Pet owner suggestions: How often you wash your dog’s bowl can affect your health, too, study says

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PHILADELPHIA — How we feed our pets, store their food and wash their dishes can have negative health consequences if not done properly — for each humans and animals.

There have been multiple outbreaks of illnesses amongst humans after exposure to E. coli- and salmonella-contaminated pet food, which has been more likely in industrial and homemade raw food diets. These diets typically involve the necessity to prep pets’ foods within the kitchen, based on a study published Wednesday within the journal PLOS ONE.

But guidelines for the way owners should safely handle pet food and dishes is proscribed, and their effectiveness is unclear, so the authors of the brand new study investigated dog owners’ feeding habits and analyzed the impact of US Food and Drug Administration hygiene protocols on pet food dish contamination.

During casual conversations amongst veterinary nutritionists, “we realized that, when it got here to our own pets, all of us had different pet food storage and hygiene practices,” said Emily Luisana, a coauthor of the study and small animal veterinary nutritionist. “Once we realized that (FDA) recommendations were relatively unknown even amongst professionals, we desired to see what other pet owners were doing.”

Luisana is on the veterinary advisory board for Tailored, a pet nutrition expert-led pet food company. Caitlyn Getty, one other coauthor of the study, is the scientific affairs veterinarian for NomNomNow Inc., an organization focused on pet gut health and suitable food. Neither company funded this study, and the authors didn’t report any competing interests. The study’s focus is owners’ handling of any pet food, not the food brands themselves.

Awareness vs. motion

The researchers found 4.7% of 417 surveyed dog owners were aware of the FDA’s pet food handling and dish hygiene guidelines — 43% of participants stored pet food inside 5 feet (1.5 meters) of human food, 34% washed their hands after feeding and 33% prepared their pet food on prep surfaces intended for human use.

Fifty owners (of 68 dogs total) participated in a roughly eight-day bowl contamination experiment. The authors swabbed the bowls for bacterial populations, that are referred to as aerobic plate counts, then split owners into three groups: Group A followed the FDA’s suggestions, which included washing their hands before and after handling pet food, not using the bowl to scoop food, washing the bowl and scooping utensils with soap and hot water after use, discarding uneaten food in a delegated manner, and storing dry pet food in its original bag.

Group B needed to follow FDA food handling suggestions for each pets and humans, which also required handwashing for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and warm water; scraping food off dishes before washing; washing dishes with soap and water hotter than 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 C) for a minimum of 30 seconds, drying thoroughly with a clean towel, or using a National Sanitation Foundation-certified dishwasher for laundry and drying.

Group C wasn’t given any instructions but was told when the second swabbing would occur.

The practices followed by groups A and B led to significant decreases in food dish contamination, compared with Group C, the study found. Dishes washed with hot water or a dishwasher had a decrease of 1.5 units on the contamination scale compared with those washed with cold or lukewarm water. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “cleansing and sanitization guidelines for human dishes are based on achieving a 5-log reduction in bacterial counts,” the authors wrote. A 1.5-log reduction is the same as a 90% to 99% reduction in microorganisms; a 5-log reduction means 99.999% of microorganisms have been killed.

The contamination of the bowls in Group C increased between swabbings. Not one of the Group C owners had washed their dogs’ bowls throughout the eight or so days because the authors collected the primary bacterial sample, “despite the fact that they were made aware that FDA guidelines existed and the bowl can be sampled again,” Luisana said.

“This shows that bringing awareness of the present recommendations just isn’t sufficient in itself,” she added.

Lowering contamination risk

The authors said they think this education is very vital for vulnerable populations, equivalent to people who find themselves immunocompromised.

Pet food dishes have ranked highly amongst most contaminated household objects, sometimes even having bacterial loads near those of toilets, based on studies published over the past 15 years.

Nevertheless, 20% of individuals from groups A and B in the present study said they were prone to follow hygiene instructions long run, and even fewer — 8% — said they were prone to follow all given guidelines.

“Our study shows that pet owners look to their veterinarian, pet food store and pet food manufacturers for details about pet food storage and hygiene guidelines,” Luisana said. Pet food firms studying their foods in each laboratory conditions and household settings, then giving storage and handling recommendations on labels or web sites, can be a robust start, she added.

Further studies on implications are needed, but Luisana said she hopes pet owners and vets use this study’s findings to contemplate the impact feeding hygiene could have on pets’ health and happiness, immunocompromised people and zoonotic diseases, those spread between animals and other people.

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