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Pet Health


The Importance Of Cleaning Your Pet’s Bowls

Allow me to brag about myself a bit. I am a fastidious dog mom. Not over-the-top, but very attentive to…

Allow me to brag about myself a bit. I am a fastidious dog mom. Not over-the-top, but very attentive to my dog’s needs. Nothing is too good, takes too much time, or is too expensive for my furbaby.

I must confess though, I haven’t always been this way. Don’t get me wrong, my dogs have always had great lives; lots of love, regular veterinary care, and much more. But when I look back at some of the pictures of dogs in my past, sometimes their nails were too long, or they look like they could have used a good brushing. I remember feeding them nutritionally mediocre dog food brands just because they liked it, and letting them chew on rawhide bones. I wasn’t as knowledgeable or meticulous about the many details of pet care as I am now, such as the importance of cleaning your pet’s bowls.

Cleaning Your Pet’s Bowls

One thing that struck me recently is that I don’t remember cleaning my dog’s bowls after every meal. I washed their bowls every so often, of course, but not after each meal, or even every day. I think the main reason was that it looked like the bowls were spotless after they had eaten. They licked them until they shined! If you have a healthy eater, their bowls probably look immaculate after each meal, too. It’s very deceiving. Now that I think about it, it’s really gross. The new, “better informed” me would not even think of feeding my dog in a dirty bowl!

What Is That Film On My Pet’s Bowls?

Have you ever noticed the gooey, sticky “slime” left in your pet’s bowls after they eat? That is some nasty stuff. This coating is called bacteria biofilm. Bacteria biofilm consists of your pet’s saliva mixed with food oils left in the bowl after eating. All those germs living in your pet’s mouth (and we all know where that mouth has been!) get mixed with visible and invisible food gunk left in the bowls. And it’s not just “dirty,” it can be dangerous. Biofilm creates the perfect environment for unhealthy bacteria like listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, and many other disgusting – and harmful – organisms to thrive and reproduce, leading to inflammation, disease, and infections in our pets.

When the biofilm is not removed, the residue oils will go rancid. As if the bacteria biofilm alone is not gross enough, rancid oils and fats are also very dangerous. According to the Whole Dog Journal, rancid oils can cause diarrhea, liver and heart problems, macular degeneration, cell damage, arthritis, and even death. Rancid oils are also indicated in tumor promotion in mice.

Don’t Forget the Water Bowl

This will blow your mind: Hartpury University in the UK has identified a pet’s water bowl as the third most contaminated item within the household! The NSF, National Sanitation Foundation, says pet bowls in general are the fourth germiest things in the home! I don’t make this stuff up! The bacteria in your pet’s mouth is not only from food. Many kinds of bacteria live in your dog and cat’s mouths normally. These bacteria will not make them sick, but they can certainly make us sick. This bacterium, coupled with the fact that a pet usually gets a big drink after eating – thus depositing food particles in the water bowl – is a cesspool of “yuckiness” (scientific term) that forms the biofilm. So, what’s the moral of the story? The water bowl needs a full washing each day, too.

Reducing The Risk

Bacteria biofilm does not discriminate. It likes people, too. In fact, it is suggested that biofilms are responsible for 65% of all bacterial infections in humans. It can be particularly harmful to young people, and those who are immune compromised. Biofilm has been a suspect in many diseases and infections of the human body. The propensity for cross-contamination from pet bowls to humans is great.

Did you know that the FDA actually has guidelines on how to prepare and handle pet food bowls? It’s surprising, right? The guidelines state to clean your pet’s food bowls and scoop utensils with soap and hot water after each use. They also recommend that we wash our hands with soap and hot water before and after feeding our pets to reduce our risk of getting a foodborne illness. The CDC, Center for Disease Control, also has guidelines for feeding pets, which are very similar to the FDA’s.

If you feed your pet raw food, it is particularly important to clean your pet’s bowls after every meal. The handling and serving of raw food should be like it is when we prepare raw chicken for our families in our kitchen. Wash your hands (better yet, wear gloves), and thoroughly clean all surfaces in the kitchen with soap and hot water.

Cleaning Your Pet’s Face After Eating

This doesn’t get talked about often, but just think about it. All of that food residue and saliva is on your pet’s face, too – especially on dogs and cats with long hair and beards. And as we have learned, where there are food residue and saliva, there are bacteria.

After my dog eats, I chase him down and wrestle him so that I can wash his grubby little face and long ears. (He’s a shaggy-faced dog — so adorable!) I generally use a water-based baby wipe or a face-friendly dog grooming wipe on my dog’s face after meals. A doggie comb is helpful to release food particles stuck in the hair. Keeping your dog’s beard clean after eating is important not only to reduce germs, but also to prevent stains, mats, and bad odors around their sweet little mouths.

The Best Kinds Of Pet Bowls For Food And Water

We use disposable bowls for feeding at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts, and stainless-steel bowls for water for our guests. We wash the bowls in hot, soapy water daily, or more often if needed. Stainless steel is considered the most hygienic option for any industry and is the most widely recommended material for pet bowls. The non-porous surface of stainless steel is resistant to bacteria. It is a non-absorbent surface that does not scratch easily, has no pores or cracks to attract bacteria, and cleans easily. That’s not to say that an unwashed stainless-steel bowl doesn’t harbor bacteria. Bacteria will grow on any food substance left in a bowl – regardless of the material.

Plastic bowls are a big no-no when it comes to your pets. Among other reasons, scratches in plastic are great places for bacteria and other pathogens to cling to and reproduce. VetZone says rancid fat soaks into the microholes of plastic and cannot be washed out. Isn’t that sickening?

Ceramic, glass, and stoneware bowls are pretty safe, as long as they are certified for food use. Some decorative bowls contain lead and are not intended for eating. If the bowl becomes cracked or scratched, again, bacteria will rush in and set up housekeeping.

Pet Food Bowl Alternatives

You are going to love this… I read a short article in Modern Dog Magazine about a new company founded by a former microbiology student that makes naturally antimicrobial copper-plated pet bowls. Copper is known to kill 99.9% of microorganisms within two hours of contact. Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold, and algae. Dead! Kaput! Wiped-out! Very cool.

That doesn’t excuse us from washing our pet’s water bowls, but it does help prevent the biofilm from forming. WARNING: Not all copper bowls can be used for your pet’s food. Most are for water only.

Keep Your Pets Healthier With Clean Bowls

I can’t help but wonder if many of the ailments and diseases veterinarians observe actually originate from dirty food and water bowls. It is likely that many good, well-intentioned pet owners are like me in the early days of owning pets, not realizing the harm that may be caused when pet bowls are not properly cleaned. Your pet probably could care less whether the bowl is dirty or clean, so it’s up to us to make sure we are doing all that we can to keep our pets safe and healthy.


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