small dog sitting on a pet bed

How to Identify Pet Damage in Your Rental Property

Here's a topic I don't touch every day, but it is one that comes up often enough that it bears talking about: How to Identify Pet Damage in Your Rental Property.

This should seem pretty straightforward; one would think, right? It is in some ways, but it isn't as easy as one may assume, not all the time.

Picture This:

You walk into a house and you are hit right in the face; you know that face where you scrunch up your nose and do your level best to not breathe in through your nose. Yeah, that smell, one most of us have smelled before. Pet Urine.

During my tenure as an inspector, I have walked hundreds of homes and have seen my fair share of pet damage. Sometimes it is glaring you right in the face, and other times it is hiding beneath the surface and takes some detective work to find it.

What you might find:

Typical Damage

  • Urine stains and smells
  • Damaged walls, doors, and door jambs
  • Torn screens, and torn/bitten blinds
  • Torn carpet and broken laminate
  • Damaged fences
  • Water damage - Atypical - but my cat turns on water faucets when we're not home.

Guilty dog
Urine and Poo Damage

Urine stains and smells ought to be easy. In a vacated property, it generally is. However, I had one instance where the folks moved out and had two carpet cleaners come in, clean, and scent the floors. It was an abomination. Imagine, if you will, a strong rose scent mixed with cinnamon, mixed with Eau de Kennel. And the smell came back…it turns out it was in the padding and down to the subfloor. The only way to treat that kind of damage is to pull up the carpet, padding, and treat the subfloor with Natures Miracle or Kilz.

Pet scratches on wall

Damaged Walls

Damaged walls, doors, and door jambs are hard to miss; however, when ALL of them are a mess, you must catalog and photograph each instance of damage. I have seen dogs’ claw through whole walls. Think about it; an anxious dog left all alone, locked up for a day? Pffft, time to tear the joint up, am I right?
Cats, however, have a habit of sitting in windows, and any blinds that are in the way, well, too bad for the blind. There they will cause...torn screens and bitten blinds too. The canines do this too. They may be lovable dopes, dogs, but they are destructive. I have seen dogs tear whole rooms of carpet up (and out). And no fence made will withstand a strong, determined dog's onslaught forever. Well, the brick wall, I suppose.

Pet Damage Varies

Most dog damage, for example, is easy to spot. Or smell. Dogs tend to cause urine damage, door/wall scratches, and torn-up carpet, as mentioned above, particularly at exit doors, and bedroom doors.

Cats are a little more complicated, but you'll find torn and punctured window screens, and "going to the bathroom in wrong places" problems, too.

Birds, such as parrots, you'll find wall pecking, next to where cages are kept. They can easily chip paint off stucco and wood if their cage is too close to a wall. I recently learned this one. Lizards, such as bearded dragons, really don't damage much, but they do produce a pungent smell from their cages or aquariums.

Aquariums with fish generally only cause damage when an aquarium leaks. Tortoises, though slow and lumbering, can cause more damage than one might think. They can topple weak wood fences; they can shatter sliding glass doors. Their shells can flake paint off the exterior of the house as they tromp past. This I know from personal experience.

Pet scratch

Eyes, Ears, Nose

The subtitle items, above, are in no order. However, what you see is, in most cases, the most important. If you can see it, you can photograph it. Simple as that.


Look for signs of urine, and droppings, inside, and out.

Dogs, mainly outdoor male dogs, have a nasty habit of urinating on air conditioning condensing units. These are the big metal boxes that sit beside the house. You don't have to worry much about this if you have a mounted roof unit. It would be weird for a dog to be up there.

This activity will corrode the aluminum tubing and cause a coolant leak that cannot be repaired. Look for discoloration on the aluminum fins and pitting on the tubing.

Pawprints in the grass lawns

Also, people have a tendency to forget about their yard dog toys, food dishes, and bags of dog food in houses they vacate. And puppy pads. Back yard droppings are something primarily forgotten about as well. Look around for signs. Pawprints in the mug are like gold. Dogs generally don't cruise to some random house and leave paw prints. That would be weird.

