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How to keep your pet’s water clean

It is often said that water is the most important nutrient, and this applies to our four-legged friends too! Keeping them hydrated is so important for their health, which is why making sure our pets have constant access to fresh water is critical. Like us, our pets enjoy a nice cool drink of water, however, an area of pet care that many owners may not be aware of is the importance of keeping those bowls clean, and how to do this!

The importance of clean water for pets

You may be surprised at some of the health threats to which your pet could be exposed just from using a water (or food) bowl that is not kept free from germs, which are invisible to the naked eye. Water bowls can contain bacteria and mould that could harm your pet’s health, for example, by causing gastrointestinal upset.

You may be wondering how these germs and bacteria accumulate, but it doesn’t take much – saliva and food scraps can build up, and if bowls are left outside, they can become contaminated by dirt and even the urine or faeces of other animals.

A particular danger to pets is drinking water that has been contaminated by the urine of rodents infected with leptospirosis, a potentially fatal bacterial disease that can affect dogs, cats and humans. Blue-green algae is also toxic to dogs and cats, causing a fatal bacterial disease that can develop quickly. Algae does not just develop in large stagnant waterways – it can build up in water bowls that are left unattended over time due to algal blooms.

Tips on keeping water clean

Some important ways to protect your pet’s water from contamination is to never leave their bowl in the sun or near bird feeders, and to bring outdoor bowls in at night for cleaning and to avoid nocturnal visitors.

The type of bowl is also a factor to consider. Some bowls are more porous, such as plastic or unglazed ceramic bowls, the porosity makes them harder to clean, and they are more likely to carry bacteria, particularly when they develop tiny scratches. The safest choice is stainless steel, which is the easiest to disinfect, followed by ceramic bowls but these must be glazed with a lead free glaze and free from cracks. Glass bowls can cause injury and they can heat up to the point of breaking if left in the sun.

Once you have the right bowl, the most important task – apart from ensuring they are always filled with fresh water – is cleaning! Recent research has found that many pet owners are not aware of safe guidelines for how to wash their pet’s water and food bowls, but educating yourself and your family about this can help reduce the risk of contamination that is harmful to both animal and human health.

How often should I clean my pet’s water bowl?

Pet food and water bowls should be cleaned regularly, and this means much more than just a quick rinse! Cleaning should be done daily by washing the bowls in very hot soapy water for at least 30 seconds (you should use a designated sponge for your pet’s bowls) or dishwashing detergent and then thoroughly dry with a towel. This should be accompanied by a weekly full sanitisation in the dishwasher, which can even be run on a separate cycle if you are concerned about anyone in the household who is immunocompromised.

You may not think your pet’s bowl is dirty, but a film that may not be visible to the naked eye can develop on the surface. In general, if the bowl doesn’t look like something you would eat or drink from, then neither should your pet! And as always, for the safety of humans, it’s important to always wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling your pet’s food and water, and this is equally important when handling their bowls.

A clean routine

Keeping your pet’s water clean is easy once you get into a routine, and those shiny bowls mean less contamination and less risk of disease for both your pets and human family members.

The unexpected can always happen of course, so having pet insurance is a great way to assist your furry friend to receive treatment for eligible accidents and illness. If you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums will go towards supporting the RSPCA.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.