Saker said pets and pet foods can carry pathogens, including E. coli and salmonella, which could cause serious illness in an immunocompromised person and a bad case of diarrhea in a pet. Image via photka / Shutterstock.com
Do you wash your dog’s food bowl every day?
Do you wash your hands before and after filling them?
Do you prepare Fido’s food in a different place than where you prepare your food?
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you may be putting your health and your pet’s health at risk, according to North Carolina State University researchers.
In their new study, they surveyed more than 400 dog owners about their animals’ feeding habits, scanning their pet’s food bowls for bacteria.
To put it bluntly, as the researchers wrote Wednesday in PLOS ONE, the findings point to the need to educate pet owners about pet food handling and hygiene to “reduce bacterial contamination of dishes, especially for high-risk populations.”
Less than 5% of dog owners surveyed were aware of the FDA’s guidelines on pet and human food safety—and many did not follow them at all.
Only a third of pet owners said they wash their hands after feeding their dogs. About 22% said they wash their pet’s plate once a week, and 12% said they wash it daily. But 18% said they didn’t wash the dish more often than every three months, and some didn’t wash it at all.
(The FDA recommends foaming before and after feeding your pet and washing scoops and bowls with hot, soapy water after each use.)
“Just the fact that a lot of people don’t even know about it is unfortunate,” said study co-author Dr. Corin Saker, professor of clinical nutrition at North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine. Download safe nutrition information to raise awareness.
“I feel like pet companies should step up,” she said. “They have a lot of information on their labels.”
Saker said pets and pet foods can carry pathogens, including E. coli and salmonella, which could cause serious illness in an immunocompromised person and a bad case of diarrhea in a pet.
For the study, researchers also scanned 68 dog bowls from 50 pet owners to check for the presence of bacteria. They did not isolate or identify specific bacteria, Sager said, only noticing its presence.
The owners were divided into three groups. Group A was required to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s pet food management guidelines. Group B followed FDA guidelines for both pets and people. Group C did not follow any guidelines.
The team then tested the dogs’ dishes a week later. Compared with group C bowls, bacteria levels were significantly reduced in group A and B bowls. Washing dishes with hot water proved to be more effective than using cold or lukewarm water.
The key to avoiding any problems for people in your pet’s life is the same advice your mother gave you: Wash your hands after handling pets, food and their dishes, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, New York.
Glatt, who was not involved in the study, said most healthy people won’t have problems even if they come into contact with these bacteria. But those who are immunocompromised should be more careful.
“Anytime an immunocompromised person is near bacteria and isn’t keen on hygiene, you’re going to have problems,” he said. “You can substitute in this pet bowls, toilet bowls, sinks, bathroom touch ups, subway rails, and doorknobs.”
The best way to clean hands is to use soap and water and scrub vigorously for 20-30 seconds, a tip many Americans have heard since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Clean under nails, especially if your nails are longer.
“I think it’s important to do studies like this, but I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to realize that if you’re in contact with potentially contaminated things — and who wouldn’t think a dog bowl is a potentially contaminated item? — then you wash your hands and don’t keep It’s near the food. You won’t be cooking next to your bathroom,” Glatt said.
Health experts have long known that people live in a world full of germs, said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
Wherever there is an element of moisture, protein or plant matter, there are microbial assemblies, he said, and that includes the mouths of all mammals from humans to dogs to penguins.
“If you then go around and plant the dog bowls, we shouldn’t be shocked or surprised that we’ll find bacteria,” said Schaffner, who was not part of the study.
However, he cautioned against getting overly concerned about getting sick in this way.
Like Glatt, reiterate the importance of good hand hygiene, whether you’re handling a dog bowl or making your own dinner.
While Study Groups A and B all learned the guidelines for safe pet feeding, only 8% said they were likely to stick to long-term grooming protocols.
“I thought it was unfortunate to get that kind of response,” said researcher Saker.
“It may take us to do a follow-up study that actually determines the concentration of pathogenic bacteria in these vessels based on how or not they have been washed and cleaned to get people to change their minds,” she noted. “But I think people are human. If it doesn’t affect them, it won’t change their behavior.”
The FDA has more about the safe handling of pet food.
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