What Kind of Bowl Should Your Pet Be Using?

These days, fashion and trends rule. Not only are our dining tables dressed to the nines, but our pets' bowls often steal the show. From fancy plastic bowls featuring adorable paw prints to gleaming, hand-painted ceramic and crackled glass vessels that could be mistaken for art, pet dinnerware has taken center stage as a colorful and playful decor accent. But, if you jumped aboard the trend train, and couldn't resist that splashy plastic bowl or the nifty self-feeding unit, you may decide to ditch the plastic in favor of the utilitarian stainless steel bowl when you consider the pros and cons of the materials that compose your pet's bowls.

Cropped Hand Of Person Giving Food To Dog At Home
credit: Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

Trends and pet bowls

Seems as though new brands are popping up every day promoting some newfangled pet bowl, and some even do tricks. From quick and convenient 'gravity' and automated self-feeders to slow feeders to puzzle feeders to double diners, non-skid, non-spill, floor and elevated models, and handy dandy collapsible crocks for the crate, pet-bowl makers have thrown everything into the mix but the kitchen sink. And the materials used to manufacture pet bowls are equally diverse. Among them are plastic, BPA-free plastic, glass, recycled glass, ceramic, silicone, stoneware, bamboo, and stainless steel; the market is brimming with pet bowls that are designed to delight pet owners.

Inventive and amazing as many of these bowl iterations may be, trends are not always what they're cracked up to be. Inside that plastic pet bowl may lurk a host of nasty bacteria that can negatively impact your pet's health. And some environmental groups say some toxins do leach out of some plastics.

Let's take a look at some of the materials that pet bowls are made from so you can decide whether you should switch from a plastic to a metal bowl, or to one of the other options available.

Plastic pet bowls

Color it, squash it, melt it, print words and designs on it, roll it into sheets, make it into fibers, or shape it into pet bowls; chameleon-like plastic is everywhere. Hygienic and promoted as being non-poisonous to pets and their people and safe enough for babies, plastic is such a versatile, lightweight, multi-faceted material that it's even used in spacecraft, and dinnerware for you and your four-legged family members.

Directly Above Shot Of Dog Food In Bowl On Red Background
credit: Jose Luis Stephens / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

In its capacity as a pet bowl material, plastic has the following benefits and drawbacks:

The pros of plastic in pet bowls:

  • Resistance to corrosion, which means it won't rust.
  • Lightweight and durable.
  • Resistance to shock, or shatterproof, polycarbonate plastic won't break when it falls to the floor.
  • Fashion-wise, it's available in a wide assortment of colors, both opaque and transparent, and may be printed with words and artwork.
  • Easy to manufacture, which equates to low cost for the consumer.
  • Easy to care for; dishwasher-safe or wash by hand.

The downside of plastic for pet bowls, however, is enough to make you think twice about using them for your pets.

The cons of plastic pet bowls:

  • Highly porous and scratch easily.
  • Bacteria gathers and breeds in all the nooks and crannies that are visible, and some that are undetectable, on the surface of plastic bowls, which cannot be removed by cleaning. Bacteria can cause feline acne and cause allergies in dogs.
  • Dogs who are chewers may decide to chew their bowl if left unattended, thus the potential of plastic ingestion and blockage.
  • When the bowl has had the biscuit and you discard it, keep in mind that plastics pollute the environment, pose a danger to wildlife, and degrade very slowly. Plastics and their byproducts stuff landfills to overflowing and litter our cities, oceans, and waterways, and also contribute to health problems in humans and animals, says the Ecology Center. It takes from 450 years up to 10,000 years for plastics of various varieties to decompose. The Ecology Center recommends you get plastic out of your life.
  • While it is controversial, with polycarbonate-plastic manufacturers claiming their plastics are safe, some environmental groups believe that chemicals such as BPA, or Bisphenol A and dioxins in plastics can leach into food or drink causing cancer.
  • Plastics also pose difficulties in recycling.
Dog food in a stainless steel bowl
credit: Agustin Vai/iStock/GettyImages

Glass pet bowls

The earliest glass artifacts were found in Egypt dating back to 3100 B.C. With its 5,000-year-old history, it was inevitable glass would finally be adapted to pet bowls, too. And while glass pet bowls may look elegant, they are fragile and must be handled with care. Cleaning up after an explosive, shattered-glass spill is a monumental task, and tiny, broken shards and slivers of glass pose a real danger to your pets (and other family members), either cutting their feet or through ingestion.

Ceramic pet bowls

Ceramic is a beautiful material for all kinds of dinnerware including your pet's if you choose carefully. Ceramic for dinnerware and pet bowls must be certified food-safe and coated with lead-free glaze. Like glass, ceramic shatters and breaks when it hits a hard surface. If it breaks, you will be picking up shards and tidbits of ceramic for days. Another drawback to ceramic is that if the bowl gets tiny cracks or chips, it will harbor bacteria in the same way as plastic.

Stainless steel pet bowls

Unbreakable, non-porous, non-leaching, durable, easy-care stainless steel pet bowls are a wise choice. The corrosive-resistant finish means it won't rust and its dark, shiny, gray mirror finish is thoroughly modern. Stainless steel bowls offer all-around utility without worry of bacteria settling into cracks as it does with plastic. Chew-proof, drop-proof, and long-lasting, no other material is safer for your pooch than a sparkling clean stainless steel food and water bowl.