Biofilm… the health risk lurking in your pet’s food and water bowl

A well-balanced diet and readily available water are critical to the health and well-being of our pets. They are the sustenance that keeps them happy and healthy. As pet owners, we work hard to be sure our pets not only survive, but that they thrive.

But could it be we are overlooking a potential danger in their food and water bowls? Something that could make them and us sick?

If you aren’t thoroughly cleaning those bowls, the answer is yes.

You know that slime you feel when you rinse out the bowl? That’s called biofilm, and it has a lot of bacteria that can cause illness if you’re not careful.

What is biofilm?

Biofilm is defined as a thin, slimy film of bacteria that adheres to a surface in a wet environment. It can form on almost any surface exposed to bacteria and water, like a food or water bowl.

Those microbes excrete a glue-like substance that helps them to thrive. It keeps them attached to the surface which helps the bacteria to survive and reproduce.

Biofilms can be found all around us. We come in contact with these colonies of bacteria every day.

Where are biofilms found?

Not only is your pet’s bowl a breeding ground, but your bathroom is too. You know the slime at the bottom of the shower curtain? That’s a biofilm.

The slime in your sink drain… yup, biofilm.

Your own mouth is fertile ground for biofilm. In fact, dental plaque is nothing more than a biofilm that builds up on teeth. It too contains disease-causing bacteria, bacteria that can lead to cavities and gum disease.

What are the risks?

Our pets don’t have clean mouths. Dogs eat all kinds of things they’re not supposed to. They lick the bottoms of their paws. That’s like licking the bottom of your shoe. And the germs they pick up are harbored in their mouths.

Cats, even if they’re not outside, put their mouths where they shouldn’t. They lick their paws too… and other body parts.

It’s inevitable when our pets eat and drink, the bacteria in their mouths end up in their bowls. This is how that gooey biofilm forms. The bowl is wet from their tongues giving the microbes a nice place to call home.

The biofilm can contain many species of bacteria including Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, and Legionella.

These four can make you and your family very sick. And if allowed to excessively build up in those bowls, can pollute your dog’s food and water and make them sick too.

But there are also some good bacteria in the biofilm that can be beneficial to your pet’s immune system and digestion.

But because we don’t have the immune systems our pets do, we must take precautions. Particularly if our kids feed and water our pets.

If you have elderly relatives living with you, the same concerns exist. Older people don’t have the resilient immune systems that younger adults do.

And you certainly don’t want your pet to get sick because their water and food bowls are laden with bacteria.

Minimizing the biofilm risk

There are things you can do to keep everyone healthy and minimize the biofilm risk. First, avoid plastic bowls. They scratch making it more difficult to get them clean. Most importantly, clean those bowls well.

Here are 4 tips to be sure no one gets sick.

1) Clean bowls regularly – Your pet’s food bowl should be washed after every meal and the water bowl, twice a day.

2) Don’t wash the bowls in the kitchen sink – Germs can be transferred to your dishes and utensils. The bathtub’s not a good idea either because you don’t want to be soaking in these bacteria. Use a bathroom or utility sink.

3) Scrub with an abrasive first – The biofilm needs to be broken up before you disinfect. You can use something as simple as salt on a sponge (but not the sponge you use on your dishes), or the scruffy side of a two-sided sponge.

4) Disinfect – Mix one-tablespoon household bleach to one gallon of very hot water. Fill the pet bowl with the solution and wipe around the outside of the bowl with it too. Let it soak for 2 minutes. Wash out well to remove all bleach residue. If you would rather not use bleach, use the sanitize cycle on your dishwasher. If you’re using the sanitize cycle you can wash the bowls with your dishes.

Also, it’s important to clean the floor where your pet eats, and any stand or mat under your pet’s bowls.  Bacteria can grow in these areas too.

And always be sure to use designated sponges and dish towels for your pet’s bowls, never the ones you use on your dishes and utensils.

Some might say don’t sanitize the bowls daily because the good bacteria can be beneficial to a healthy dog. But the downside of all the bad bacteria may outweigh any benefits from the good bacteria… something to discuss with your vet.

How often do you wash your pet’s bowls? What sanitizing method do you use? Tell us in the comment section at the top.






Head pressing in dogs and cats… no laughing matter

What could be cuter than your dog or cat rubbing its head against you for some love and affection? That’s one of the many joys of pet ownership.

But how about when your pet is incessantly rubbing its head against a wall or some other hard surface? You might think they’re just being silly. They’re not. This is serious.

