Are you the queen of clean, or is your kitchen quietly chaotic?
In the context of hygiene, pet food bowls are definitely a good to be queen-of-clean situation.
Unfortunately, bowls are a hot spot of risk — our pets can infect people with bugs and parasites. Best to keep them clean, no?
Where Do the Bugs Come From?
A disease that normally infects an animal but poses a risk to people is known as a “zoonosis.” The most common zoonoses with regard to food and water bowls are salmonella, campylobacter and worms.
These bugs have different mechanisms of causing infection, but they can all be shed into the environment through feces and travel indoors on the pet’s paws or coat. When your pet licks his fur and then eats from a bowl, this can spread infection onto an object you touch. When you pick up the bowl, you get that same bug on your hands.
Also, with salmonella, the food itself may contain bacteria, with raw meat and eggs posing a special risk. We normally rely on thorough cooking to kill salmonella (remember when you ate an undercooked burger and were ill for days afterward?), so feeding a raw diet to your pet increases the risk.
Knowing raw meat could contain salmonella should make you think twice about where you store it.
It should be refrigerated (below 40° F) to slow down the growth of contaminating bacteria. But avoid storing raw meat or any pet food immediately beside human food. Make sure it’s securely wrapped and put in a different section of the fridge whenever possible.
The longer food sits in the open at room temperature, the greater the chance of bacterial contamination and multiplication. With this in mind, serve only the portion your pet can eat in one go so that food isn’t left sitting around.
Also, buy packs of moist food in smaller sizes so you can throw unopened food away rather than store open sachets for days.
What’s the Safest Way to Wash Bowls?
Wash them every day: Rinse them under running water and either hand-wash in hot soapy water or put them on the top rack of the dishwasher (so the dishwasher’s heat doesn’t melt plastic dishes).
When hand-washing, do the pet’s dishes last, using a separate sponge or scourer kept just for the pet’s things. Make the water as hot as you can stand without burning yourself and use liquid or detergent soap. Rinse them well — your pets won’t enjoy a soapy aftertaste, and there’s a slim chance it could make them ill.
Fresh drinking water must be available for your pet at all times, so have at least 2 sets of everything so you have one bowl that’s clean and full of water for your pet while you are cleaning the other one.
Other Safety Measures
Always keep separate utensils for the pet’s food, such as serving spoons, forks or scoops. And never use the pet’s things (toys, bowls, etc.) as a scoop. No no no.
Although some pets have nasty tummy upsets as a result of salmonella and campylobacter, not all do. Some pets are carriers, meaning the bug is in their system — they’re not ill, but they excrete it in their waste. Some of those bacteria (and also worm eggs) get onto the pet’s coat and then onto your hands when you stroke them.
Someone ought to tell this puppy what the bowls are really for:
Thus, it’s important to wash your hands after stroking any animal and always before eating. Wash thoroughly with soap for at least 20 seconds and then rinse (time yourself for 20 seconds the next time you wash up; it’s a surprisingly long time). This is essential for children to learn.
I used to keep my cats’ food and water bowls together in the dining room. But one of the cats, Noni, likes to play “scoop” with water. As a result, she soaked the carpet. There were wooden tiles beneath the carpet, which expanded in the wet and rose right up into a mini mountain.
As a result, I moved the water bowls into the kitchen, which has a tiled floor. In hindsight, I did the cats a favor, as behaviorists say that cats don’t like to drink beside their food — and when they’re eating, they prefer not to be able to see their water bowl. Who knew?
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 13, 2018.