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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31 Comments

  1. …..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!

  2. Our new dog is scared to drink water out of his stainless steel bowl. This is strange because his food bowl is the same and he does okay with that. I’m pretty sure it’s something about the reflection in the water, however he is not afraid to drink out of the stainless steel water bowls at our family’s house. Those are the deeper, flat-bottomed bowls. Ours has a rounded bottom with the no-tip sides. Because of this, I give him two full cups of water with his food twice per day. He will drink out of his water bowl sometimes. yesterday I noticed him drinking spilled water out of the tray below is food bowls when his bowl was full of fresh clean water. This is so frustrating. I wish I understood his fear and what is causing it so I could fix it. I found this article because I know plastic bowls are bad and I wanted to see what else I could try. Sounds like I’ll have to give silicone a try or get a flat-bottomed stainless steel bowl and see if that makes any difference. He is an 8-month-old English Mastiff.

    • Hi Charissa!

      Hope things are going better for your Mastiff doggo. Silicone is a great alternative; however, the side walls aren’t as sturdy.

      This issue can vary from dog to dog. But from what I’ve seen, it has been one of two things: (1) noise or (2) reflection.

      If it’s the 1st, try removing your dog’s collar so that it won’t bang against it creating the metallic noise. His fear won’t magically go away overnight once the collar is off because he may still be wary of the memories of the metallic noise. However, he will gradually build up confidence as he uses the water bowl without the continual metallic noises.

      For the latter, you could try laying down a wash cloth or paper towel over the bowl (as to hide the reflection) and gradually uncover more and more as he becomes more confident in using it.

      Hope that helps!

    • Maybe because I live in the desert but I would buy my dogs a new water bowl asap and not worry why. He needs water first and foremost.

  3. I use a dollar store (Dollarama) stainless steel dog bowls with the plastic around the outside and rubber/no skid bottom. There is warning on Facebook about them being a low standard stainless steel with lead in them and therefore toxic. Is there a possibility of this? I bought one last year that was almost identical from Pet Smart for a lot more money and figured I was ripped off – but now wondering if it was just a better standard or not . I’m so worried about my dogs now that I bought Corelle bowls for them to eat out of!

    • Hi Judianne!

      You know, I had someone ask me this in person recently. I have not seen the FB post yet; but with the growing awareness of stainless steel, I don’t doubt there are now vendors that are trying to make money by making low quality stainless steel products. I recently went to purchase additional stainless steel bowls for my pups and I could not find a single store that had the same one I had purchased years ago. Everything I found was much thinner and lighter than the heavy duty bowls I previously purchased. After a few weeks of searching, the best I could settle on were: Boots & Barkley Stainless Steel (Target), KONG Rubber-Bonded Stainless Steel Dog Bowl (Petsmart), or OurPets Durapet Stainless (Amazon).

      What I found were that these were made in either India or USA. The KONG was made in USA and was the most durable and most heavy (sturdy) feeling bowl. Whereas the other two were made in India. The others that I saw ‘Made in China’ were incredibly thin and dirty. Based on their poor history of manufacturing dog treats, I personally stay away from products made from there. I wouldn’t be surprise if those had higher lead content due to being lower quality stainless steel.

      I recently saw these ‘Made in USA’ stainless steel dog bowls on Amazon, Basis Pet Made in the USA Stainless Steel Dog Bowl. I may give it a try one day, but they are on the pricey side! The other thing I don’t like about them is the lack of a rubber/silicone bottom to grip to the floor.

      Regarding Corelle bowls…you know, my wife LOVES her Corelle bowls and dishes. It’s great because it is nearly impossible to break. My wife is an R&D Chemist and I had previously asked her about Corelle when she purchased it for the house. According to her, it is a fantastic proprietary material because it is non-porous, thin, and light. Due to its manufacturing process, it does not typically chip or develop cracks like ceramic would (which could house bacteria). Therefore, Corelle bowls aren’t bad for the pups either!

        • Thanks for the share, Dawn!

          I’m always open to different perspectives, so much appreciated for others to consider.

