How you handle pet food can make your dog – and you – sick

April 12, 2022 – Patrick McIntyre loves his two labs, ages 5 and 6. So much so that he and his wife make their own dog food to give them the best nutrition possible for long and healthy lives. Part of that approach involves handling food safely, just as the couple would treat their own food.

“We clean up after making and serving their food, do not leave food out after they have eaten, and wash their dish after every meal,” McIntyre says. “I would not let my bowls sit on the floor, so why would I leave my dogs’ bowls there?”

While the McIntyres’ approach may seem time-consuming and over the top, it does appear that they are on to something. According to a new analysis published in the journal PLEASE onein-home pet food handling and food dish hygiene practices can have poor health effects for both humans and pets.

Despite the concern about pollution, the study found that there are some guidelines for pet hygiene and safe food.

“In my clinical experience, I do not think many people consider the safe handling of food with their pets,” says Stephanie Sheen, a physician in veterinary medicine (DVM) at Fuzzy Pet Health, an online pet health service.

And while some assumptions of safe food handling transfer from the human side of the equation, some do not, Sheen says.

“There are a lot of food safety issues that apply to pets and not humans,” she says. “To begin with, dogs eat directly from their bowls, and their mouths have high bacterial levels.”

It is the contamination that can occur in pet food trays that puts them at the highest risk for adverse effects of bad practices. This applies to both the bowls and the food that goes into them. When it comes to food safety and your pets, there is a lot to learn.

Better Bowls

The reality is that pet owners are pretty lazy about cleaning their pet’s bins, and here’s the reason why this is important: “Studies have shown that pet food bins are in the top 10 list of most polluted and dirty items in a household, “says Lindsay Butzer, DVM, of PetMeds, a pet pharmacy. “One small chore that many pet owners neglect now that they are returning to the office or just getting more out of the house is cleaning their pet’s feeding troughs.”

If bowls are not allowed to be cleaned, food residue and your dog’s saliva will be left behind, providing a breeding ground for potentially dangerous bacteria. Common bacteria that can easily grow on day-old dog food include salmonella and E. coli“, says Butzer, who can cross your dog’s stomach when eating daily.

According to the PLEASE one analysis, a previous study conducted cultures on household items and found staph bacteria in 15% of pet food bowls. Antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria – or MRSA – was present in 3% of use.

While feeding troughs are most at risk for contamination, do not ignore changing and washing your pet’s water troughs as well, Sheen says. “Your dog’s saliva builds up over time in the bowls they use, which can make a movie about bacteria, leaving room for breeding,” she says.

This is especially true with plastic or ceramic bowls. “The concerns here are scratches or chips in the surfaces, which provide a haven for bacteria,” Sheen says. “You can not come to these places for a good wash. If you use these types of bowls, it is best to replace them once they have been damaged.”

Consider using stainless steel bowls, which are more resistant to damage and which you can easily throw in the dishwasher after feeding. “You should also disinfect them once a week with two tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water,” says Sheen.

Better Food Handling

According to Sheen, most people feed their pets one of three types of diets: raw, freshly bought or commercially available. Of the three, a raw food diet is most likely to result in contamination.

“There can be really bad strains of bacteria in a raw diet, even antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” she says. “It is very important to clean these bowls after each meal, because the residue sticks to the bowls more often and attracts bacteria. Make sure you wash your hands well with soap and water after handling raw foods as well. ”

With dry food, your risk is lower, but it still requires safe trading practices. Wash the bowls once a day, and avoid scooping up the dry food with the bowl from which your pet will eat, as this can transfer any contamination from the bowl to the bag.

With wet, canned food, anything your dog does not eat should be removed and discarded after 2 hours before it can become a bacterial breeding ground. Leftovers should go in the refrigerator, where they can stay safe for about 2 to 3 days.

Finally, with freshly cooked food, “remember like you would your own meat, keep it about 3 days before you refuse it,” says Sheen.

De PLEASE one survey found that most pet owners fail in this area, preserving pet food against FDA and the recommendations of most manufacturers.

The risks

The good news is that for most healthy, young dogs older than 6 months, the risks of poor nutrition are generally low.

The most common signs of contaminated food containers are diarrhea, loss of appetite and vomiting, Butzer says. “Death is extremely rare, unless the bacteria have built up over several weeks and your dog eats a very large amount.”

The concerns about safe food handling go beyond the health of your pet. Because of your close, daily interactions with them, your pet can easily share their bacteria with you.

While it is not pleasant to think about, some dogs like to eat feces on walks; they then return to your home and lick your face, potentially spreading pollution. The same is true if they pick up bad bacteria from bad food handling and then share their sloppy kisses with you again.

“For people over 65, children under 5, or those who are immune compromised, this can be risky,” Sheen says. “This is especially true for dogs that eat raw foods – dog therapy groups do not allow these dogs for that reason.”

At the end of the day, a little effort goes a long way in protecting both your pet and your family.

For the McIntyre family, where Patrick’s wife has a severe gluten allergy, food safety is second nature, and it pays off for everyone involved. “We are responsible for the health of our dogs like us,” he says. “We have a set of food safety rules for all involved.”

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