You Aren’t Cleaning Your Pet’s Bowls Often Enough

updated Aug 10, 2020
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How often do you clean your pet’s bowls? Are you washing them daily in soapy water as hot as you can stand it, followed by air-drying them, and also sanitizing them once a week? No? Well, according to Dr. Jerry Klein, an emergency and critical care veterinarian in Chicago and chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, it’s time to up your pet bowl game.

Here’s the thing. Pet bowls are disgusting. DISGUSTING. According to NSF International, a public health and safety organization, pet bowls are the fourth germiest thing in our houses, not far behind your kitchen sponge. Would you feed someone you love off that sponge?

So what’s lurking in those innocuous-looking bowls? We’re talking a veritable cornucopia of nastiness. They’re swimming with salmonella, E. coli, staph, maybe even parasites like giardia (especially if you have puppies), and, of course, everyday yeast and mold.

But many of us (sheepishly raises hand) give the bowl a cursory rinse when we think about it and toss it in the dishwasher on occasion. I mean, dogs eat poop — what’s some crusty leftovers from breakfast in their bowl? “A lot of people think that way,” Dr. Klein said when I fessed up to my bad dog parenting. Yet “you wouldn’t leave food out for your family and children for 12 hours and think it’s OK to eat it.”

He’s right. So what should we be doing?

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Well, for starters, consider a stainless steel bowl, the gold standard, Dr. Klein says. Ceramic can also be used — as long as there are no cracks. Steer clear of plastic bowls, he warns, which can harbor bacteria in even micro-scratches.

Then, get busy washing. The bowl — and rubber mat, if you’re using one — has to be washed in hot, soapy water (as hot as you can stand it) every single day. After you’ve washed it, you need to disinfect your sink (unless you happen to be able to dedicate one sink to just pet things, that is). This step can be as simple as a quick go with a disinfectant wipe. Then, let the bowls air dry — we don’t want any cross contamination of towels.

And once a week, it’s time for super sanitizing. You can do that with a solution of 1/4 cup bleach to one gallon of water, and a quick soak of up to 10 minutes, or throw the things in the dishwasher on the highest setting (some will have a sanitize option), says the vet. Not everyone agrees that the dishwasher kills all bacteria, but that’s Dr. Klein’s approach, and he doesn’t get too worked up about mixing dog bowls with people dishes in the machine (with the caveat that he’s not immuno-compromised, and doesn’t feed his dogs raw meat).

If you’re serving raw food? Forget weekly: You’ve gotta sanitize after every meal. That includes cutting boards and utensils, and cleaning your countertop.

As if you haven’t washed enough yet, wait, there’s more! Pet owners also need to be washing our hands with hot soapy water for 20 seconds before and after chow-time, the vet says.

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If you’re ready to trade your four-legged friends for a lower-maintenance goldfish, there is an alternative: Reader, I give you disposable, compostable bowls. Yes, this is a thing.

Isn’t that wasteful? Isn’t that ridiculously expensive? I hear you and I asked the creator Mark Talt those very questions. They work out to be about a quarter each, he replied, “and when you add up the overall costs of buying a compostable, eco-friendly bowl made from corn stalk or sugar against the time, energy, and costs of using a normal bowl I think you would agree that a reasonably cheap compostable bowl is a pretty good trade-off!”

I have to admit, at least for when we’re traveling and can’t keep bowls squeaky clean, I can see giving them a try. In the meantime, if you need me I’ll be washing my dogs’ bowls.

How often do you wash your pet’s bowls?