Ask five people with dogs how often they wash their pet’s food bowl, and you’ll probably get five different answers. While there are likely several reasons for this, one is that despite the fact that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued hygiene protocols on dog food dish contamination, not many people—including veterinarians—are familiar with them, according to a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
If you fall into that category, here’s what to know about the importance of washing your dog’s food bowl, and how often you should be doing it.
Why is it important to wash your dog’s food bowl?
Like other types of food, dog food and treats can be contaminated with harmful bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses like salmonellosis and listeriosis, according to the FDA. But your dog’s not the only one at risk of getting sick: Humans who are exposed to E. coli– or salmonella-contaminated dog food can also end up ill.
“Dirty dog food bowls run the risk of growing bacteria that may be harmful to you or your pet,” Jamie Whittenburg (DVM), a veterinarian with SeniorTailWaggers.com and the director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Lubbock, Texas tells Lifehacker.
How often should you wash your dog’s food bowl?
If you’ve gotten in the habit of going weeks—or even months—without washing your dog’s food bowl, it’s time for a change.
“Regardless of the type of food fed, you should treat your pet’s bowl like you do your dinner plate, and wash it with soap and water after every meal,” Whittenburg explains. To reduce bacterial contamination, she recommends washing your dog’s food bowls either by hand with warm soapy water, or in the dishwasher.
The FDA’s dog food safety guidelines also advise washing the scoop (or other utensil you use to dish out the food) with soap and hot water after each use.
And don’t forget about your dog’s water dish. “Water bowls that are not frequently washed build up a biofilm—that sticky, slimy residue around the edges,” Whittenburg notes. She recommends thoroughly washing your dog’s water bowl every three days.