How to Prevent Bacteria in Pet Fountains

Fresh drinking water is essential for lots of critters.
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When it comes to food and water dishes -- including pet water fountains -- preventing bacteria growth simply involves regular cleaning and maintenance. But the fact is, while they are not impermeable to bacterial growth, pet fountains allow water to flow freely rather than stagnate into bacterial breeding grounds, and thus require less frequent care than traditional dishes.

Fresh Water

Electric or battery-operated water fountains circulate water through a pump keeping it constantly moving. They encourage pets to drink more regularly, as the circulating water is better oxygenated and fresher. While they don't need to be cleaned daily with soapy water, as is suggested for standard water and food dishes, biweekly maintenance is recommended. A carbon filter will help remove minerals and chemicals from water, but over time it can become clogged with hair and dust, slowing the circulation of water and allowing harmful bacteria and fungi to grow.

Types of Fountains

The first step in preventing bacterial growth comes with selecting the appropriate bowl for your pet. Plastic is inexpensive and easily to clean; however, it is more easily bitten and scratched -- leaving nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide. In addition, certain animals may be allergic. Stainless steel and ceramic fountains all but eliminate these issues. While they're more expensive and potentially breakable, they are worth it in the long run.

Cleaning for the Worst

Obviously, culturing Fido's water bowl is not a readily available option -- so, without knowing what, if anything, is growing in the water, you need a standard, safe and effective protocol for most stubborn bacteria. J Scott Weese, D.V.M., compared cleaning and disinfection of salmonella bacteria in stainless steel bowls and plastic bowls. Effective disinfection for both involved scrubbing all parts with hot, soapy water -- use dish soap rather than hand soap or those with additives. Parts were then rinsed and soaked in a bleach-and-hot-water solution, with 1 part water to 9 parts bleach, for ten minutes. It should be noted that the carbon filter cannot be cleaned, as soap and bleach residue cannot be fully removed. Rather, carbon filters must be replaced according to manufacturer specifications.

For the Messy Ones

Monitoring water fountains for any obvious growth of bacteria or mold will go a long way toward preventing growth. If you are pet parent to a particularly messy eater or drinker -- one that leaves debris or slobber in his bowl, you may need to clean and disinfect more frequently. Follow all manufacturer specifications for setup, cleaning and filter replacement.