Is That Biofilm on Your Dog Dish?
Biofilm is the same icky stuff that clings to your teeth. Here’s how to get rid of it
It might be tempting to skip cleaning Fido’s food and water bowls daily because, well, he’s not picky. He eats off the floor and drinks out of the toilet. But lax cleaning is bad for your pet — and can even harm kids who touch the dishes then lick their fingers.
Dog bowls that aren’t cleaned often enough offer a perfect environment for the growth of biofilm, a gluey substance that forms when many bacteria attach to a watery surface.
You’ve likely encountered biofilms in places around the house, from the slime on your shower curtain to the goo that clogs your drain to, yes, even the plaque on your teeth.
How does biofilm coat your dog’s dish? Biofilm starts when you have a surface — for example, a metal, plastic, glass or ceramic bowl — plus bacteria, moisture and nutrients, according to the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University. The bacteria release a slippery, sticky substance in which they can live, multiply and stay protected. It’s like glue, which is why it can be so darn hard to get off a dog bowl.
Biofilms can contain just one bacteria species but usually contain many, along with other microorganisms. The biofilm on your dog’s bowl could contain algae, bacteria and fungi that come from stuff your dog licks or eats while he’s out on walks or in the yard, as well as from his food, says Joseph Kinnarney, DVM, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Here are six tips for cleaning and disinfecting your dog’s bowls — and banishing the dreaded biofilm forever.
1. Use stainless steel bowls. Plastic bowls scratch easily and can be harder to sanitize.
2. Clean the bowls regularly. Since biofilm can develop on a surface in just hours, wash your dog’s food bowl after every meal and his water bowl twice a day, Kinnarney says. If your dog spends time outside, you should have a water bowl in your yard — and you might need to clean that dish even more frequently, especially in hot weather, which provides a perfect environment for algae and bacteria to grow, Kinnarney says.
3. Wash them anywhere but the kitchen sink. Pet food can contain salmonella, E. coli and other germs, and those nasties can get on your dog’s bowls. Don’t wash pet dishes in your kitchen sink because you could transfer germs to your dishes or utensils, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Don’t wash them in the bathtub, either. Instead, try a bathroom or utility sink.
4. Got slime? Scrub first. Biofilm needs to be physically broken up in order for a disinfectant to work well on the bacteria, according to Cleaning Business Today, a trade publication for the cleaning industry. Use something abrasive to clean the dish before you disinfect. Goodhousekeeping.com recommends using salt on a household sponge (not the same one you use to wash your dishes or kitchen counter, of course). The coarse side of a two-sided sponge works well, Kinnarney says.
5. Disinfect with bleach. Mix a solution of one tablespoon household bleach to one gallon of water, then fill the pet bowl. Wipe some of the solution onto the outside of the bowl, too. Let it soak for two minutes, pour out the solution, then air dry the bowl. Rinse it well afterward to remove bleach residue, Kinnarney says. You can use a bleach solution on ceramic, glass, plastic and stainless steel dishes — but not aluminum. Bleach solution stays effective as a sanitizer for only 24 hours, so don’t mix up too much at once.
6.Use the disinfect cycle on your dishwasher. Not a fan of bleach? An easier and just as effective option: Put the dog bowl in your dishwasher and run it using the sanitize option. “Dishwashers are great because the heat is antimicrobial,” Kinnarney says. As long as you use the sanitizing cycle, you can wash pet bowls with your other dishes.
Related: How to Choose a Reliable Pet Sitter