People don’t often think about dog bowls. They’re sitting there quietly, minding their own business. But if you were to take a microscope to the party of bacteria that is happening, you’d realize that those bowls aren’t quiet at all – it’s more like the clubs you sneak into when you were 19 – skeezy and gross!
Similarly, when drinking out of a re-usable or one-use water bottle, you’ll taste the difference. The same goes for our doggos and they usually have the same bowls for food and water for YEARS.
That’s why I’m going to break down which bowls are safest for your dog, how often to clean, and how to best clean your dog’s bowls.
So, which bowls are the safest?
Largely considered the number one type of surface on which to feed your dog from by the ‘experts’. The reasons? Apart from its durability and lightweight structure, it is the material that is least likely to harbor pathogens that can make your dog sick.
This is because, unlike it’s ceramic and plastic counterparts, it is very difficult to scratch (unless you’re using steel wool to clean it – don’t do that!) has no sneaky porous holes, cracks or crevices for food or bugs to get stuck in. Additionally, they are super easy to clean and sanitize. Typically, they are all dishwasher safe (know that you may be purchasing an inferior product if it is not listed as dishwasher safe!) and can withstand boiling water temperatures – heats that most harmful bacteria and other pathogens will not survive at.
However, they are not without fault. Stainless steel bowls have on occasion been found to contain low levels of radiation such as in 2012 when a large number of these bowls were recalled from particular Petco stores for this very reason. In an effort to circumnavigate this, make sure you are purchasing a high quality product that is sourced and manufactured in the USA. As radiation often occurs as a result of recycling scrap metal to make it more affordable.
These bowls are the newest material to hit the dog bowl market. And, with very few negative implications to their design (as of right now), they are also some of the most popular. The fascination and excitement around these bowls, stem from their unique durability and flexibility as a direct result of their construction, making them ideal for throwing in your dogs bag or your backpack when hiking, running, going to the dog park or even on overnight trips or plane/car travel etc. Many have a collapsable design for this reason.
As mentioned, so far there hasn’t been any negative implications linked to the use of silicone bowls. However, as they are the newest products available studies are likely still being completed. Stay tuned.
What bowls to avoid
Most experts (think veterinarians, veterinary technicians/nurses, dog trainers etc) agree that plastic is perhaps the worst option available when it comes to feeding and watering your furry friends. This is because of the chemicals that may be contained within the materials when they are produced. These chemicals can leach into your dog’s food/water and cause a multitude of health issues as a direct result of these toxic substances your dog is inadvertently consuming.
Additionally, plastic is easily scratched/damaged and these grooves and scratches make a perfect environment for old food particles to become trapped, resulting in the overgrowth of bacteria and other contaminants to which your dog is now being exposed to. This often leads to skin irritation, inflammation and/or infection around the chin and muzzle. As well as the consumption of these pathogens by your dog can lead to other issues in the future.
Answer: Don’t use plastic.
A step up from plastic, but still has its pitfalls. Ceramic bowls used to be ‘coated’ (and some still are) with a lead-containing glaze. Lead is a very toxic heavy metal and ingestion of this substance over time will lead to multiple health issues for your dog. Prior to purchase, you should see a clear indication somewhere on the bowl, as to whether it was coated with a lead-containing glaze. If you don’t see this, don’t purchase it!
Additionally, if the glaze is ever cracked then the bowel is rendered essentially useless, as the glaze was the protective outer layer to the porous ceramic underneath. And, you don’t want to use a porous substance repetitively to feed your dog. The reason behind this is it will harbor microscopic food particles, leading to bacterial and other pathogen overgrowths. This is impossible to clean out, as there is no way to ensure you have cleaned every tiny porous space in your dog’s bowl no matter how hard you try.
Answer – Steer clear, even if the designs are cute.
Not commonly used in dog bowl construction and this is because the aluminum can leach from the bowl and into the food being consumed by your pup. Large amounts of aluminum can result in many negative health consequences and it is strongly recommended to avoid these bowls. Even if it says on the box that it has been anodized (treated) by an electrolytic process to make it safer.
Answer – Avoid at all costs.
How Often Should I Clean My Dog’s Food and Water Bowls?
Just like we clean our dishes after every meal to prevent food particle build-up and bacteria growing on our plates, your dog‘sbowl should be cleaned at the same frequency for these reasons. Especially if you feed canned wet food or pre-packaged ‘‘homecooked’ style foods (think Just for dogs or Spot and Tango). Basically, if you feed anything with moisture this may result in food particles sticking to their dish, unlike dry kibble. And you wouldn’t eat from a plate that had crusty, day-old food adhered to it, so neither should your dog.
Ideally, your dog’s bowl should be – at a minimum – rinsed and wiped down with hot water (even better if you do this with a teeny amount of dog-friendly dish soap) after each meal. This will prevent food from building up and drying out which can then result in contamination of your dogs next meal.
If you feed dry food, wiping down the bowl once a day with a damp paper towel is typically sufficient (as a bare minimum), however, a quick rinse under hot water once they’re done eating would be better.
Furthermore, putting the bowl through the dishwasher (even if these are your hands) once a week is necessary to ensure you clean off any sticky leftovers and/or bacterial build-up. When it comes to water bowls, topping up your dogs water bowl is acceptable for 1-2 days at most. After this, you should completely empty the bowl of water, and clean it with hot water and dish detergent, letting it air dry. Or better yet, run it through the dishwasher at this point, to ensure there is no water scum build-up resulting in bacterial pathogens or other nasty contaminants floating about in your dog’s water bowl waiting to be lapped down.
What products should I use to clean my dog’s bowl (and can I use my dishwasher?)
If you have a dishwasher, then you’re in luck (sorry most NYC apartment inhabitants!). But the dishwasher is going to be the best place for cleaning (dishwasher safe) bowls. This is because the high temperatures of the water in combination with your dish detergent will be most effective at eliminating the nasty pathogens that accumulate during and after your dog’s feeding frenzy.
For an extra-sanitizing boost, you can soak your dog bowls for approximately 10 minutes in a bleach/water solution prior to running them through your dishwasher on high heat.
For those of you whose dishwasher is your own two hands, soaking your dog’s bowl in hot water with a small amount of normal dishwashing detergent (and or the bleach/water combination mentioned above) will help loosen any remaining food particles prior to scrubbing them with a specifically designated ‘dog bowl only’ sponge (you don’t want to accidentally clean your casserole dish with your dog’s leftover food particles!). Again, using hot water and your regular dishwashing detergent should do the trick, just ensure you rinse off any remaining soap really well prior to feeding your dog again.
(too long didn’t read – aka a summary)
Yey – Stainless steel, silicone
Nay – Plastic, aluminum, +/- ceramic
Washing – Rinse daily (ideally after every meal, particularly if feeding ‘moist foods’). Full cleaning at least weekly, the dishwasher is ideal, otherwise hot water, a sponge, and dish detergent works well.