Are You Feeding Your Dog Biofilm?

You are if you aren’t properly rinsing, wiping, and regularly washing your dog’s water bowls.  Did you know a 2011 Germ Study conducted by NSF International looked into the worst offending items in our homes and coming in fourth place was the dogs water bowl! (#7 was pet toys so wash them often).

PHOTO CREDIT: Pixabay

PHOTO CREDIT: Pixabay

What Is Biofilm?

Biofilm is that slimy stuff you can feel, and sometimes see, on the inside of a water bowl.  It’s a collection of good and bad bacteria bound together in a thick substance that acts as a glue to hold the bacteria together and adhere it to the surface. It provides a safe haven for organisms like Listeria, E. coli and legionella which can reproduce to levels where contamination of products passing through that water becomes inevitable. They can lead to a wide variety of microbial infections such as urinary tract infections, bladder infections, and middle ear infections. 

It can contain algae, bacteria and fungi that come from things your dog licks or eats while he’s in the yard, on walks, or even from his food. Some holistic vets believe healthy dogs can remain unaffected but why chance it?

I read where almost 80% of human infections affecting the gut, mouth, sex organs, lungs, heart, teeth, eyes, ear and skin are caused by biofilm associated microorganisms. I'm sure the same can apply to our pups.

How Can You Remove Biofilm?

Since biofilm can develop on a surface in just hours, wash your dog’s food bowl after every meal and the water bowl at least once a day but preferably twice a day. Don’t forget the outside water bowl which may need cleaning more often since hot weather provides the perfect environment for algae and bacteria to grow.

Biofilm needs to be physically broken up in order to be removed. For daily wiping, use a paper towel. For weekly cleaning use salt or the coarse side of a two-sided sponge to break it down, and then run through the dishwasher. Be sure not to use the same sponge you use to wash your dishes or kitchen counter.  If washing by hand scrub with hot soapy water, then rinse.   You can also make your own mild detergent by combining equal parts of baking soda, warm water, and table salt.

To really disinfect mix a solution of one tablespoon bleach to one gallon of water and pour into the bowl. Wipe some of the solution onto the outside of the bowl, too. Let it soak for two minutes, pour out the solution, and rinse really well to remove any bleach residue which is toxic to dogs.  You can use a bleach solution on ceramic, glass, plastic and stainless steel dishes but not aluminum.  Dishwashers are easier, safer, and just as effective because the heat is antimicrobial.

I’ve also heard of cleaning with apple cider vinegar. In fact some even add the recommended dosage of 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon per 50 pounds of body weight to their dog’s drinking water.  This would be beneficial only if your dog likes the taste. You don’t want to risk them drinking less water and becoming dehydrated so test this theory first. I tested it for a full week adding the apple cider vinegar to just the water bowl in the kitchen. By the end of the week it was still full since Kirby was only drinking from the other water bowls. He did not like the acidic flavor!

It is not recommended to wash your dog’s dishes in the bathtub or kitchen sink because of the risk of cross-contamination. Your dog’s food or water dish could have bacteria from his mouth and his food which you don’t want contaminating the dishes you and your family use.  Instead use a bathroom sink or large utility sink. If you do use the kitchen sink, you must disinfect it afterwards with diluted bleach (one tablespoon of bleach per one gallon of water). Put the stopper in place and fill the sink with the bleach. Let the mixture sit for about five minutes. Next, release the stopper to drain the sink. Finally, give the sink another quick rinse and let it air dry.

Kirby has a collection of food dishes since he’s fed homemade so after he’s eaten that bowl goes straight into the dishwasher since the fat in food is also a breeding ground for bacteria. He has water bowls in the kitchen and my bathroom which I empty, wipe out, and refill with clean water each evening. Since the water in the water fountain in his playroom is constantly moving I feel comfortable cleaning it on the weekend.  Everything is run through the dishwasher weekly.

What Are The Safest Dishes?

You want to use ceramic, glass, or stainless steel bowls since they don’t absorb the way plastics can. Plastic is not only very porous but it can easily get scratched, two things that make it much easier for algae, mold, and bacteria to collect and grow.