Cleaning Your Dog’s Food and Water Bowls

Is it important to clean your dog’s food and water bowls? The short answer is ‘yes!’ It happens to be extremely important!

This is not something that I was extremely concerned about in the past. Although, when you make an investment in a new puppy you tend to start assessing the care delivered to your new canine. At first, having made my own dog food, I simply rinsed my bowls after each feeding. My family thought I was neurotic. Shortly thereafter, I was shown a picture on Facebook that showed a dog’s mouth that was badly ulcerated and blistered. You guessed it! It was from eating out of a dirty dog bowl. Soon I found myself researching and became somewhat overloaded with everything that a dog can contract from a dirty dog food or water bowl. Sometimes, research can be a person’s worst enemy.

Cleaning Your Dog’s Food and Water Bowls

There are some interesting findings in a germ study done in 2011 by NSF International. It was revealed that dog bowls are the fourth germiest place in our homes (dog toys were found seventh out of ten)! Their recommendation was to clean dog food and water bowls daily either by hand with hot soapy water or a dishwasher. The temperature of water required to kill bacteria on a surface is 145 degrees Fahrenheit. With that information, it is very unlikely that all bacteria will be killed. Therefore, it is important to sanitize your dog’s bowls in a bleach solution (1/2 tsp Clorox Bleach to 1 gallon water). Allow the bowls to soak for 10 minutes, rinse well, and allow to air dry.

Other sites make this same recommendation but include washing food bowls after each feeding for wet food. Some sites recommend a higher concentration (1/2 cup Clorox Bleach to 1 gallon water) of bleach solution for disinfecting. My personal preference is to clean my dog’s food bowls after each feeding and disinfecting twice weekly.

When cleaning your dog’s food and water bowls, do not wash them with ‘people’ dishes. Also, use a sponge specifically for your dog’s bowls. Lastly, use a utensil for mixing your dog food separate from your other utensils.

Types of Dog’s Food and Water Bowls

Dog’s Food and Water Bowl

Our pet markets today are loaded with choices of dog food bowls. You can purchase any size needed for your canine and now they even come available in a variety of shapes. The materials used can be plastic, ceramic, porcelain, silicone, stoneware, and stainless steel. Studies show that a plastic dog food bowl is the worst option due to the porous property of plastic, whereas stainless steel is the best.

Stainless Steel Bowls

I opt to use stainless steel bowls for our dogs for several reasons. One, the dogs cannot leave scratches in or destroy the bowl if they choose to chew on it. Two, they are relatively inexpensive as you only have to purchase one. Lastly, they are very easy to clean. I prefer a larger bowl for feeding so I purchase my bowls from Walmart . Bowls with a rubber base are also available if a non-slip surface is preferred.

When it comes to water bowls, stainless steel has been the go-to option for most people. Most recently I have come across a better choice. A reasonably priced, antimicrobial copper bowl, is offered for our furry friends by CuBowl. It is important to note that the CuBowl is for water use only and not designed for feeding dog food. Please take the time to read their entire website before making a purchase.

What’s Growing in Your Dog’s Food and Water Bowls?

I’m sure we are aware of the obvious dangers dog food bowls that can be chewed, or broken, and ingested present. It is imperative to consider the breeding grounds for bacteria, yeast, and mold in dirty food bowls when we ignore the importance of cleaning and sanitizing them.

Salmonella and E Coli (Colibacillosis) are the two most common growths seen in dog’s food and water bowls. Dirty bowls are a breeding ground for these little nasty bacteria. These bacteria are also classed as zoonotic which means they can be transmitted to humans.

The following information is not to get into specifics about certain infections, but to make you aware of the risks faced if we choose not to clean and sanitize our dog’s food and water bowls.

Salmonella and E. Coli

Signs and symptoms of Salmonella in dogs range from fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite to miscarriage and spontaneous abortions. More specifics of this bacterial infection can be read here.

E. Coli is a beneficial bacteria present in a dog’s intestines when it is an appropriate amount. Colibacillosis infection presents when there is an excess of the Escherichia coli bacteria in the intestine. Signs and symptoms are similar to Salmonella, although E. Coli infection can lead to septicemia and also increase the risks of Parvovirus in dogs. Further information regarding E. Coli can be found here.


It’s not often that we hear of Parvovirus being associated with dirty dog food and water bowls. Unfortunately, it is a risk that not only can affect puppies but older dogs as well. This particular virus is distinctly resistant and can live on surfaces for months! Because it is a virus, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. Care is aimed at controlling the symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration with the use of medications and fluids. More information regarding Parvovirus can be found here.

Other Considerations

Raw Diets

There are many who choose to feed a Raw Diet to their dogs and swear that it is the best diet choice. I am not here to debate this topic, but to share the risks connected to feeding a Raw Diet. The CDC reports that Salmonella and Listeria bacteria have been found in raw dog food. If you choose to go this route of feeding, proper hand-washing technique, cleaning and sanitizing your work area, and keeping raw dog food separated from human food is crucial for decreasing the risk of contamination.


Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is seen in dogs that have come in contact with contaminated water. This infection is of great importance to those who keep an outdoor water bowl, or live on/visit property where your canine has access to water sources that may be stagnant for a period of time throughout the year.

If you keep an outside water bowl, the risk of contaminated water is always present as long as it is somewhere that birds have access to it. This is a challenge for most, especially during the summer months. Providing fresh water several times throughout the day will aid in the prevention of contamination.

The bacteria enters the dog’s bloodstream through either a cut on the dog’s skin or its mucous membranes. Symptoms will typically present in 4-12 days following exposure and can be mild such as fever, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite, or can turn into a severe illness leading to kidney failure and death. Further information regarding treatment and prognosis can be found here.

There is much research available surrounding this topic. I have only scraped the surface but I hope that what I have presented will give you pause to consider the importance of maintaining clean dog food and water bowls.

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