When you think about the germiest spots in your home, what comes to mind? If you predicted places like the toilet seat or the garbage can lid, you are actually far from the mark. A study performed by the National Science Foundation found that the dirtiest areas of your home include the kitchen sponge or dish rag, the kitchen sink, and something on the ground: pet bowls.
Though many of us don’t wash our pet’s food and water bowls on a regular basis, research proves that it’s a very important step to maintaining a clean home. In fact, the NSF study showed that pet bowls were the fourth germiest place in the house.
The reason? Dogs lick their bowls, or sometimes drool into the bowl if they are particularly excited for their meals! That saliva can leave behind a microscopic residue, which contains harmful bacteria like salmonella and e. coli. Cats also harbor plenty of microbes in their mouths that can spread around their food and water bowls. Those bowls are unfortunately the perfect place for bacteria and even mold, yeast, and fungi to grow. Touching pet bowls on the regular can expose you to a wealth of contaminants that could make you ill.
As you may have predicted, wet food is the worst offender. Cats often leave behind scraps of wet food in their bowls, which can quickly become microbe utopias. Wet food for dogs is no better. What’s worse, a raw food diet for dogs can create a very dangerous breeding ground for bacteria in feeding bowls. Some health experts even recommend using gloves and washing your hands with hot soap and water after handling a dog bowl that contains raw food. Beyond salmonella and e. coli, other harmful microorganisms that can grow include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and Pasteurella multocida, which is the most common cause of skin infections from pet bites or scratches.
So, what should you do? The NSF recommends that you wash your pet’s food and water bowls daily. Bowls for dry food and water can generally be washed once a day, at the end of your pet’s second feeding. In contrast, wet-food bowls should be washed after every meal. Use hot, soapy water and a sponge or a dish rag to wash the bowls.
The NSF also suggests throwing dish rags in the washing machine with a little bleach every few days, or microwaving your sponge for two minutes once per day and replacing it often. If you are particularly skeeved and don’t want to use the same sponge for your own dishes, you may consider getting a second one and using it just for your pet’s bowls.
If you’re really in a pinch for time, try using a disposable bowl or plastic dog bowl inserts. Just remember that these options aren’t the most environmentally friendly, and environmental health experts suggest not using them often. You can also try purchasing extra food and water bowls and rotating them daily, then washing them all at the end of the evening.
Also, the material of your pet’s bowls is important. Certain materials will allow the temperature of the food to rise, increasing the risk of bacterial growth. Other materials such as plastic are porous, and may leach harmful chemicals into your cat or dog’s bowl and help harbor bacteria. If you’re on the search for new bowls, the safest ones include stainless steel, which is non-porous and easy to clean, silicone, ceramic, glass, and stoneware. Keep in mind that the glaze on stoneware needs to be lead-free. With cleaner and safer feeding bowls, you’ll help create a healthy environment for you, your pet, and your family.