Are Your Dog’s Food Bowls Safe? A Pet Bowl Materials Guide

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There are a wide number and types of dog bowls on the market today. Stainless steel, plastic, silicone, ceramic, stoneware, bamboo, non-skid, slow-feeding, non-spill, and yes, even automated portion-sized ones. However, with so many options out there, how is one suppose to decide which one to get?

More importantly, which types of dog bowls are safe?

Here at BarkThink, we did some research for you on the different types of dog food bowls on the market. Here is what we found:

PLASTIC DOG BOWL

The most popular and commonly used material for dog bowls is plastic. But, did you know that these types of bowls can be the most dangerous and riskiest bowls to feed your pet with? Let’s look into some of the reasons why…

Durability. For young and teething pups out there, a feeder bowl occasionally becomes another chew toy to be destroyed and eaten. All it takes is a few minutes without your supervision and these pieces of plastic can cause internal bleeding or intestinal blockage (and likely a huge vet bill).

Bad Bacteria. Highly porous and easily scratched, plastic bowls are prone to developing cracks and crevices that can harbor unhealthy bacteria for your furry friend.

Bisphenol A (BPA). I’m sure many of you are familiar with BPA by now. Every few years, there are news headlines regarding the hazards of plastics—most recently it has been about a chemical known as Bisphenol A, or BPA, that was found in baby products, sports bottles, and several other products used to hold edibles.

BPA is a synthetic estrogen commonly used to harden polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resin; however, extensive studies has shown that, even at low amounts to which people are routinely exposed, it can cause serious and sometimes irreversible damage to health. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “in laboratory tests, trace BPA exposure has been shown to disrupt the endocrine system and trigger a wide variety of disorders, including chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity, and resistance to chemotherapy.” With this type of effect on humans, just imagine what BPA could be doing to our dogs—most of whom are much smaller!

Phthalates. Ever been curious about the “No Phthalates” disclaimer on those “BPA-Free” labels? Phthalates are dangerous chemicals that can also be emitted by plastic products. These chemicals, also known as plasticizers, are a group of industrial chemicals used to make plastics more flexible or resilient such as its application in polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Phthalates are also used as solvents—substance that are used to dissolve a solute (a chemically different liquid, solid, or gas) into a solution. Phthalates are used in many items in our society including toys, food packaging, adhesives, vinyl flooring, hair spray, shampoo, and food bowls. However, the human effects of phthalates are not yet fully known but is currently being studied by several government agencies. In the Twelfth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program in 2011, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”.
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Other concerns. As you will see on HealthyStuff.org—an organization that conducts research testing on consumer products for levels of lead, chlorine, arsenic, and other concerning chemicals—reveals several plastic pet bowls containing medium levels of lead despite being BPA-free and certified as food-safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Any of these chemicals can leach from plastic containers into your dog’s food and water, potentially exposing them to dangerous chemicals with harmful side effects.

It is unfortunate because there are several food-safe plastics, such as those used in human plastics identified by their recycling codes. Sadly, the pet industry is slow to add this information to their products. As a result, we are often left not knowing which plastic pet bowl is safe and which ones are unsafe until it is recalled or completely removed from the market.

Sure, there are some safe plastic pet bowls out there; but how are you suppose to know which ones really are?

CERAMIC DOG BOWL

Ceramic pet bowls can be a good choice if you do some homework, choose carefully, and take care of them. The biggest concern is to ensure that the glazes used to coat the dog bowls does not contain lead or other harmful chemicals. Therefore, when selecting a ceramic bowl, make sure that certified for food use and it is coated with a lead-free glaze. It is important to routinely inspect the bowls for cracks and chips because these areas can harbor harmful bacteria. You also would not want your dog to accidentally ingest any loose pieces that can continue to break off from preexisting cracked or chipped areas.

STONEWARE DOG BOWL

There was not much concerns I had for stoneware pet bowls…until I learned about some of the moderate levels of dangerous lead in several everyday products including stoneware pet bowls in HealthyStuff.org’s 2009 research. Sure, small traces of lead seems to be in nearly every other item these days. In fact, out of the 400 pet products tested, a quarter of the items had detectable levels of lead. However, 7 percent of the tested products had lead levels that exceed 300 ppm—the standard for lead in children’s product set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Until it is tested, how are you suppose to know which stoneware pet bowls are truly lead-free or not?

