Most of us have been guilty of it from time to time: we let that dog bowl get reused for days, or even weeks, without washing it. After all, Fido licks it clean after every meal. It doesn’t look dirty. (Or maybe it does? ) And the water dish, well, it’s just water. We refill it daily, often several times a day. Doesn’t that by default keep it clean?
Simple answer — No.
When I was boarding dogs and continually had several dogs in and out of my home, I was pretty vigilant about keeping those dishes clean every day. Plus, some clients would bring their own dishes and I always wanted to return them in great condition.
But when I moved to an apartment recently and stopped boarding dogs, I noticed I became lax at regularly keeping my Jackson’s dishes clean. It’s just him here, and often his cousin Lillie, but that’s it. I quickly fell out of my routine of wiping down dishes.
One day I noticed his bowl had little bits of pumpkin left in it. (I sometimes mix his food with a bit of canned pumpkin – NOT pumpkin pie filling.) And I thought, “Oh my God, when was the last time I actually cleaned his dish?!”
I was embarrassed. Here I am, a dog walker and sitter. I used to board dogs. And I write about them. How could I have let my own dog’s dish get so dirty?
It’s an easy thing to forget, but luckily, it’s also easy to get back into — or begin — the habit of cleaning out Fido’s dish regularly.
Avoid Harmful Bacteria
But why is this important?
In this great article by Dr. Sara, DVM, she explains that there are multitudes of bacteria that can grow quickly on your dog’s dish. And not the good, healthy kind of bacteria, but the bad, make-our-dogs-and-us-sick kind.
Just a couple of examples she mentions include: Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, and Salmonella. In other words, staph infections, strep (sore throats to pneumonia), and salmonella, which affects the intestinal tract.
As we all know, dogs get into gross things all the time. They do tend to have hearty digestive systems in order to handle all the wonderful “treats” they enjoy discovering, so you might wonder what’s the problem with a dish that hasn’t been cleaned in awhile. Dr. Sara understands this question.
While it might sound like a good argument, the problem is these bacteria can all cause disease. This is a particular problem in young puppies, elderly dogs and dogs with weak immune systems.
I don’t have to tell you that cleaning your dog’s bowl is much cheaper than a trip to the vet.
Another thing to consider is that bacteria can spread to other members in your household. Plus, visitors might not appreciate the look or the smell of Fido’s dish.
So how often should we wash those bowls?
If your dog eats dry food exclusively, cleaning out the dish each night is enough. The same is true with her water dish. If she eats wet food, Dr. Sara recommends cleaning and sanitizing the dish after every meal.
She also recommends that if you keep the dishes on a mat of some type, that mat also should be cleaned daily. I’ll admit, this has never been my habit. I would throw it in the wash every week or so, or after a visit from a boarder, but now I plan to clean (or at least wipe down) Jackson’s mat more often. Maybe even daily as I should!
How to Wash Fido’s Dishes
All you need to properly clean your dog’s dish is what you would use for your own. A simple wash with dish detergent and hot water will do the trick. Consider dedicating a separate sponge or dish cloth for your dog’s dishes than the one you use for your own.
I often throw Jackson’s dishes in the dishwasher on the top shelf. But make sure to note what your dish is made of and check whether it’s dishwasher safe.
It’s best if you use stainless steel or ceramic dishes. They are easier to clean, plus they won’t breed bacteria quite as readily as a more porous substance like plastic. This does NOT mean you can wash them less often, just that these dishes will be easier to maintain.
I was a little surprised to learn that even running his dish through the dishwasher wasn’t enough to actually sterilize it. Yes, his dish was clean, but Dr. Sara recommends full sterilization once per week, and teaches us how.
After washing your dog’s bowl to remove any caked-on food and other grime, follow these steps:
- Add ½ cup regular bleach to a gallon of water.
- Let the dog bowl sit for 10 minutes.
- Remove and rinse thoroughly with fresh water.
- Leave it to air dry.
This simple treatment will kill parvo, a leading killer of puppies under six months old (older dogs are not immune either).
Note: chlorine-based disinfectants are unsuitable for stainless steel dog bowls and may cause them to rust.
Have Extra Dishes On Hand
Having a rotation of dishes will help this process. When I pick up Jackson’s bowls to wash and/or sterilize, I have a supply of clean ones to put down in turn.
While there are lots of super cute dishes to choose from, having a backup supply or two can actually be pretty inexpensive. Maybe have one set of your favorite dishes, and another for sanitizing day. I compare it to the sweats I wear on laundry day. (Although as a pet sitter, it’s not often I wear anything other than jeans anyway)
Are any of you brave enough to share your before and after pictures of those dog dishes in our Facebook group? No judgment or shame. Now that we all know what we should be doing, we can celebrate our new habit of keeping Fido’s dishes as clean as we — hopefully — keep our own.