What is “Biofilm”?
As pet owners, we’ve all seen and felt that nasty slime that forms in our pets’ food and water dishes.
This slime is called bacterial biofilm, which forms when bacteria attach themselves to your pets’ dishes and release a slimy, gluelike substance that can stick to plastic, stainless steel, ceramics, glass, and many other surfaces.
Biofilm appears in many colors, including red, green, pink, yellow, purple, orange, brown, colorless or black. It also creates a putrefied smell that’s incredibly offensive to pets. You might not be able to detect an odor, but remember that many types of pets can smell 14 times better (or more!) than humans.
Biofilm can cause life-threatening conditions when ingested or inhaled by pets or humans, and can contain:
- Serratia marcescens (the pink film you see in bowls, shower curtains, and other wet areas)
- Candida albicans
- Chlamydia pneumoniae
- Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease)
- Clostridium difficile (the most common cause of human GI infection and a growing epidemic)
- Clostridium perfringens
- Helicobacter pylori (causes human stomach ulcers and gastritis)
- Klebsiella pneumoniae
- Legionella pneumophila
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Salmonella typhimurium
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Staphylococcus epidermidis
- Vibrio cholerae (some strains cause the disease cholera)
- and many more (including those causing diverse chronic, debilitating human illnesses)
What are the Risks to Humans?
In humans, “…infectious processes in which biofilms have been implicated include common problems such as bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, catheter infections, middle-ear and sinus infections, formation of dental plaque, gingivitis, coating contact lenses, and less common but more lethal processes such as endocarditis, infections in cystic fibrosis, and infections of permanent in-dwelling devices such as joint prostheses and heart valves.”
Biofilm present in the human body:
- Prevents the full absorption of nutrients across the intestinal wall.
- Protects disease-causing microorganisms from the immune system.
- Protects disease-causing microorganisms from antibiotics and antifungals (both herbal and pharmaceutical-grade).
- Promotes inflammation.
- Contains heavy metals such as copper, lead, and nickel
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that 60% of all human infections and 80% of refractory infections (unresponsive to medical treatment) are attributable to biofilm colonies.
Common places for biofilm around your home include:
- Remote controls, cell phones, lamps, door knobs, reading glasses, tools
- Toilets, showerheads, toothbrushes, and shower curtains
- Kitchen sink drains and plugs, sponges
- Cutting boards, silverware, coffee pots, water bottles
- Toys, rattles, baby bottles, pacifiers
- Spas and hot tubs
- Teeth, skin, catheters, sinuses, implants
What are the Risks to Pets?
The biofilm on your pet’s bowls could contain algae, bacteria and fungi that come from stuff your pet licks or eats while out walking or in the yard, in addition to his food, says Joseph Kinnarney, DVM, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. This isn’t limited to dog and cat dishes–biofilm can form on pet bowls for parrots, rodents, reptiles and any others who rely on a bowl, dish or bottle for food and water.
Periodontal diseases are the number one health problem in small animals. By just two years of age, 70% of cats and 80% of dogs have some form of periodontal diseases.
Bacteria that form biofilm cause dental plaque formation that leads to dental calculus formation, periodontal diseases, dental caries and systemic diseases.
The fact that we can prevent major health conditions in our pets simply by keeping their bowls and toys clean and sterile is sobering.
It’s a little bit of effort for such a large return!
Whether from our animal’s bowls, or household biofilms in places all over our home, biofilm bacteria are a constant hazard to our health. Imagine your child touching or playing with the pet’s bowl or toys, then putting their fingers in their mouth? GROSS!
Go to the Source! Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Pet’s Bowls & Fountains
A study conducted by National Science Foundation International looked into the absolute grossest places in people’s homes and in the top five nastiest areas were pet’s food and water bowls.
Provide Clean Bowls & Dishes at Every Feeding
First things first: clean the bowls. If you feed your pets kibble, seeds, or other dry forms of food, it’s not sanitary to simply keep refilling the bowl. Using a fresh bowl for each meal is essential. Oils from the food and the pet’s saliva mix to create a particularly gruesome biofilm, in addition to the oil going rancid. One of the many causes of cancer in pets and humans has been linked to rancid oils.
Cleaning Different Types of Bowls and Dishes
Wash food and water bowls in hot, soapy water, or your dishwasher on high heat for even better sterilization. Keep a set of food bowls handy, to help with rotating bowls and ensuring a clean dish for every pet, every day. This goes for pet water fountains as well, which can form biofilm rapidly between cleanings.
IMPORTANT: Use a separate sponge, rag etc when cleaning, avoiding the use of your regular dish/kitchen sponge. You don’t want to wipe biofilm from your pet’s dishes onto yours. Also, if possible, wash pet dishes in a bathroom or other sink, rather than using the kitchen sink, to further protect your food prep areas from cross-contamination.
The following types bowls are highly recommended–clear glass (Pyrex type), or white (Corningware type) bowls. Plastic bowls absorb odors, grease, saliva, and old food particles and are difficult to keep truly clean.
Glass and ceramic-style bowls are especially useful, as you can easily see dirt, slime, sediment, and mold. Be sure not to scrub stainless steel bowls with anything abrasive, as that causes scratches that can allow biofilm to grow. (As pet sitters, we will always wash your pets’ bowls at every visit.)
Also, be sure not to use an abrasive sponge when cleaning stainless steel, plastic, or other easily-scratched materials.
What About Pet Toys? Yup, They’re GROSS, Too!
Pet toys are a particularly nasty source of biofilm and bacteria. All household members should wash their hands after playing with pets and their toys, especially before meals or food preparation.
Hard toys can be cleaned with hot soapy water, rinsed very well with clean, fresh water, disinfected with a mild bleach solution and thoroughly rinsed to remove any residue. Soft toys can be washed with laundry on the highest temperature setting.
Taking a few minutes each day to properly clean and sanitize your pet’s bowls can mean the difference between a healthy pet and a pet who develops chronic and sometimes fatal conditions. And your pets will be happy to eat and drink fresh, clean food and water at every meal.