The World is a Petri Dish

What is “Biofilm”?

Multiple times every day I have to empty, clean, and refill our pet water bowls. I can't stand walking by and seeing that slimy coating on the bowl and the murky water associated with it. As pet owners, we’ve all seen and felt that nasty slime that forms in our pets’ food and water dishes. 

That slime has a name: bacterial biofilm. The film forms when bacteria attach to the pets’ dishes and release a slimy, glue-like substance that sticks to the bowl.

Biofilm can be any color or colorless. It can have a putrid smell that's offensive to us and to our pets. Even if you cannot detect the odor, remember dogs and cats are much more sensitive to bad odors.

Biofilm can be extremely hazardous to you and your pets. It may contain harmful bacteria such as:

  • E. Coli
  • Chlamydia pneumoniae
  • Clostridium difficile
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Serratia marcescens (the pink film you see on shower curtains)
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Staphylococcus epidermidis
  • Klebsiella pneumophila
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Pseudomonus aeruginosa 
  • Salmonella typhimurium
  • And many others!

What are the Risks to Humans?

In humans, biofilms have been implicated in causing urinary tract infections, catheter infections, middle-ear and sinus infections, formation of dental plaque, gingivitis, and endocarditis. 

When biofilm is present it can prevent full absorption of nutrients across the intestinal wall, protect disease-causing microorganisms from immune system defense, antibiotics and antifungals, and promote inflammation. Biofilm can be found anywhere in the home - remote controls, cell phones, door knobs, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, kitchen utensils and cutting boards; really, just about anywhere.

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.

Personally, I never gave this much thought until we had our granddaughter. Now that a small child will be crawling everywhere and putting everything in her mouth, I have to up my game on cleaning and washing.

What are the Risks to Pets?

The biofilm on your pet’s bowls could contain algae, bacteria and fungi from the saliva that becomes contaminated from stuff they lick or eat while out walking or in the yard, in addition to contaminants in the pet food. 

Bacteria that form biofilm cause dental plaque formation that leads to dental calculus formation, periodontal disease, and systemic diseases. Daily dental care is important to prevent this progression of disease.

Biofilm bacteria can also cause systemic inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, urinary tract infections, and chronic kidney disease in pets (especially in cats).

With this information, it is clear that you can prevent major health conditions in your pets simply by keeping their bowls and toys clean. The benefits of clean bowls are worth the effort! A study conducted by the National Science Foundation International found that pet food and water bowls were some of the top sources of contaminated biofilm in people's homes.

Provide clean bowls and dishes at every feeding. Oils from the food and the pet's saliva make a nasty biofilm. Wash bowls in hot, soapy water or in the dishwasher. Have extra bowls on hand to use while one set is being cleaned.

Pet water fountains can rapidly form nasty biofilm. They should be taken apart and cleaned daily. Don't forget to change the filters.

Don't use the everyday kitchen dishrag or sponge to clean the pet bowls. Personally, I use disposable cloths (Handiwipes) in our kitchen and change them out regularly. Sponges should be run through the dishwasher frequently if they are going to be reused. 

Glass, ceramic, and stainless steel bowls are easier to clean than plastic. Plastic bowls can absorb odors, grease, and saliva, making them more difficult to clean. Many pets will develop chin acne or allergic reactions to plastic food bowls.

Pet toys and baby toys can be another source of biofilm. These should also be cleaned regularly. Soft toys can be run through the sanitation cycle in the washing machine; hard toys can generally go on the top rack of the dishwasher.

A healthy immune system can be nourished with supplements such as probiotics, colostrum, herbs, and mushrooms. Older animals generally suffer from decreased immune system function; preventing inflammation is important in supporting their health.