This behavior, known as head pressing, is a sign something’s going on in their brain.  Head pressing differs from affectionate head butting. It’s difficult to discern in a cat because cats often rub their heads against people and objects to mark territory and show affection.

In dogs, as you can tell from the pictures, it’s more obvious.  It’s the compulsive nature of the behavior that alerts you to a problem. So it may be common in cats for them to rub their heads against things, but doing this nonstop should sound the alarm.

Photo source:

Head pressing tells you there’s damage to your pet’s nervous system and it can happen to any dog or cat, no matter the breed or age.

The damage can be caused by:

Prosencephalon (forward-most part of brain) disease

Toxic poisoning

Tumor in the brain

Metabolic disorder




Head trauma

Often, head pressing isn’t the only sign of a problem. Your pet may pace or circle endlessly. You may notice changes in learned behavior—they don’t respond to commands you’re certain they know. They may have seizures, vision problems, and abnormal vocalizations.

The head pressing, pacing and circling can lead to head and feet lesions if it’s allowed to go on for too long.

This behavior is always a sign of something serious. You must get your pet to the vet immediately. And be sure to share all the symptoms you’ve noticed, no matter how incidental they seem.

Your vet will examine the retina which may show infection or some other problem in the brain. They’ll likely do a CT scan or MRI of the brain. And a blood test and urinalysis will pick up any metabolic problem or toxicity.

Your vet will recommend a treatment plan based on the underlying diagnosis. But your pet will probably need follow-up neurological exams to monitor their improvement.

I recently read about head pressing and thought this would be an easy thing to miss—or misunderstand—and wanted to bring it to your attention so you can get your pet the help they need quickly.

Have you experienced head pressing in your dog or cat? Maybe your experience can help someone else, so please share in the comment section at the top.



Does your pet need a grain-free diet?

Happy Tails from Husse is a pet health blog. So logically, diet and nutrition is an important part of that. Because I’m feeling like the grain-free diet fad is becoming the elephant in the room, I thought it would be a good time for me to write about it.

Tell me you haven’t been wondering if you should switch your pet to a grain-free diet because some of your friends have. You’ve been seeing all the grain-free food on the shelves at the pet store and feeling a little guilty that you haven’t jumped on the grain-free bandwagon.

If you’re a Husse customer, maybe you’ve been wondering why they don’t offer a grain-free food and if they ever will.

Well, wonder no more. Husse’s grain-free food is on the way. And whether it’s right for your pet is what we’re talking about this week.

And to allay your concerns that you’re not a good pet parent if your pet eats grains, here’s what you should know.

What is grain-free and what isn’t it?

A grain-free diet is not a low-carbohydrate diet. The most common grains found in pet foods are wheat, barley, rye, rice and corn. Any pet food claiming it’s grain-free will not have one of these grains in its recipe. But it will have other carbs like potatoes or yams.

Sometimes grain-free foods are actually higher in carbohydrates than pet foods that include grains. So if your vet has suggested a low-carb diet because of diabetes or another health condition, a grain-free diet may be a bad idea.

Grain-free diets were developed in response to consumers wanting to feed their pets a diet that mimics their own. Since many people are going gluten-free, they think their pets should too.

But here’s the thing… gluten-free and grain free are not the same.

Does grain-free mean gluten-free?

Gluten is the protein found in certain grains, like wheat, barley and rye. But some grains, like rice and corn, are gluten-free.

So gluten-free pet food may or may not be grain free, if it has rice or corn in it. But grain-free will always be gluten-free because it will have no grains… either with or without gluten.

Some people have legitimate gluten intolerances. Some even suffer from celiac disease, which makes eating gluten very painful.

But dogs don’t get celiac disease, except for one genetic line of Irish Setters in the United Kingdom.

Cats can get a celiac-like disease. If your vet suspects your cat is gluten intolerant, they will likely recommend a gluten-free diet.

To find out if your pet is gluten intolerant, veterinarian, Ken Tudor, suggests trying a grain free diet for a while and then introducing a small amount of pasta to their food. If they’re okay with the pasta, they aren’t allergic to gluten.

What’s the argument for a grain-free diet?

Proponents of grain-free diets argue that grains are not a natural part of the canine diet. Their wolf ancestors never ate grains so domestic dogs shouldn’t either.

It could be argued that, the potatoes that replace the grains in many of these grain-free foods weren’t a natural part of the wolf diet either.

In earlier posts, I’ve talked about how dogs have evolved over thousands of years of domestication. And it’s not a realistic comparison. Domestic dogs—their behavior and their biology—don’t look like their wolf ancestors.

