Pink slime in cats water bowl

How often do you clean your cats water bowl or drinking fountain? If you're anything like me you try to do it fairly often, but sometimes it doesn't get done as often as it should.  I mean really, am I supposed to clean it every day and refill it? 

cat drinking from freshly cleaned water fountain

For  years I would just add water to the bowl when it started to get empty. If it started to get funky or have floaters in it then I'd wash out the whole thing. But that wasn't very often until I learned about pink slime and the bacteria it contains.

Why does my cat water bowl get pink inside?

If you've ever gone to fill the water bowl or fountain and noticed a slimy sort of substance on the inside of it, you're not cleaning it often enough! I used to think it was just some sort of harmless water residue or debris accumulation and I would clean it out and not worry about it. 

It's actually something called biofilm and it's a slimy film of bacteria that stick together to adhere to a surface.

Bacteria that could be in a pet water bowl/fountain

There can be many different bacteria in this biofilm including (but not limited to) E coli, salmonella or even Bordetella. If the color of the slime is slightly pink or light rust colored, that indicates the presence of a nasty bacteria called Serratia Marcescens aka pink slime and yes, it's as gross as it sounds! 

Bowls are pretty simple to tell if they're slimy or not but with cat drinking fountains it's not always easy to see. These bacteria can also accumulate in the threads that screw the  pieces together, inside the water container or inside the tubes that pump the water around. 

How to tell if your cats water bowl has red slime?

You'll notice a slightly red tinged film in a light colored or stainless steel bowl. You will feel a slimy sort of coating if you run your fingers inside the water container. If you empty the water container and wipe it with a paper towel, it will have slight pink or red tinge to it. I have good news though, all you have to do is clean it!

I used to think that I could just rinse out the water bowl real good and it would be clean. Give it a swipe with a sponge or brush and that's all it needed. Unfortunately, I needed to do a little more work than that. 

test showing pink slime in cats water bowl

How to clean a cat's water bowl

Water bowls and fountains need scrubbed inside and out with hot soapy water, rinsed then allowed to air dry before filling them again. Dish soap like Dawn works well. 

A baby bottle brush can help to get inside all the threads and to the hard to reach bottom of the fountains. You can pick one up at the dollar store. An old toothbrush can also be useful for hard to reach areas. 

It's the combination of physically removing the biofilm with scrubbing, then sanitizing and air drying that will kill all the bacteria that might be present. Make sure you check the manual for your water fountain for proper cleaning procedures. 

Also, algae can build up in the tubes inside water fountains, so the manual will show you how to inspect, clean and replace those.

Importance of clean cat water bowls

Access to clean water is necessary for proper digestion, proper organ function, good circulation, absorption of nutrients and more. Just like humans, about 60% of a cats body is water. If the water in your cats bowl is contaminated, they may choose to not drink as much as they need. This can cause dehydration. 

Signs of dehydration in cats include lethargy, weakness and poor appetite. 


Keeping their bowl clean is a really simple step to minimize my cats exposure to harmful bacteria, so I don't mind doing it. I know I wouldn't want to drink out of a cup that had water sitting in it for a week. Why should the cats?

~Lisa

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