Dirty Food Bowls Can Make Your Dog Sick

Dirty dog bowls, damaged dog bowls and dog bowls made of certain materials can cause a variety of illnesses for your dog.

Do you have a regular dog bowl cleaning routine?  Many people don’t.  It is not uncommon for pet parents to just refill the bowls daily and occasionally, when it becomes visible, rinse them out to get the residue off.  Let’s face it, dogs eat just about anything (and I mean anything) so a dog bowl can’t  harm them, right?  Wrong!  Dirty food bowls can make your dog very sick.  Actually, dirty dog bowls, damaged dog bowls and dog bowls made of certain materials can cause a variety of illnesses for your doggo. Here is what I have learned about the best dog bowls, the best cleaning methods for you dog bowls and how to wash your dog bowls safely.

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Selecting the Right Dog Bowl

It’s very important that you choose a safe bowl for your dog.  The best option would be stainless steel that is dishwasher safe. It is also best to have at least two sets of bowls so that when one is being cleaned, the other is available to use. 

I am neither a veterinarian nor a medical professional. The information in this article has been researched and sourced at the end of the post if required. All medical issues or questions regarding your pet’s health or symptoms should always be brought to the attention of your veterinarian for clarification, assessment, advice and treatment.

How Can Dirty Food Bowls Make Your Dog Sick?

Saliva remains in the bowl after a dog eats.  This, along with the leftover bits of food can act like a Petri dish where germs can grow freely. Photo: Golden Retriever Puppy with her paw in a water bowl
Dirty food bowls can make your dog sick when food a remain in the bowl. Saliva remains in the bowl after a dog eats. This, along with the leftover bits of food can act like a petri dish where germs can grow freely.

Your dog actually uses his or her tongue to scoop up the food or water from the bowl.  Saliva remains in the bowl along with the leftover bits of food. This can act like a little petri dish where germs can grow freely.  Gross right? Is it safe to use detergents? How do I clean my pet’s bowls safely?

Many dog parents are afraid to use soaps or detergents in their dog bowls. They are afraid that they will leave a residue that could be consumed by their pet.  Fortunately, this is no more likely to happen to your pet than it would for yourself or your family members after doing the dinner dishes.

Some feel that rinsing the dishes under hot water is the best method.  Unfortunately, a simple rinse under hot water leaves dirt and food particles on your dog’s dishes where bacteria can grow.  This bacterium will be ingested by your dog and can cause some significant health issues.  Because of this, it is crucial that all dog dishes be washed regularly and sanitized a minimum of once weekly.  This is especially imperative if your dog is on a raw food diet. Any raw meat should be removed from the bowl and disinfected after each use. Meat that reaches room temperature is a breeding ground for a number of serious bacteria, including Streptococcus, Listeria and even Salmonella.

How to Safely Wash Your Dog’s Bowls

A study was done in 2011 by NSF International listing the “germiest places in a home”.  Number one on the list was the kitchen sponge.  Number 4 was pet bowls.  This means that the tool most people use to clean the 4th dirtiest item in the home is the 1st most dirty item.  Seems kind of counter intuitive now, doesn’t it? So, what do we do about it? 

Option 1:  Daily

Use your dishwasher when possible.  Any food dish that your dog eats from, should be dishwasher safe.  The dishwasher will sanitize the bowls and provide a safe place to feed your doggo.  I personally prefer to rinse the bowls even after they go through the rinse cycle on the dishwasher in case any dish washing liquid residue is left behind. 

Option 2: Daily

If you don’t have a dishwasher, or prefer not to use it for your pet bowls, you can use a basin of clean, hot, soapy water.  Wash the bowls with a clean, non abrasive, spongeIf you are not sure how clean the sponge is, wet it and place it in the microwave for 2 minutes.  This will help to disinfect the sponge, which will in turn keep the sponge from contaminating your dog bowls. 

Wash the bowls thoroughly, making sure to pay close attention to any crevices. Rinse the bowls in hot water to remove the suds, just as you would your household dishes.  Air dry.

Option 1:  Weekly

Even though you are washing your bowls daily, it is recommended that they are given a good disinfecting once a week.  Some suggest that you briefly (one minute maximum) soak the bowls in a bleach and water mixture (always check labels for the safest water to bleach ratio) and rinse in cold water.  Do not do this with plastic bowls as bleach can get into the plastic and will not rinse thoroughly.  I personally do not use bleach on my pet’s bowls. I am not comfortable using chemicals of that strength near my dog’s food. Although I know it’s been rinsed well, I prefer a more natural alternative.

Option 2:  Weekly

If you prefer not to use bleach, the alternative recommendation would be to use a vinegar and water mixture, followed by a thorough rinse in warm water. The recommended ratio is 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar.

How can Water Affect My Dog Bowls?

Depending on where you live, your plumbing and water filtration system, the effect you water has on the dog bowls is something to be considered.  Calcium build up creates a crusty rim on the bowl that doesn’t come off very easily.  Using an abrasive sponge is not a good idea as it can scratch the bowl and leave it vulnerable to bacteria, so it is best to use the previously mentioned vinegar/water mixture.  Soaking in this solution will help break down the residue, leaving the bowl smooth and shiny.

Wrapping it all up!

  • Dirty food bowls make your dog sick because of food residue and saliva.
  • Using a stainless steel, dishwasher safe food bowl is the best option.
  • Sterilizing in the dishwasher is the best cleaning method.
  • If washing by hand, make sure the sponge/cloth is new or sterilized before use.
  • Rinse with a vinegar/water solution and rinse with warm water weekly to thoroughly disinfect the bowls.
  • Have multiple bowls so that you can swap them out when the others are being cleaned.
  • Use the vinegar/water solution to remove calcium build up and hard water stains from your dog’s bowl.
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