How fresh are your pets' food bowls?

Pet food bowls should be regularly cleaned

A SERVE: A recent study shows we are lax when it comes to hound hygiene. Picture: Shutterstock

A SERVE: A recent study shows we are lax when it comes to hound hygiene. Picture: Shutterstock


Unwashed pet food bowls can lead to animals and humans getting sick from bacteria including E. coli and salmonella, expert says.


How often do you clean your pet's food and water bowls?

Do you give them a quick rinse, put them in the dishwasher, or leave them outside for "nature" to take care of?

Or do your pets appear to lick the bowl clean after every meal?

Pet owners may not clean their pet's dishes often enough, according to a recent study.

Survey results of 417 US-based dog owners found 18 per cent of dog owners washed their dog's dish every three months or not at all.

The majority of respondents washed their dog's dish once per week, on average.

The study also found that while over one-third of respondents had households including children 13 years or younger, or immunosuppressed members, almost half stored pet food in close proximity to human food.

Around one-third prepared their dog's food on human food preparation surfaces, and only around one-third washed their hands afterwards.

Does it really matter?

The short answer is yes.

Pet food preparation involves the opportunity for the exchange of bacterial or other contaminants from food or water, dishes, and the food storage or preparation environment.

This can have health consequences for humans and animals.

For example, drug-resistant bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and Clostridium difficile have been isolated from pet food dishes in numerous studies, particularly where animals are fed raw diets.

These bugs can cause serious disease in people as well as pets.

As a veterinarian one of the most common conditions I see in companion animals is gastrointestinal upsets. Contamination of food with bacteria is a potential cause.

The location of the bowls is also important. Pet bowls exposed to slugs may be a source of the parasite rat lungworm, while those exposed to rat urine can be a source of leptospirosis.

And it isn't just infectious disease to worry about. Almost one in ten owners reported adding medications or supplements to their pet's bowls.

This is a potential source of exposure to other animals or humans in the household (if you've ever seen a toddler crawl over to a pet's bowl and start putting the contents in their mouth, you'll understand how this can happen).

The good news is that the risks of contamination can be reduced.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, which has published guidelines on the cleaning of pet bowls, we should all take a few steps to ensure the safe handling of pet food and treats:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling pet food, treats or bowls.
  • Scrape food dishes of food before washing.
  • Wash dishes with detergent in very hot (71°C) water for at least 30 seconds and dry thoroughly with a towel.
  • Or put them through a dishwasher for a wash and dry cycle.

Other precautions include:

  • Inspect food packaging for any visible damage prior to feeding
  • Avoid using the food bowl as a scooping utensil
  • Ensure that leftover pet food is covered (preferably in an airtight container)
  • Discard uneaten pet food in a way that pets cannot access.

By swabbing dog food bowls for bacteria, the researchers were able to demonstrate that owners who took these steps significantly reduced contamination.

That could make a big difference to the health of pets and people in your household.


LUISANA, E., SAKER, K., JAYKUS, L.-A. & GETTY, C. 2022. Survey evaluation of dog owners' feeding practices and dog bowls' hygiene assessment in domestic settings. PLOS ONE, 17, link here.

Dr Anne Quainis a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian