5 Things You Need to Know About Your Pet’s Water Bowl

If your pet’s water bowl isn’t cleaned often, it could affect the health of humans in your household. By: J.Feinberg Photography

How much do you think about your pet’s water bowl?

Do you know that the dog’s drinking bowl is the third most germ-laden place in the house — after the toilet bowl and the kitchen sink?

We all know clean, fresh water is vital for good health. With this in mind, you probably top up the bowl every time it goes down.

But as it happens, this isn’t sufficient to ensure good health. Merely topping up the water level does nothing to control harmful bacteria or even toxins that can be lurking in the water. Not only are these bugs unpleasant, but also they can cause illness in people, especially those with weak immune systems.

Without further ado, let’s splash around in the depths of exactly how unhealthy a water bowl can be.

1. Biofilms Are Bad

Does your pet have a stainless steel drinking bowl? Next time you rinse the bowl under the tap, look for that misty, smoky layer covering the metal.

If you can’t see it, try wiping your finger across the wet metal surface. If your fingertip leaves a clean streak in its path, then you’re looking at a biofilm.

The definition of a biofilm is: “A thin but robust layer of mucilage adhering to a solid surface and containing a community of bacteria and other microorganisms.” OK, a biofilm is like a thin layer of stickiness rich in bacteria that coats a surface.

You will have experienced a biofilm for yourself the last time you skipped brushing your teeth. You know that unpleasant stickiness that coated your teeth? Well, this is a biofilm made up of mucin, which is a mucous-like glue and bacteria combination.

When water comes into contact with a biofilm, it then becomes a weak bacterial soup. When the pet drinks that water, it’s tantamount to challenging their immune system to a duel. If the dog is very young, elderly or on immune-suppressive drugs, then there’s a risk of them becoming ill.

Stainless steel is much better than plastic when it comes to your pet’s water bowl. By: Didgeman

2. Bugs Are Doing the Backstroke in the Water Bowl

What bugs are typically found in a water bowl?

The bowl can play host to an unsavory gang of bugs, such as salmonella, E.coli, Serratia Marcescens, molds and even MRSA. These can occur in water that’s left standing for a while, or it can be acquired from other pets who drink from the same bowl.

Even if your dog doesn’t become sick, these bacteria can pose a risk to people. Again, think of children, the elderly or those on immunosuppressive meds as being at risk of picking up a nasty infection.

3. Plastic Bowls Are Pretty Terrible

Plastic bowls have more than their fair share of problems when it comes to drinking water. The plastic surface is easily scratched, which provides inviting nooks and crannies for bugs to hide in.

But more than this, plastic bowls are made of chemicals. One of these in particular, p-benzyl hydroquinone, inhibits the production of melanin (dark pigment).

It’s melanin that gives a black, leathery nose its rich, deep color. When a nose has regular contact with p-benzyl hydroquinone, such as when the dog drinks, it can cause depigmentation. This can lead to a black nose turning mottled or patchy-looking.

And if this substance can do this to the outside of the body, what’s it doing to the inside?

We know that BPA (a chemical that hardens plastic) can interfere with the production of natural hormones in the body. In people, BPAs are linked to diabetes, impaired brain function and cancer. When you think how small dogs and cats are compared to people, the dose of BPA they get must be relatively higher.

In short: Ditch the plastic drinking bowls!

Give your pets the best chance at good health by washing their bowls regularly. By: Tiomax80

4. Micro-Cracks Lurk in Ceramic Bowls

Surely, a good, heavy-duty ceramic bowl is better, right? Yes and no.

Ceramic bowls aren’t regulated in terms of what goes into making them. There is concern that some originating from China contain lead. Lead is a toxic substance that causes destruction of the red blood cells and nerve damage … and is generally a substance best avoided.

In addition, the glaze on a ceramic bowl is subject to micro fractures. This is called “crazing” within the glaze and can be seen on a microscopic level.

Scientists investigating biofilms found them to be just as bad on ceramic bowls as plastic. They suspect this ultra-fine crazing somehow provides “grip” for the microfilm to stick to.

The Husky in this video has a bit of fun with the old water bowl: 

5. Stainless Steel Is Best

The hands-down winner when it comes to drinking bowls is stainless steel. However, this is only if they are washed regularly, preferably on a daily basis.

Even a stainless steel bowl builds up a biofilm if it’s not washed properly. Get into the habit of washing your dog’s water bowl daily, preferably with hot, soapy water or by putting it through the dishwasher.

Don’t be tempted to merely top up the water level — this is feeding the bacterial soup. For optimal health for your pets — and family — chose stainless steel and empty it out daily, wash it with hot, soapy water, rinse and fill with fresh water.


This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Oct. 5, 2018.

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