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.






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