How to clean and disinfect cat food bowls

How to Clean and Disinfect Cat Food Bowls

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Cats don’t appreciate dirty food or water bowls any more than we do, and proper hygiene is a must. Caked on food is a harbour for pathogens which include E-coli, Listeria and Salmonella which not only puts cats at risk but ourselves too. Old pet food also causes the food bowl to smell which can be offputting to cats.

Choosing a food bowl

Choose a sturdy, non-porous bowl. Ceramic or stainless steel are recommended as plastic can develop scratches which bacteria can lurk and can cause feline acne in some cats.

Why disinfect?

Do pet owners really need to disinfect their bowl? Not always, in most cases washing in hot soapy water is enough. However, disinfecting food bowls is recommended to prevent or control infections caused by microorganisms.

  • Cats who eat a raw diet: Raw meat may contain salmonella, which is transmitted to the food bowl during contact.
  • During an outbreak of a contagious disease: Many pathogens can infect via fomites, which are inanimate objects such as food bowls. During a disease outbreak (for example, cat flu), sterilising can help to reduce transmission.
  • Catteries, shelters and veterinary practices: Ie; any facility which houses multiple animals.

How to clean a cat food bowl

  • Always wear washing up gloves when handling pet bowls.
  • If food is caked on, soak it in warm soapy water for ten minutes to soften and then use dishwashing detergent, a sponge (keep one specifically for pet bowl use only) and warm water to remove all traces of food from the bowl.
  • Rinse the bowl with warm water to remove any dislodged food particles and detergent residue.

How to disinfect a cat food bowl

For most pet owners who don’t have veterinary disinfectant in the home, bleach is the easiest way to disinfect pet bowls. Follow the instructions above to remove organic debris from the bowl as organic material (ie; food debris) deactivates bleach, therefore it will be necessary to clean the bowl prior to disinfection.

  • Add the bleach solution at a dilution rate of 1:10 and allow to sit in the bowl for 10 minutes.
  • Discard the bleach solution and rinse the bowl well to remove all traces of bleach.
  • Allow the bowl to air dry.

One study found even disinfecting with bleach didn’t kill all salmonella in pet bowls experimentally contaminated, but bleach was much more effective than rinsing and scrubbing alone and was more effective than the dishwasher. It concluded that a small amount of food residue may have remained, which would have reduced the effectiveness of the bleach, which highlights the importance of scrubbing the bowl first and thoroughly rinsing to remove all food residue.

Frequently asked questions

Can I wash my cat’s food and water bowls in the dishwasher?

Yes, but personally I would hand wash the bowls first to remove food debris before washing in the dishwasher. Most dishwashers do not get hot enough to sterilise.

How often should I wash my pet’s food bowl?

At least once a day.

Why does my cat’s food bowl get slimy?

Water bowls develop a sticky biofilm on the side which is produced by bacteria which are released from the cat’s mouth every time he or she drinks.

Is it safe to wash pet dishes with human dishes?

For households without a dishwasher, wash human dishes first, followed by pet dishes. Always use a separate sponge for pet food and water dishes.

How long should I leave wet food out for?

The amount of time it is safe to leave food out for will depend on the temperature, but ideally, food should be removed after an hour at the most.


Julia Wilson is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care.Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. She enjoys photography, gardening and running in her spare time.Full author bio Contact Julia