickens comfort and to keep the eggs from breaking. Other bedding was soiled, and so we put it into the compost heap to decompose. New bedding was put in the nest boxes that had soiled bedding in them. The chickens unerringly chose the nest boxes with new bedding in which to lay their eggs. Since the chickens were outside in their run and didn’t see which nest boxes received the new bedding, we can only assume that they can smell or somehow see the difference between the new and old bedding. However, it’s important to note that they knew the difference and made a choice to use the new bedding, rather than the old, even though the old bedding is still clean and usable.
We had three cats at one point. One of the cats had become enfeebled due to old age and was sick. The other two cats would refuse to use the potty pan after the sick cat until we cleaned the potty pan up. The odor left behind by the sick cat signaled disease and the other two didn’t want to pick up. Even if the potty pan had just been cleaned, the other two would refuse to go into after the sick cat. The cats made a choice.
Keeping your animal’s environment clean is therefore more than simply a matter of health or monetary gain. Animals are happier when you keep their environment clean and they do have the intelligence to make choices about their environment, given the chance to do so. It’s the intelligence part of the equation that should grab your attention most. Animals know when their environment isn’t up to par and you should too. Providing your animals with a clean environment is a responsibility that you should take seriously.
However, it’s also important to remember that animals don’t use human standards of cleanliness. The essentials are to keep the environment clean and comfortable. A rabbit or chicken is unlikely to want, need, or even accept room deodorizer or other human niceties in their environment. In fact, some human niceties (such as scents) are actually detrimental to animal health in some cases. Make sure you take an animal eye view of environment when you setup, maintain, and clean their equipment. Let me know your thoughts on animal environments at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.