Also, look for torn-up carpet and flooring. Scan surfaces for paint that is scratched/worn off both sides of all interior doors and jambs towards the bottoms. Same with exterior doors. Look for scratches on sliding glass doors, in and out. Window jambs look for scratches. Fido likes looking outside, you know it, I know it, and Fido knows it.

Pet urine stains

You would think that smell would be the best method of ferreting it an unauthorized pet. Residents think this, too. When I arrive at a property for an annual inspection, and it's dark, the alert level rises. Scented candle burning? Potpourri pot on? All of the above? Yep, there's a 90% probability there is a pet. The whole idea is to prevent me from seeing and smelling things. This is when you need up "up your game."


This is simple: Ring the doorbell, you have pets within, and all the other senses take over.

The Spot Check

Any time you have a spot check on a property, assuming you have an appointment, arrive a good 30 minutes earlier. I have caught more unauthorized pets that way than any other way. One home, for an insurance company, I was parked down the street early, doing my paperwork from the prior case.

A child came out of the appointment house with a small dog on a leash. They walked to a car across the street, got in the back seat, and slumped down. I waited another 20 minutes to see if maybe someone would join the young boy/dog in the car. No one did. So, I showed up at my appointment on time, did my work, and at the end asked the resident about their dog. There were no dog toys, no droppings, and no outward signs of them having a pet, nor pet damage.

The resident sputtered, was indignant, and believable that they had no dog. Then I pointed to the car across the street and let them know what I saw. The resident still denied, denied, denied. They didn't have a child. Nor dog. That wasn't their car. There is no child in that car. There was no car, etc. So, I let them know that I would include all observed information in the report I would be filing.


Black Light

This is something we recently began using to help out with finding pet damage, and that is a blacklight flashlight. Interestingly, not only does it light up pet ickiness, but it also lights up any bodily fluids left behind. Now, before some of you become squeamish, let me explain; that bathroom in your home may look clean, but hit it with the black light and you will almost certainly be shocked at what you see. You can purchase a Black Light UV Flashlight pretty reasonably online.

As far as any messes the black light reveals, be sure to wear blue-blocking sunglasses to see the results. And remember, if you can see it, you can photograph it. Thus you can prove it.

Surprised old man taking off and on his glasses

Some residents are sneaky

Years ago, long before I was with Management One, really, I began seeing trends that I had never given much thought to before. I could clearly see pet damage signs in bank-owned houses. After all, these folks fled, why would they care if there was the damage? However, I would see this on insurance inspections as well.

On bank-owned properties, it was a simple matter of documenting and reporting.

In insurance cases, it became a matter of asking about the damage, and the animal itself, then determining if the animal in question was aggressive or not.

As with either of the above, in property management, it is a different scenario. Similarly, to insurance inspections, many times the folks living at a location will hide signs of a pet they are not supposed to have, and associated damage. Or try to. The difference is that naughty pet folks can potentially be evicted and be held accountable financially for any pet damage.

I read an account where an apartment resident was feeding an outdoor stray cat, in Arizona. The complex fined this person $500 because the simple act of feeding a stray constituted a violation of their rental agreement. Yikes!

Family with pet

Pets, Pets, Galore….

Pets are wonderful. They are like family to pet owners, sometimes closer family than actual family. A recent survey indicated that 145.9 million of US Households owns a pet as of 2023. From this - 65.1 million of US Households owns a dog. Did you also know that a staggering 72% of renters have pets? Usually, a good resident will take great pains to ensure the property they occupy is free from pet-related damage. But at the end of the day, you should make sure you're protected from pet damage, visible and invisible.

Want to know the difference between Emotional Support and Service Animals? Check out more here:

    Split image of a service dog on the left and a kitten on the rightEmotional Support Vs Service Animal: What's the Difference

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