If you’re on "dog" or "cat-Tok" (for older pet parents, that’s a TikTok "For You Page" full of pet content), you may have seen some videos shaming owners who fail to regularly clean their pet food bowls. It got me thinking – how often ARE we supposed to be scrubbing our dog and cat dishes? I won’t lie – I’m personally guilty of going several days before running my pup’s plates through the wash. Guidelines and sanitary recommendations can be a bit hard to find online! That’s why we spoke with Figo Claims Specialist and former vet tech Liz Bastidas to get her thoughts on keeping your pet’s mealtime as hygienic as possible.
Why is food hygiene such an important issue for pets?
When you sit down for a meal, I'd bet you're usually grabbing a clean plate and set of utensils before you dig in. And hopefully, that meal is eaten on a table free of piled-up clutter and debris. Your pet deserves the same treatment! "Food space hygiene is super important for both cats and dogs, especially those with skin issues such as chin acne and allergies" Liz explains. "Unsanitary eating spaces can exacerbate existing conditions or cause new ones to pop up."
Is there a specific type of food bowl recommended for pets?
With so many options on the market, it can be hard to decipher what kind of pet food bowl is best. "When deciding what type of bowl to use it is recommended to be cautious when using plastic bowls as bacteria can get trapped in any scratches and pets may develop reactions to the plastic itself". Bastidas continues, "a favorite of mine is stainless steel, super easy to clean and durable."
How often do pet parents REALLY need to clean their dog or cat’s bowls?
On the topic of sanitizing food and water bowls, Bastidas says the most agreed-upon recommendation is - daily! "Believe it or not, cleaning the food bowl should be a daily task." Dishwashing and hand washing are both good options but definitely both come with things to keep in mind.
Dishwashing:The heat of the wash will kill off bacteria but be mindful of what soap you're using. It's also super important to ensure that the bowl is at an appropriate temperature before using it for feeding. "Any time I use the dishwasher I do a quick rinse of the bowl to remove any residual soap," Liz says.
Hand washing: This is Liz's preferred method "because it is easier to find liquid soap that is pet-friendly than it is to find pet-friendly pods (I use Meyer’s soap)". Pet bowls shouldn’t be combined with human bowls/utensils as you want to avoid cross-contamination, so handwashing can be easier and faster in this aspect.
What other hygienic feeding practices should I keep in mind?
Hand washing:According to a recent study, only one-third of pet owners wash their hands after feeding pets. If you're worried about food poisoning, you may want to get in the habit of giving your hands a good scrub after you fill Fido's bowl. Many cases of foodborne illness have originated from pet and human food cross-contamination, so it's best to be ultra-safe.
Food containers:The most ideal pet food storage situation for kibble is to keep it within its original packaging, in an airtight container. Many well-meaning pet parents dump the contents of their kibble bags straight into storage bins. This isn't ideal because fat and grease from the food can build up within containers and go rancid, contaminating future food and altering the taste. If you are for some reason keeping the kibble loose within an airtight container, make sure you're washing it out completely between new bags to eliminate any buildup. Wet food, on the other hand, should be stored in the fridge and sealed either with a can lid top or within another airtight sealing system. Discard any wet foodwithin 4 hours if it has been left out in temperatures above 50°F.
Separate spaces: Designate separate food prep areas for your dog or cat's mealtimes so you don't cross-contaminate with your own breakfast, lunch, or dinner. And if your pet is a messy eater, keep their bowls on a feeding matt, or elevated, to keep children away from any messes.
Don't forget, in the event that your pet does fall ill, pet insurance is a great investment to have in your pet parent toolkit. It ensures that you won't get hit with a pricey, last-minute vet bill.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.