Sure, our dogs have a tendency to lick their bowls clean, but "clean" should not be mistaken for "sanitary." For those of us who utilize a wash-it-when-it-looks-dirty approach, we could be doing our pets (and ourselves) an unhealthy disservice. So just how often should we be washing their bowls? We asked Anne Norris, from the Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to weigh in on best practices for our pup's dishes:
OLLIE: What are the health risks associated with pet food and water bowls?
Norris: Dogs and cats have bacteria in their mouths—just like people—and that bacteria can be transferred to dishes they eat and drink from. Food left in the dishes can provide the microbes with a good environment (with moisture and nutrients) for multiplying and producing numbers capable of causing illnesses in people who touch the dish or the pet that eats or drinks from it. Symptoms of illness from contaminated dishes, like other food-borne illness, may range from mild to severe and include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration.
OLLIE: Is there a greater risk if a pet is eating fresh or wet food versus dry kibble?
Norris: Bacteria can be transferred to the dishes pets use whether the food is dry or wet, but it is especially important to promptly refrigerate or throw out unused or leftover wet pet food. Refrigerated pet food should be tightly covered and isolated from other foods in the refrigerator.
OLLIE: Are the risks different in the food bowl versus the water bowl?
Norris: Food dishes are more likely to be contaminated by small amounts of food left behind and should be washed after every meal, but water bowls can become contaminated too and should be washed every day or two.
OLLIE: What's the most effective way to ensure dogs' bowls are clean?
Norris: Dishes can be effectively washed with hot soapy water. As an extra precaution, you can use a solution of one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach in one gallon of water to sanitize washed surfaces and utensils. The important thing here is that the dish or bowl gets cleaned and does not have residual food or film adhering to it, whether it is washed by hand or by a dishwasher. The dishwasher can be a useful alternative to hand washing bowls for dishwasher-safe bowls, but food residue remaining on the dish or bowl can still harbor bacteria that can go on to multiply after washing.
OLLIE: Any final tips?
Norris: Treat your pet’s dishes just like your own and wash them after each use to promote safety for both pets and people.