Think about the dirtiest, grimiest, germiest places in your home.
Your bathroom probably came to mind first, followed by places like the kitchen sink or your floor.
But your pet's food bowl is also surprisingly nasty. In fact, the National Sanitation Foundation listed it as the fourth germiest place in your home.
It may sound like needless worrying, but there are serious health concerns for your pet if you let them eat out of an empty bowl.
As the American Kennel Club's chief veterinary officer Dr. Jerry Klein put it, "you wouldn't leave food out for your family and children for 12 hours and think it's OK to eat it."
Do I need to wash my pet's bowl?
The answer is not so obvious to everyone, but it's a definite yes.
Just like you wouldn't feel comfortable eating off a plate with baked-on residue from an earlier meal, it's not safe for your pet to chow down on their food crumbs day after day.
Because dogs and cats use their tongues to scoop up food, they're at an even greater risk of scooping up that unhealthy bacteria from the bottom of their bowls.
And there are some gross diseases lurking down there.
"What kind of bacteria grow in the bowls depends on factors like the environment, exposure and oral hygiene of the animal," said Burkholder and Conway.
Salmonella and E. Coli are two major concerns for dirty food bowls, while a water dish can grow Serratia Marcesens, a kind of pink slime that can cause pneumonia.
Avoiding those and protecting your pet should be reason enough to start washing your pet's bowl.
How often should I wash my pet's food bowl?
The Center for Veterinary Medicine offers this strict but safe cleaning schedule for your pet's food bowl:
- Wash the food bowl after every meal with hot, soapy water.
- Wash the water bowl the same way every few days.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling any pet food.
If you feed your pet raw food, you should be extra dilligent about cleaning the bowl after each meal.
Pet-safe dish soap or detergent is strong enough to clean the bowl. Just make sure you scrape off any lingering food bits or film.
Feel free to wash the bowl in a dishwasher (if it's safe to do so) unless you share the home with a baby or a family member with a suppressed immune system.
If you keep your bowls on a placemat, be sure to wash that at least weekly.
Choosing a bowl made of stainless steel or porcelain will keep it clean longer. Other materials can scratch, making space for bacteria to grow inside the dish.
There are other safety tips to keep in mind about your pet's food: moist food should only stay out for two hours at most, and dry food should be kept inside a plastic container in a cool, dry place.
If just thinking about all this cleaning has you stressed out, there are convenient and pet-safe compostable bowls that are worth trying.