In fact, over the course of their evolution dogs’ genes changed, allowing them to easily digest carbs, including grains.

There’s also a misconception that grain free is better for pets with allergies. That is true if you’re certain your pet is allergic to the grain in its food. You can read my post to learn the 5 signs your dog has a food allergy.

Grains are not the most likely culprits of food allergies. Beef and dairy are the most common food allergens. And believe it or not, the grain that most often takes the rap—corn— is the least likely to cause allergies.

But when someone switches their dog to a grain-free food, they often see an improvement in symptoms and assume the grains in the old food caused the problem.

What’s really happening is the dog is now eating a better quality and more expensive food (eliminating the grains is expensive for the manufacturer), and the dog is responding to the overall improvement in the ingredients, not necessarily the lack of grains.

You’d be surprised how many offending ingredients are in a low quality food.

All premium dog foods, with or without grains, will include a protein source, usually chicken, as one of its main ingredients. That’s always preferable to a food with corn, wheat, or soy as one of the first ingredients listed on the label.

If you’re uncertain what the best protein source is for your dog, read my post.

Is there a potential downside to a grain-free diet?

There can be. First and foremost your pet’s diet should be nutritionally balanced and complete. Excesses or deficiencies of any nutrient can cause problems. And that’s true of grain-free diets too.

The nutrients derived from the grains need to be replaced if the grains are removed. Fiber and the energy from carbs are critical components that must come from a different ingredient if the grains are gone.

And a lack of fiber can have an effect on your dog’s poop—making the stool loose or causing constipation.

If you own a puppy, a diet high in protein is not good. In fact, many grain-free diets are recommended for adult dogs only. Be sure to talk to your vet about your puppy’s diet before switching to a food that’s grain-free.

Always remember there’s no such thing as a one-size fits all diet. You just won’t find a diet that’s right for all dogs. It’s important to know what YOUR dog needs. And give them a food that meets those needs.

Could GMOs (genetically modified organisms) cause grain allergies/intolerances?

I talked about genetically engineered food and our pets in my post a few months back. And there’s still no definitive answer to this question.

But it seems that there may be some link. In the U.S., many dogs suffer from food intolerances that might be because of the GMOs in our food supply.

In Europe, dog food does not contain GMOs and many fewer dogs are on grain free diets.

Corn and soy are almost always genetically modified in the U.S. (unless the crops are organic). This might lead some to conclude that if dogs in the U.S. show a greater intolerance to these ingredients—an intolerance uncommon in Europe— GMOs could be to blame.

Husse’s new grain-free food

Husse, a Swedish company, has never had a grain-free food because there just isn’t a demand for it in Europe. And because all of Husse’s foods are GMO free, pets that eat it are rarely intolerant or allergic to it.

But undeniably there are dogs with a true allergy or intolerance to certain grains. Husse can now meet the needs of those dogs that need a grain-free food with Opus, its line of super premium grain-free food for dogs. Grain-free cat food is coming soon.

Does your pet eat a grain-free diet? Tell us why you made the switch at the top of this post.

Canine dermatitis…5 types you might not have heard of

Spring is in the air and a lot of us, with our dogs, are enjoying getting outside again. But the outdoor time can mean allergies. Sometimes those allergies can lead to itching.

The thing about itching is that it can make our dogs lick and bite their skin. That can spell trouble.

Itching can lead to dermatitis…inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis comes in many forms—some allergy related, some not. And some can get serious.

So here’s what you need to know about 5 kinds of canine dermatitis you may not be familiar with.

1) Canine Atopic Dermatitis

What it is: This condition is the most common cause of chronic itching in dogs. Canine atopic dermatitis is a reaction to allergens in the environment.

Symptoms: Your dog will be very itchy, particularly around the face and feet. You may find areas of their body are red and moist from constant licking. The skin can become raw. If untreated, this skin damage can cause an infection.

Chronic ear infections are common in dogs with atopic dermatitis.

puppy-feetPhoto credit:

Treatment: Unlike humans, dogs don’t outgrow allergies. They have to be treated. That could include immunotherapy (allergy shots), anti-inflammatory medications, and topical treatments (shampoos, conditioners).

2) Acral Lick Dermatitis (Lick Granuloma)

What it is: Acral means “on the extremities” and the condition comes from incessantly licking one spot on the leg, foot or tail. Eventually a wound develops which causes the dog to lick even more.

Lick granulomas can be caused by any itchy skin condition (like atopic dermatitis), pain in the underlying bone or joint, boredom, stress, or OCD.

