Do You Have Biofilm?
Our buddy Cache was visiting this week. As you can see he is a handsome golden retriever with a sweet disposition. It’s quite comical to watch this 10-month old, 85-pound “pup” hang out with the Maxx Pack, the largest of which is 24 pounds. Check out the photo of Cache and Copper deciding who gets the toy. Notice, the 12-pound miniature dachshund has the large end of the new squeaky dinosaur toy. I’ll give you one guess who won!
Photograph by Pixabay
Seriously Sloppy Drinkers
If you know any Goldens, then you probably also know they are sloppy drinkers. In fact, his frequent trips to the water bowl actually inspired this post. In addition to dripping water, he also leaves a lot of “floaty” things in the bowl…Dirt, leaves, acorns, sticks…it looks pretty disgusting. But, despite his messy habits, and my frequent trips to clean up after him I am reminded how quickly biofilm forms in food and water bowls.
So What is Biofilm?
I’m sure you’ve felt that slimy residue in the bowl. Maybe you’ve even seen it as a pink or brownish color. It’s called biofilm and it’s the same thing that grows on the bottom of your shower curtain or other wet surfaces. And it’s the same substance that starts as plaque in the mouths of humans and animals.
So what is biofilm? According to one of my favorite dog authors, Rodney Habib, biofilm is a “collection of organic and inorganic, living and dead materials collected on a surface.”
These microbes also excrete a glue-like substance, and that’s what keeps them attached to surfaces and allows them to both thrive and reproduce.
Biofilm can include both good and bad bacteria. Good bacteria are essential for optimal health in both humans and animals. In fact most of the immune system (about 80%) resides in the digestive tract where the majority of the good bacteria live. But when bad bacteria overtake the good, and things get out of balance, Leaky Gut can occur, which can lead to increasingly serious consequences. Check out our Pet Parents Guide to Leaky Gut.
The real concern is bad bacteria!
But the real concern with biofilm is the bad bacteria. Biofilm provides a perfect environment for Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, Legionella and a host of other nasty bugs to grow and thrive. Left unchecked, the level of bacteria present contaminates the food and water it comes in contact with. Biofilm has been implicated in urinary tract infections, middle ear and sinus infections, periodontal disease and more sinister issues when immune compromised humans or animals are exposed.
We have all been guilty of refilling the food or water bowl without washing it. In fact, we’re probably just as guilty of refilling our personal water bottles without a thorough washing. You know, those refillable types we take with us to avoid putting more plastic into the landfill. Hmmm, makes you think about all the places biofilm might live.
A recent study by NSF International (previously known as the National Sanitation Foundation) found pet bowls to be fourth in the top ten germ hot spots in the home. Not surprisingly, pet toys followed in 7th place.
So What’s a Pet Parent To Do?
Regular cleaning. Ideally sanitize the bowls in your dishwasher regularly. If that’s not an option, soak them in a weak bleach solution (1 capful of bleach to gallon of hot water). Then wash, rinse thoroughly and dry. When washing, be sure to use a scrubbing device capable of mechanically removing the film from the surface of the bowl. Remember the microbes excrete a glue-like substance, so rinsing does not thoroughly remove it. A nylon dish scrubbing pad works well. Also remember to sanitize the scrubbing pad!
If you are averse to using a bleach solution, Vitasprings offers a product called NutriBiotic Grapefruit Seed Extract Liquid Concentrate. Grapefruit seed extract is used in a number of oral care products for dogs. You can read more in our publication, Periodontal Disease in Dogs – The Scary Truth. The manufacturer suggests NutriBiotic can be used as a surface disinfectant in place of commonly used cleaners.
Finally, use bowls that are easy to clean. Stainless steel, ceramic, or glass are all easy to clean and sanitize. Their smooth surfaces make it more difficult for the bacteria to find hiding places. If you use bowls with a rubber rim, be sure to include it in the sanitizing process. Avoid plastic bowls which scratch and are more difficult to clean thoroughly.