Is It Harmful to Allow Animals of Different Species to Share the Same Water Bowl?
Every pet owner knows how important it is to provide pets with plenty of clean, fresh water to stay hydrated and healthy. When you have multiple pets of different species, however, is it safe for them to use the same water bowl?
Different Pets Have Different Water Needs
Every animal has different needs for drinking water. The proper intake of water will depend not only on the animal’s species, but also on their overall size and health, age, activity level, and the general climate and temperature. Drinking enough water is essential for the animal to regulate its body temperature, digest properly, get nutrients to cells throughout its body, lubricate its joints, cushion nerves, and flush waste and toxins from its body.
Pets Sharing Water Bowls
When multiple pets share the same household in relative peace and harmony, it’s natural to assume they can safely share the same water bowl. In the case of cats and dogs, this is generally true, and the animals won’t come to harm by sharing a water bowl. While bacteria, parasites, and viruses could potentially be passed from pet to pet through contaminated water, the animals will also have many other opportunities for diseases to be transmitted as they share the same space, play with the same toys, sniff or groom each other, share bedding or favorite napping spots, wrestle together, or get petted and touched by the same loving owners. Sharing a water bowl will not significantly increase the risk of disease transmission for pets living in the same household.
Sharing a water bowl can have other unintended consequences, however. Some pets are naturally more cautious when eating or drinking, or may become aggressive if they perceive competition for food or water. This type of resource guarding is a form of dominance, and can be part of the pets’ hierarchy in their mixed-species family. It is possible to train pets to share a water bowl more readily, or pet owners may want to provide separate water sources to relieve the animals’ anxiety and calm the undesirable behavior.
When Pets Should Not Share Water Bowls
Certain pets, however, should not share water bowls with other pets, even in the same home. As a rule of thumb, pets that are generally confined to separate habitats – such as a tortoise in its own tank, a gerbil in a multi-level condo, or a bird in its own cage – should not regularly share water with other pets when they don’t naturally intermingle on an ongoing basis. If the animals are free-roaming, such as cats and dogs, sharing a water bowl is fine if both pets are comfortable with the arrangement.
Keep Pets’ Water Bowls Safe
Regardless of whether pets share a water bowl or not, it is important to take steps to keep the water safe and sanitary. Using multiple water bowls will not only accommodate more pets and their different drinking preferences, but it will also disperse possible parasites or bacteria between different bowls, therefore reducing the overall concentration in any one water source. Having more bowls available will also provide water more conveniently to pets, encouraging greater drinking so the animals do not get dehydrated.
All pet water bowls should be thoroughly washed each day to keep them clean and fresh. Stainless steel bowls are generally easier to keep clean and less likely to help bacteria, viruses, or parasites grow. If possible, bowls should be sterilized in a dishwasher, and they should always be rinsed thoroughly so there is no lingering soap or other residue that could be toxic to thirsty pets.
Another concern about pets’ drinking habits is the safety of alternative water sources. Keep pets away from potentially dirty or contaminated water such as open toilet bowls, outdoor puddles, bird baths, or standing water left in soaking dishes.
A Note About Communal Water Bowls
Many pet-friendly parks and businesses may offer a communal water bowl for thirsty visitors. If pets can safely share the same water bowl, are these communal bowls equally safe? Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. There is no way to know how frequently or carefully a communal water bowl may be cleaned, or how fresh the water is, or even how healthy other animals may be that have already drunk from the bowl, including whether or not nearby wildlife may also have used the bowl. To keep your pet safe, bring along your own water bowl when your pet may need a drink (a collapsible design is compact and easy to carry), teach the animal to drink from your hand or a bottle, or use a disposable cup for a safe drink instead.
Keeping pets hydrated can be a challenge, but many family pets can safely share the same water bowl for easy drinks. By understanding which pets should have separate water sources and how to provide clean, safe water to all your pets, you can ensure every animal has plenty to drink.
- Jeff Vander Berg