Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: Cleaning your pet’s food and water dishes

Pet food and water bowls can develop a ‘slime’ or biofilm over time, which trap bacteria. This means pet dishes should be washed at least once weekly, Dr. Llera explains in his response to a reader question. Photo by Daria Shevtsova.

Today I’m answering another reader-submitted question, this time on cleaning food and water bowls for your pets.

Hi Dr. Llera,
I recently saw a post about the need to clean the “slime” out of your pets’ water and food dishes. The post was specifically about dogs.
I grew up in the country on a farm, and we always had dogs, but I don’t ever remember my mother or any of us washing the dogs’ bowls. As I still have a dog, I was a little alarmed, and when I washed my dogs bowl, it took FOREVER to get all the “slime” off.
Is it really that important to clean your dog’s dishes? If so, how often should they be cleaned and how do you advise cleaning them?
Thanks for your time,
Maggie W.

Hi Maggie and thanks for your question,

Pet food and water bowls can be a breeding ground for bacteria that get introduced from their mouths. The slime that is seen is called “biofilm” and is essentially a shielded environment for the bacteria that are now living in the bowl. Its goal is to allow the bacteria to survive, hence the reason it sticks to the bowl so well. Why it wasn’t a problem when you were growing up, I can’t explain, but I feel that the biofilm seems worse with plastic bowls, and those may not have been as commonly used in years past.

Some bacteria are good, but some can be bad. This may determine the frequency of which you wash the bowls. In general, yes, it is important to clean your pet’s bowls. It’s not worth the risk of your pet getting sick.

I would recommend cleaning the bowls at a minimum of once weekly. But that could vary depending on your individual pet’s breed or pet health issues. Breeds that have a lot more skin folds (jowls) or severe dental disease may benefit from more frequent cleaning. Hot, soapy water and scrubbing may often be enough. Additionally, you can run the bowls through a dishwasher for a closer to sterile clean. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you can try mixing baking soda, salt, and warm water in equal amounts and use the paste it makes to scrub the bowl before rinsing.

One last note about bowls – I recommend avoiding plastic bowls. The material is porous enough that small defects in the surface will be impossible to clean and are more likely to contribute to problems like chin acne or skin rashes.

– Dr. Ryan Llera

If there’s something you’ve often wondered or questions you have about regarding pets, let us know by email at [email protected].

*Please note that specific medical questions about your pet cannot be addressed and you should speak with your personal veterinarian.

Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with two cats, two dogs, two horses, and a rabbit. Dr. Llera also contributes writing to various other animal and veterinary related blogs. You can find more of his writing at, or see what else he is up to on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Disclaimer: All columns are personally written and my opinion, and may not necessarily reflect those of current or former employers.

One thought on “Kingstonist’s Wizard of Paws: Cleaning your pet’s food and water dishes

  • We have definitely. Seen an improvement since changing from plastic to ceramic & metal. My poor cat would get a huge pimple like boil on his chin & hasn’t had any problems since the change. We also change the water daily.

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