How Often Should You Clean Your Cat's Food and Water Bowls?

How long has it been since you washed your cat's food and water bowls... or has it been too long?

Cat eating from stainless steel bowls

According to a Petco survey, 20% of pet parents clean their pet bowls only once a month. No judgement if that is you. By finding this article, you are interested in learning more!

Cats actually need clean food and water bowls EVERY SINGLE DAY just like us. Here's why: 

Germs Lurk on Dirty Bowls

NSF International, a public health and safety organization, found that pet bowls were the 4th germiest household item. Out of 30 items tested, only kitchen sponges, kitchen sinks, and toothbrush holders contained more bacteria, yeast, and mold than pet bowls. 

Would you let your loved ones eat off of your kitchen sponge? No! As cat parents, it is your responsibility to provide clean bowls to keep your cats healthy. 

Causes of Germy Cat Bowls

1. Just like human food, if cat food is left out for too long, harmful bacteria, such as E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Pasteurella multocida, Corynebacterium, Streptococcus, Enterobacteria, Neisseria, Moraxella, Bacillus, and Pseudomonas can grow.

Because cats eat and drink directly from their bowls, microbes that live in your cat's mouth can transfer to the bowl. Leftover food combined with leftover saliva create an environment for bacteria to flourish.

2. Cat bowls themselves may also be housing bacteria. Plastic and ceramic cat bowls can develop grooves and scratches where bacteria can hide. Even scrubbing can’t sanitize in between these tiny crevices. As a result, bacteria in the bowl's cracks may be transferred to your cat’s food and then to your cat during the next meal.

3. After mealtime, even though your cat's bowl may look empty, that doesn't mean it is clean. Have you ever felt slimy residue around a bowl? That is called biofilm. Biofilm occurs when bacteria from leftover food and saliva bond together. It can make your cat sick, and it also releases an offensive smell. Your cat’s sense of smell is about twenty times as strong as yours. And a bad smell can deter your cat from eating.

Microorganisms Can Make Your Cat Sick

Ingesting harmful bacteria can make your cat sick, causing diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, and other serious conditions.

Also, feline acne may develop around your cat's mouth or chin. Cat acne is most frequently caused by bacteria in cat bowls and can result in breakouts, hair loss, redness, or bleeding scabs. If your cat scratches or licks the affected area, a bacterial infection may also develop.

Biofilm, that glue-like substance that remains on dirty bowls, has been linked to periodontal disease in dogs and cats. Periodontal disease is the most common disease in cats under 10 years old. Biofilm clings to cats’ teeth and gum tissue and hardens into tartar. Over time, tartar can cause inflammation and lead to oral pain, bad breath, bleeding, swelling, and eventually, tooth loss. Gum disease can also affect cats' kidneys, liver, and heart.

So how do you keep your cat safe? Next, we'll share tips on choosing a bowl that minimizes the risk of bacteria, how often to change or wash bowls, and how to properly wash bowls.

Tip 1: Use Stainless Steel Cat Bowls (Not Plastic or Ceramic)

In an earlier blog "Plastic, ceramic, or stainless steel cat bowls?" we evaluated the pros and cons of each cat bowl material and gave each an overall safety grade. Plastic and ceramic cat bowls are prone to tiny cracks and crevices, sometimes even invisible to your eyes. These cracks and crevices can become breeding grounds for bacteria and are impossible to fully sanitize. So, avoid plastic or ceramic cat bowls.

Instead, use a stainless steel cat bowl. Stainless steel is non-porous, so bacteria cannot enter stainless steel's solid surface. Also, Stainless steel bowls can be fully sanitized in the dishwasher or by hand. 

Stainless steel cat bowls

Tip 2: Choose Cat Bowls that Prevent Whisker Fatigue

Although a bowl may be labeled for cats, it may actually be too deep or steep. If a bowl is too deep or steep, cats' sensitive whiskers rub against the sides of the bowl causing whisker fatigue. (Yes, whisker fatigue is actually a medical condition. Read more here.)

Whisker fatigue is uncomfortable and causes cats to stop eating, leaving leftover food behind. This leftover food can then become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Be sure to choose a whisker friendly bowl that is wide and shallow so that it's easy for your cat to reach every morsel. This will help limit bacteria from finding your cat's leftovers.

Recommendation: Americat Company Bowls are Stainless Steel & Whisker Friendly

Americat Company stainless steel bowls are made in the USA from U.S. stainless steel in a facility that also makes human medical and culinary products. This durable stainless steel keeps bacteria out.

Also, the wide and shallow design prevents whisker fatigue. Since cats can comfortably reach every bite, Americat Company bowls reduce the likelihood of leftover food and bacteria.

Tip 3: Give Your Cat Clean Bowls Daily

Give your cat a clean cat food bowl EVERY SINGLE DAY - either wash your cat's bowl daily or have extra bowls on hand.

If your cat is on a raw food diet, consider giving your cat a clean bowl after each use.

Change your cat's water each day and swap out your cat's water bowl daily or at least every 2 days.

Wash Cat Bowls in the Dishwasher

If possible, toss your cat bowls into your dishwasher on the highest setting. Hot water that reaches at least 150°F (or 65.6°C) knocks out 99.9% of the germs.

Wash Cat Bowls by Hand

If hand washing cat bowls, use hot, soapy water, as hot as you can stand. Avoid using scouring pads or steel wool, which scratch bowls. Instead, clean your cat's bowls with a soft sponge or rag used for that purpose only, so you don't cross-contaminate.

Let cat bowls air dry or dry them with a towel. If using a towel, wash it afterwards. Spray disinfectant in the sink and wash your hands afterwards.

If You Don't Have Time For All That Washing...

Americat Company stainless steel bowls

We understand that you may not run your dishwasher every day or have time to hand wash your cat food and water bowls every day. We don't! If that's the case for you too, have extra cat bowls on hand. I keep a stack of stainless steel Americat Company bowls next to the cat food, so I can give my cats clean bowls each morning.

Many cat parents have been vulnerable and shared with us that they were not cleaning their cat bowls as often as they should. We understand, which is why we wrote this article. We hope that you have learned more about what can grow on cat bowls, why that's harmful, how to select a more sanitary cat bowl, and how to best clean them.

Give your cats clean bowls daily to help keep your little babies healthy and happy. 

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  • I am interested in stainless steel cat bowls that are whisker friendly, but the ones shown are too easy to tip over. Also, I have a cat sanctuary and am on a limited budget.

  • Thank you very much for this article I did not know about the whisker fatigue or about the plastic and ceramic bowls I knew about giving them fresh food and water everyday and cleaning the bowls everyday but I didn’t know that plastic and ceramic bowls are dangerous for cats to eat out of nor did I know there was such a thing called Whisker fatigue

  • Very informative article; thank you! I found this when I looked this information up when I cleaned the kitties’ fountain for the first time in… Oh my heavens I’m recalcitrant to admit 4 months! 😳

    The hard water spots and stains! The buildup! The biofilm! It explained the cats’ reluctance to use it – I feel so bad! But this life is nothing of not full of moments of opportunities to learn and grow and do better, so I took to the Google machine (jest) to see if I could use the cleaning vinegar I have on hand to dispatch this plague of unpleasantry from the steeled vessels from which my house panthers quench their thirst!

    I’m really glad I did, too, because it reinforced within me the importance of doing better once we know better. 😻