Some veterinarians believe that licking can become an addiction. Licking releases endorphins. These endorphins make the dog feel good and reduce pain. Which makes the dog want to keep doing it over and over.

This makes treatment tricky. Even after the underlying problem is resolved the licking sometimes continues because it’s become a habit that the dog can’t stop.

Symptoms: You’ll notice an area of thickened skin, usually on the front of the lower part of the paw or the base of the tail, that’s red and irritated. The area can become ulcerated if the licking continues.

faq-acral-lickPhoto credit:

Treatment: There are several treatments, but what works for one dog may or may not work for another because of the psychological aspect of the condition.

The wound often becomes infected so expect your vet to prescribe antibiotics. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, that’s all the dog needs.

Anti-inflammatories can minimize the irritation.

But getting the dog to stop licking is the real challenge. And unless they stop licking, the granuloma won’t go away.

Bitter sprays; electronic bandages that tingle when licked; and physical barriers like Elizabethan collars (the dreaded lampshade) may work. But once those bandages and collars are off, they may start licking again.

Because acral lick dermatitis is often a psychological problem, lifestyle changes could be in order. Your dog may need more exercise and time with you, a possible doggy companion, or even anti-anxiety medication.

Lick granulomas are challenging to treat. If you stop the dog from licking in one area, they’ll often lick in another.

3) Flea Allergy Dermatitis

What it is: This is a skin condition caused by prolonged itching if your dog is exposed to fleas…even minimal exposure to fleas can cause this type of dermatitis. Flea allergy dermatitis is a hypersensitivity to flea saliva.

Flea allergic dogs can react to just one bite, unlike most dogs that are unaffected by even a moderate number of fleabites.

Symptoms: You’ll notice hair loss, skin thickening, and redness—possibly to the point of raw—near the rump and base of the tail. It can also affect the dog’s thighs and abdomen.

faq-fleaallergydermatitisPhoto credit:

Treatment: There are a lot of flea control products on the market. And that’s the only solution…minimize the number of bites.

All pets in your home should be treated even if only one suffers from flea allergy dermatitis.

Your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatories. After the fleas are gone, it can take a while for the itching to stop and anti-inflammatories can help.

If the itching has caused a skin infection, your vet will prescribe an antibiotic. And shampoos and conditioners are available that can soothe your dog’s itchy skin.

4) Malassezia Dermatitis

What it is: Malassezia is a fungus or yeast that lives on your dog’s skin. It also lives in the ear and can cause ear infections. For most dogs, malassezia doesn’t cause a problem. But it can become a problem if it grows excessively.

This happens more in dogs with skin allergies or seborrhea. It may be congenital. And some breeds are more prone than others. Poodles, Basset Hounds, West Highland White Terriers, Dachshunds and Cocker Spaniels seem at greatest risk.

Symptoms: You may notice skin irritation, greasiness, redness, scaliness, thickening, dark pigmentation, and a smelly discharge from the lesions on the skin.

Malassezia most often affects the armpits, legs and neck. But it’s not uncommon to find it on the feet.

faq-malassezia02Photo credit:

Treatment: Malassezia is treated with anti-fungal medications, shampoos and conditioners. Because malassezia becomes a problem when there’s an underlying condition, your vet will have to diagnose that problem and treat it.

Topical therapies like shampoos will usually have to be continued to keep the infection from reoccurring.

5) Pyotraumatic Dermatitis (Hot Spots)

What it is: Pyotraumatic dermatitis is also known as a hot spot. It’s a skin infection caused by bacteria living on the skin that overgrow, typically because the dog is licking or biting the skin. This behavior disrupts normal skin function and allows the bacteria to grow.

This form of dermatitis is also brought on by incessant licking and biting provoked by an underlying skin problem.

Any dog can get pyotraumatic dermatitis, but Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are more prone.

Symptoms: The skin can become red, irritated, and inflamed. A lesion may form and you may notice pus in the sore. There may be hair loss in the affected area.

faq-pyotraumaticdermatitisPhoto credit:

Treatment: It’s common for the vet to clip the fur around the hotspot and prescribe an antibacterial spray to disinfect the area. Oral steroids may be prescribed as well to reduce the itching. Antibiotic cream could be needed too.

All of these forms of dermatitis are uncomfortable for your dog. Some are very painful. Minimizing underlying issues like allergies, fleas and ticks, and boredom can go a long way in keeping your dog’s skin healthy.

And whenever you detect a change in your dog’s coat or skin, be sure to talk to your vet.

Has your dog experienced any of these skin conditions? Share your experience in the comment section at the top.