Is It Safe For Dogs to Drink Out of Community Water Bowls?

When I take one of my dogs to one of San Francisco’s many off leash dog parks or to walk around one of San Francisco’s commercial corridors, I try to keep them from drinking out of communal water bowls. My wife always argues with me about this. She says, “they’re thirsty, what are you worried about?” First, as if I need a specific reason to worry about anything – hasn’t she heard we’re just getting out of a global pandemic? Second, according to the American Kennel Club, it turns out there are plenty of things to be worried about.

Before I start, let me stress that if I were ever concerned that one of my dogs was dehydrated, I would certainly allow them to drink from a communal water bowl AND I always have water and a bowl in my car for post walk hydration.

Why your dog shouldn’t drink from community water bowls.

That said, here are some of the things both the American Kennel Club and I worry about:

  • Fecal Matter and Urine: Yes, this is as gross as it sounds but if bowls are left out at night, rodents may run through the bowls and urinate or defecate in the bowls. In addition, many dogs will play in a water bowl with their paws and it’s hard to know what those paws might have run through. Once there is fecal matter in the bowl there is also the possibility of intestinal worm parasites.
  • Giardia: This parasite, which also spreads through fecal contamination, is often found in standing water. While this is more often an issue with puddles or the saucers under potted plants, it can be an issue for water bowls that are not dumped and cleaned often. Giardia is zoonotic which makes it a concern for people as well.
  • Canine papilloma virus: This is spread through contact with saliva from an infected dog. If an infected dog sneezes or drools in a bowl, it is possible to spread this virus to another dog.
  • CIRD Complex: Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex is the term used to refer to the wide range of infections (bacteria and virus) that cause upper respiratory disease in dogs. If an infected dog, which may be asymptomatic, exhales a pathogen into a water bowl, another dog can be infected when drinking out of the same bowl.

What’s different about Pet Camp’s communal water bowl?

So, before you ask, yes, Pet Camp has communal water bowls in our play areas and yes there is a theoretical risk of some of these same concerns. But at Pet Camp there are significant differences from the average communal water bowl:

  • All dogs at Pet Camp are fully vaccinated. While vaccines are not fool proof, this greatly reduces the likelihood of a dog catching a communicable disease.
  • All water bowls at Pet Camp are changed on a regular basis (several times a day).
  • All water bowls are washed in a hi-temp dishwasher (188 degrees Fahrenheit), a temperature high enough to kill even unenveloped pathogens.
  • We monitor the use of the water bowls to limit dogs playing in the bowls.

While no system is perfect, we think the steps we’ve taken make the communal water bowls at Pet Camp a lot safer than those you find at a dog park or outside your neighborhood store. So as much as I let my dogs drink from the water bowls in the Meadow, Prairie or Savannah at Pet Camp, I’ll continue to try and stop them from drinking from communal water bowls elsewhere.
Thanks for reading.

Pet Camp has been providing San Francisco’s best pet care since 1997.  If you are a pet parent interested in overnight care for your dog or cat (what used to be called boarding), doggie day care, puppy socialization, training for your puppy or adult dog, bathing or pet transportation please reach out to a counselor at 415-282-0700 (via text or call) or email at