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A couple of days ago, I bumped into my friend Al at the supermarket, who you may remember as the owner of first the St. Bernard Hannah, and lately a dog named Harlow. Al was there to pick up some dog food, and mentioned that they had to replace a brand new bag after the last one they bought got absolutely infested with ants. His tale was actually pretty sad; they’d been keeping the dog food in their enclosed back porch, where a raccoon got into it; so they moved it to the garage, and now they had the ants. He looked a little exasperated at the trouble, so I asked him if they’d tried adding some pest control to the food.
Winter is an especially active time for certain pests, because their normal food sources are hidden under snow and ice. So, if you are struggling with bugs, raccoons, mice, possums, or any other kind of pest getting into your dog’s dinner, here are seven tips for solving the problem.
First, it helps to understand why pests are attracted to your dog’s dinner more than many other things you may have open and available around your house. The reasons are pretty much common sense, but you never know what might be a light bulb moment for someone.
The first reason is that dog food contains a variety of nutrients in a convenient little package. All animals, even bugs, are hardwired to look for nutrition. When you have a craving for something, science says it’s because you are actually lacking some kind of nutrient. So, when an animal of any sort finds that your pet’s food is full of the necessary building blocks of health, they are naturally drawn to it. It’s also very convenient because it has everything in one little piece of food. Instead of needing to find various plants or other insects, or whatever a pest may eat, to get a balanced diet, they can just eat this one pellet.
The second reason is that dog food tends to be available all the time in most houses. Most dog owners actually do leave their dog’s food down on the ground all the time, not picking it up after a set amount of time. So, if your dog doesn’t finish his whole bowl and you just leave it down there, it’s easy for bugs and mice and other critters to find after dark.
Finally, the biggest reason that pests go for dog food is that it’s usually not stored in a way that can stop them. Most people just keep a big bag of dog food sitting somewhere like the basement, the garage, or the floor of the pantry. They either scoop out the dog’s food from the big bag every day, or they use it to refill a smaller container for daily use. Either way, that big bag is usually just left sitting out, albeit rolled up or clamped shut in some way. It’s easy for insects to crawl into the bag through miniscule openings in the top, and it’s easy for bigger pests to chew through the bag.
So, here are seven tips to prevent these situations from happening.
The first thing that every dog owner must do is store bulk dog food properly. That big bag that you keep in the garage? It’s attracting ants, cockroaches, and mice, if not other pests. Use a large plastic bin to keep your dog food locked up from pests, and you’ll be in much better shape. You can even use one of those big Rubbermaid storage bins as long as the lid latches securely.
There may be some situations in which this doesn’t work – for example, an elderly dog owner might have trouble opening the lid on one of these storage containers. In that case, I would recommend buying smaller bags of dog food that you can keep put up on a pantry shelf. Just get it up off the floor and out of the garage, and you’ll be a lot better off.
The next thing to do is to get the dog food bowl off the floor. It may take your dog some time to adjust, but a bowl that is even slightly elevated can deter ants, cockroaches, and other insects from checking out what was left behind when your dog is done. If you have a very tall dog, they might appreciate the fact that they don’t have to bend down so far to get a meal. You can find elevated dog bowls in all sorts of heights, or just go for one that you can adjust. It’s also easier for you to reach down and grab that bowl if it’s up off the ground, so there’s another bonus.
One thing that can draw mice, especially, is dog food that isn’t cleaned up right away if it is spilled. It’s hard to stop the pests from taking advantage of a free meal, right? So, it’s important to clean up any spilled dog food. If you’ve got a hyper puppy or a dog that eats too fast and regularly makes a bit mess, consider using a bowl that is designed to slow them down. That will help cut back on how many messes you have to clean up, and it’s also healthier for the dog.
One thing you can do if you continue to see ants in or around your dog food is to keep the food away from any foundational walls of your house. Surprisingly, ants are very good at finding ways to get inside through miniscule cracks in the foundation, and they will crawl into your home if there is food right against the wall, luring them inside. Keep both bags of food and the bowl itself away from outside walls, and you may find it easier to keep ants outdoors where they belong. In fact, keeping your food away from any walls can also help deter mice, who don’t like to be out in the open. Other than a very brave mouse, most won’t crawl out into open space to inspect a dog bowl.
This one is a bit obvious now that we’ve talked about other tips, but don’t leave dog food out overnight. This allows mice and cockroaches, which are nocturnal creatures, to get a feast when you are not around to scare them away. Don’t even leave an empty bowl down on the ground overnight if you can help it – there could be debris or trace amounts of food that can still attract pests and let them know where to find food in the future.
You should also be sure to pick up dog dishes if you’ll be gone for a trip or even a long day. Whenever people are not around, pests feel bolder about coming out into the open. Also be sure to tell pet sitters to pick up dog bowls before they leave your dog alone at night – it would not be fun to come home to a new infestation!
Here’s another thing that you can try if you struggle with ants or small rodents getting into food. Let’s say your dog just will not eat out of an elevated bowl, or you tried that and it didn’t help. There are bowls that have a moat around the food, where you can put water with just a drop of dishsoap. This is enough to deter mice and ants, but not enough that it will hurt your dog if he drinks some of it. Some owners also put a small amount of spray glue in the moat, but be aware that that could harm your dog if they ingest any of it while they are eating.
This could also be a solution for dogs that must eat outdoors. It can be very hard to control pests from getting into your dog’s food when they are outside, so having a physical barrier to the food that actually stops pests will be a big help in that situation.
The last tip that I have is to add a product called diatomaceous earth to your dog’s food. Yes, this is safe for them to ingest, and actually has some other health benefits according to many canine professionals. But for insects and other pests, it can be poison.
What is diatomaceous earth? It’s a powder made up of crushed fossils, basically, and here’s what it can do for your dog:
Sounds like a great product right? You can also sprinkle this stuff around in your garden, and around your house, to help prevent pests and deodorize. And it’s safe for your pets or small kids if they accidentally eat some of this. If you want to use this to prevent pests in your dog’s food, you can add a tablespoon to your dog’s daily food for any dog over 50 pounds, or a teaspoon to your dog’s daily food for dogs under 50 pounds. If your dog is a teacup size, or is a puppy, go for half a teaspoon every day.
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Keeping pests out of your dog’s food may require combining many of these strategies. For example, you may want to keep your dog food bags properly contained, elevate your dog’s bowls, and also add some diatomaceous earth to their food. Or you may want to keep food away from the walls, pick up food at night, and use a moat bowl with a drop of dish soap.
But one thing is very clear to me – it takes a bit of creative thinking to keep insects and other pests out of a dog’s food. These tasty morsels of nutrients are hard to resist for animals of all sorts, even if your dog turns up his nose. In addition to the seven tips I listed above, you may need to take some common sense measures against bigger pests. For example, if you struggle with raccoons or possums, you might need to consider animal traps or professional pest control.
I would recommend a professional pest control application either way. Ants and cockroaches, as well as mice and other smaller pests, can be invasive and harmful to your house and family. If you see some around your dog’s food, chances are you have an infestation. So, while you are taking measures to keep your dog’s dinner safe, also consider getting a pro in to take care of the bigger problem. This will help you keep your dog’s food safe as well.
By combining these ideas with others, and by only feeding your dog a set amount every day so he’ll eat it all, you stand a good chance of preventing pests in general, when it comes to their access to dog food.