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Dangers lurk in dirty pet bowls

Original Publication Date: November 16, 2015
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

Pets can be voracious eaters. After every morsel of food has been devoured, a dog or cat may continue to lick his bowl until it is spotless.

Looks can be deceiving as invisible germs thrive on the licked-clean surface. Similarly, repeatedly topping off a pet's water bowl sets up a breeding ground for bacteria. You wouldn't use the same plate and glass for breakfast, lunch, and dinner without washing them. Your pet's dishes require the same attention to cleanliness as your own.

The National Sanitation Foundation International, a public health organization, rated pet food and water containers as the fourth dirtiest spot in our homes. Think about where your pet's mouth has been. He uses it to play with toys, your dirty socks, sticks, and other items jam-packed with germs. He also uses his tongue for grooming everything from his feet to his behind. His saliva carries an assortment of undesirable microorganisms that can grow to mind-boggling numbers by the next meal or drink of water if left in an unwashed bowl.

Plastic food bowls are some of the most popular on the market. Unfortunately, they can be the most dangerous to use for your pet's food and water. Plastic bowls scratch, and the little crevices provide bacteria a great place to hide and grow. Even a good cleaning can't get them out.

Perhaps more dangerous is a chemical called BisphenalA that is present in many plastic pet bowls. It is a synthetic estrogen used to harden polycarbonate plastics. BPA, a known carcinogen, can leach into your pet's food from his plastic bowl.

There are more dangers. tests pet products for lead, chlorine, arsenic, and other chemicals. It reports some plastic bowls that are BPA free contain medium levels of lead. Obviously, plastic bowls are not safe for your furry friend.

Dangers lurk in dirty pet bowls Dangers lurk in dirty pet bowls
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Stainless steel bowls are the best choice. They are unbreakable, durable, dishwasher-safe and easy to keep clean. You may prefer a colorful ceramic or stoneware bowl. That is a good choice if it is dishwasher safe and has a lead-free food-grade glaze. Ceramic bowls are sturdy, nonporous, and easy to clean but should be discarded if they become chipped or cracked.

Care for your pet's bowls like you do your own dishes. Food bowls should be washed after each meal and water bowls need to be cleaned daily. Use hot soapy water if you wash by hand.

NSF International recommends running pet bowls through the hottest dishwasher cycle to make certain they are sanitized.

Your pet may lick his bowl clean, but don't let him use that dish for multiple meals. His plate and water bowl need to be washed with hot sudsy water.

Your pet is family, and like the humans in the family, his health relies on well-scrubbed dishes for every meal.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at