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The Danger Lurking in Dogs' Water Bowls

Dogs’ water bowls are a breeding ground for dangerous germs, a 2018 Hartpury University study proves, and some are way worse than others.

In the first study of its kind, Animal Science Lecturer and PhD canditate, Aisling Carroll, and BSc Bioveterinary Science graduate, Coralie Wright, investigated how much bacteria build-up in dog water bowls is affected by the material a bowl is made from and how often it is cleaned.

Ms Carroll from Hartpury University said: “It is clear from our study that dog water bowls pose a disease risk to both human and animal health.”

The study also revealed that dangerous bacteria was more likely to thrive in plastic and ceramic bowls than those made from stainless steel and that potentially fatal bacteria, including E.coli, salmonella and MRSA, which can all be transferred from pets to their owners, have been discovered in different types of commonly available water bowls.

“The increasingly close contact between humans and their pets is leading to concerns regarding bacterial transmission of zoonoses – infectious diseases that be transmitted between animals and humans,” Ms Carroll also said.

If you want another, rather more topical and pressing example of a zoonotic disease, look no further than COVID-19. In their 2021 World Health Organization (WHO) states that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 to humans most likely occurred from bats through another animal, possibly a pangolin.

Meanwhile, far from the markets of Wuhan, sits your dog's water bowl, right there in your house, which has previously been identified, according to Ms Carroll "as the third most contaminated item within the household, which suggests that they are capable of disease transmission."

She goes on to explain, “the aim of our study was to identify whether the material – plastic, ceramic or stainless steel – and length of use of a dog’s water bowl influences the quantity and species of bacteria present.

“Our research suggests the significant increase of bacteria found in dog water bowls with length of use demonstrates the need for suitable cleaning regimes.

“We found the highest amount of bacteria in plastic bowls over time, but the most harmful bacterial species, including E.coli and MRSA, were most frequently identified in the ceramic bowls.

An additional problem with ceramic dishes is that glazes found on ceramics, porcelain, stoneware or earthenware may contain elevated and unacceptable levels of lead, which can leach into the water. Also, if plastic, stoneware or ceramic bowls are scratched, chipped or cracked, the crevices can harbor even more harmful bacteria.

“While further research is required to assess the most suitable bowl materials and cleaning practices," Ms Carroll said, "it is clear from our study that dog water bowls pose a disease risk to both human and animal health.”

So, which type of bowl should you choose? It really depends on your personal preference, but we use stainless steel.

But whatever material you choose, there are some basic guidelines you need to follow:

  1. Scratched or cracked plastic bowls should be recycled.

  2. Do not use cracked or chipped ceramics, earthenware or stoneware.

  3. Choose “BPA and Phthalate Free” products

  4. Wash, wash, wash your dogs' water bowls daily!

If you'd like to read the actual study, you can find it here:


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