According to the EWG, the insidious symptoms of slow lead poisoning includes infertility, mood swings, impaired intellect, memory loss, nerve, joint and muscle disorders, skeletal, renal, kidney, and cardiovascular problems, and possibly cancer. While some manufacturers advertise their stoneware bowls as lead-free; being the way I am, I still have my hesitations and doubts. However, I’d still recommend stoneware over plastic bowls given the fewer concerning drawbacks.

SILICONE DOG BOWL

Silicone is one of the newest alternatives on the market today and it’s easy to see why. Nontoxic, nonstick, and rubber-like; high quality silicone products are highly heat-resistant (can be used with boiling water or in the oven if needed), does not retain stains or odors, and can be space-saving due to its collapsible feature.

So what exactly is silicone? Silicones are inert, synthetic compounds consisting of polymers that includes silicon together with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and occasionally other elements.

Unfortunately for me, due to its form and rigidity (or lack thereof), it is not very functional as a permanent pet bowl. It is, however, an outstanding collapsible dog bowl (and even human cereal bowl) for hiking, camping, and traveling! According to my wife, a chemist, silicone is one of the most stable compounds available and, due to its chemical composition and difficulty in producing free radicals (such as upon exposure to UV radiation), is chemically inert.

STAINLESS STEEL DOG BOWL

Ah…stainless steel, the go-to choice for professional chefs, medical professionals, and…the Queen Dame (wife) of the household. Stainless steel dog bowls are non-porous which discourages bacteria, non-leaching, rust-resistant, and much easier to sanitize (dishwasher anyone?) properly. Although not perfect, stainless steel is exposed to far fewer chemicals than plastic products during the manufacturing process.

The most recent ‘scare’ regarding stainless steel dog bowls occurred in mid-2012 when less than a dozen Petco stores throughout Illinois received stainless steel bowls containing low levels of radiation due to small quantities of Cobalt-60 being accidentally mixed in during the manufacturing process. According to Petco’s notice, “the affected products were limited to two cargo containers that entered the United States in late May and early June.” Other than that, I have am not aware of any other significant drawbacks to using stainless steel pet bowls.

WHAT TYPE OF DOG BOWL BARKTHINK USE AND RECOMMEND

So are dogs and pet owners to do? Here at BarkThink, we recommend stainless steel and silicone products such as OurPets Durapet Premium Rubber-Bonded Stainless Steel Dog Bowl and Guyot Designs Silicone Pet Bowl. Stainless steel is widely understood as one of the safest food and water containers (for both pets and humans). It is what I personally use for all of my pets’ meals and water, both cats and dogs. When I am traveling or in need of a compact bowl, I either use a collapsible bowl made out of food-grade silicone or carry a dedicated stainless steel dog sports bottle.

If properly cared for, stainless steel pet bowls will not trap dangerous bacteria or leach harmful chemicals. Care is pretty straight-forward and easy. Clean it out after every use with soap and hot water for sanitary reasons and avoid cleaning with abrasive materials such as steel wool. Or, if you’re like me, just toss it into the dishwasher to sanitize. For an eco-friendly and low-cost alternative, clean with a simple mixture of vinegar and water.

Remember, be mindful of what you store your pet food in as well. The majority of pet storage containers are made of plastic; but there are a few alternative food storage containers coming onto the market now.

Share some of your dog bowls experiences with us! BarkThink, stay informed, learn more, and stay on top of thought-provoking topics with us!

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  • ogam5

    …..as to bowls composed of primarily stainless steel, it is my firm belief that a danger exists based upon its little-known proclivity to form clearly detrimental synergistic, more potent relationships with aluminum coating products (of which there are NO shortage in pet food cans) and these can SIGNIFICANTLY compromise immune system function through electrolytic processes, as this PDF explains…..http://www.voc.uk.com/net/docs/14/14-425-19.pdf

    • Wow! Very interesting find. I’ll have to review it with my wife a bit and inquiry about some of the implications of the reactions. She’s a chemist and would be more familiar with the technical aspects of it. I’ll definitely share my insights on it. Thank you!