When you’re getting ready to eat dinner, do you reach for a new plate, or one that has already been used? Now put yourself in your dog’s shoes (or paws). Not only does this make for a less appetizing meal, but unclean dog bowls can make your dog sick.
“Dried food material and saliva contain bacteria which can grow rapidly without cleaning,” says Katie Malensek, DC, DVM at Ravenwood Veterinary Clinic in Port Orange, Florida. “Washing them after every use is ideal, just as we would clean our plate after eating.”
In fact, the National Sanitation Foundation ranked dog bowls as the fourth most germ-filled place in the home, after dish sponges and the kitchen sink. Bacteria like salmonella and E. coli are commonly found in dog bowls, as well as watering bowls, which can also contain algae and mold. These things not only affect pet health, but they can also make your human family members sick, too.
Just wiping your pet’s bowls out with a damp cloth or rinsing them under warm water isn’t going to cut it. To eliminate bacteria, prevent dog illnesses and keep your entire family safe from these pathogens, pet dishes need to be cleaned properly.
The Dish on Dishwashers
Washing dog bowls in the dishwasher with your regular detergent is a preferred method because the heat is effective at killing bacteria, Dr. Malensek says. Make sure you use the highest heat setting, as some types of salmonella can withstand warm or tepid temperatures. For a double dose of disinfecting power, soak the dishes in a bleach/water solution for about 10 minutes, then run them through the dishwasher on high heat.
If your dog’s dishes are cleaned regularly, you can wash them in the same load as your other dishes without concern of cross-contamination, she says. But if the idea of stacking your dog’s bowl next to your casserole dish makes you uncomfortable even if you have healthy pets, run them through by themselves.
Look for dishwasher-safe pet bowls like the Outward Hound Fun Feeder Interactive Bowl that’s made with high-quality, food-safe material free of BPA, PVC and phthalates. The Fun Feeder also helps prevent bloat and regurgitation with fun ridges and mazes that slow down your dog’s eating.
Handwashing Works, Too
If using a dishwasher isn’t an option for you, handwashing your dog’s bowls with your preferred dish detergent is the next best method, Dr. Malensek says. Wash them separately from your family’s dishes and use a sponge or rag reserved just for this purpose to prevent any bacterial growth from being transferred. You may even consider using a disposable cloth like a paper towel.
Other Risk Factors
Along with pet health risks from salmonella and E. coli bacteria, dirty pet bowls can cause painful skin infections around the mouth and chin, she says. They look like tiny pimples or growths and can be prevented by providing your pet with clean food and water bowls. If your pet is susceptible to these infections, you may want avoid ceramic or plastic bowls, as they can have porous surfaces that are harder to keep bacteria-free. Instead, opt for a dishwasher-safe stainless steel bowl like the MidWest Stainless Steel Snap’y Fit Dog Kennel Bowl, or the PetSafe Healthy Pet Simple Feed Programmable Pet Feeder. The Snap’y Fit comes in a variety of sizes and can be fastened to the inside of a crate or used by itself.
Think Outside the Bowl
Placemats are great for keeping your pet’s bowls in place and keeping their eating area less messy, but they can also be a hotbed for germs. Choose easy-to-clean mats like JW Pet Stay in Place Mat, which can be washed with soap and water, or wiped with a bleach solution and rinsed.
Storing your pet’s food is also an important way to protect healthy pets from food-borne illness. Pests like rats, mice and insects can easily get into kibble bags, causing contamination. Food can also go stale or spoil in bags, especially after they’re opened. Airtight food storage systems like Gamma2 Vittles Vault Stackable Pet Food Storage keeps food pest-free and fresher longer. It’s made of heavy-duty, BPA-free, food-grade plastic and comes with a free measuring cup, so you can be sure you’re feeding your pet the right amount every time.
Remember, cleaning your pet’s bowls is just as important as washing your own dishes, and if done regularly and properly, you and your pet can enjoy many more meals together.
Chris Brownlow has been writing about pets for over 10 years. As a writer who believes in immersing herself in her topic, she has tasted more than 20 different flavors of dog and cat food while working on an advertising campaign for PetSmart. Prior to her pet days, Chris was a print and digital journalist at The Tampa Tribune and The Virginian-Pilot.