          For the most part, from what I could tell, most stainless steel bowls that you can purchase from any major vendor (Amazon, Petsmart, Petco, or even your local grocery stores) will be food grade and nontoxic. If you’re using another item that may not necessarily be originally intended to be used for food use…there is a small chance it may not be food grade/non-toxic. However, I haven’t found that to be the case in recent years.

          • Our best bet would be to make certain that our dishes and pet’s dishes are made in the USA. Our safety standards are much better than China or other countries.

    • Hi John I have just purchased the Durapet fashion paw and bone stainless steel bowls for my dog. Are these actually safe or not?
      The Corelle was a good idea!!
      Thnx in advance.
      Rosie

    • Stay away from anything made in China. They use lead, cadmium and other toxic metals in their petfood/water bowls!!!!!! You can look it up.

  4. My I have been buying dog dishes from Dollarama. Now I am seeing the contain lead and we stopped using them. Have you heard anything about these certain bowls??

  5. Pamela Neill on

    My dog drank water from a clay or terricota bowl which was painted. Several times over a week. I wiped the bowl and there was paint on the kitchen roll and in the water. She is now not eating much , took her to vet and blood test showed renal problem and swolen tummy.
    Further tests am. I haven’t told vet about the bowl as yet as this just occurred to me.
    I suspect lead poisoning.
    Any thoughts on this anyone ?

  6. Bobbie Gardner on

    Pamela Neill, I hope this reply is not too late. I do think you should tell your vet about the bowl, especially since paint easily came off. I just recently read an article from NPR on the subject of the safety of ceramics. Here is an excerpt:
    “According to the FDA, consumers should be attentive to antique or handmade ceramics, which might still be baked in old kilns with residue lead in them. In particular, bright orange, red and yellow homemade pottery may be of concern, because lead is sometimes used to intensify these colors. Buyers should also check for labels saying earthenware is not safe for food or drink.”
    I hope your dog is OK. I like using a large, sturdy, tempered glass bowl (for example Duralex Lys) for my dogs’ water. It’s chip resistant and non-porous, so nothing can leach into the water. Also, I’m more comfortable using dishware that I know has been deemed safe for human use.

  7. Hi! Another bowl material that’s widely available, but I think should be avoided is rubber. The black rubber bowls you might get at a Tractor Supply. (But first let me say, I LOVE Tractor Supply..they are a great company and great stores AND we used the black rubber bowls for YEARS…they are indestructible and we found they were GREAT to take on road trips and vacations with our pups…) Ok, having said that, we noticed a LOT of gastrointestinal distress in one of our rescues and over many many months we, along with our Vet, have ruled out his food, illness, something ingested by accident, etc…it was only after I stopped using the black rubber bowls for their food and water that we saw a marked difference in Pecos’ tummy troubles. Now, not being any kind of expert can I say definitively that the sole cause of his distress was from the rubber material? No. But I DO believe it was a great contributor. So, just please be very mindful of using these types of bowl for food and water vessels for your pup…or kitty. While they DO have some positive attributes, those positive attributes are NOT enough to have my pup feel poorly for one second!! P.S. Just so I’m perfectly clear, WE NO LONGER USE THE RUBBER BOWLS AT ALL….AT HOME, ON ROAD TRIPS, ON VACATIONS, NEVER! 🙂

  8. Kate Melone on

    I suggest cutting a circle from the non skid mat that can be put under rugs. Cut it to the size and shape of your bowl. Especially if using steel or glass, then bowls won’t slide.

  9. I have started using the old crocks for a slow cooker. Nice flat bottoms hard to knock over but need to be careful when used on cement or rocks. Otherwise they are nice and big and place them around the yard until I find something more healthy than the one large green one from a feed store I was using. I also use an old claw foot bath tub style for my horses water but then have to put a rubber plug in it! Don’t forget an important thing when you fill pets containers with.. garden hoses… they state not suitable for drinking! The only one that are for drinking is for the RV’s and are white which are usually shorter and thinner so I attach them just for the animals and use regular for the yard. Even some faucet hardware at home stores have tags that aren’t for drinking also since some have lead and even the non lead ones have a speck in them! I think that’s why the garden hoses say they are not for drinking because of lead hardware but could be because of the rubber/ plastics used also?? I always hear not to drink out of galvanized metal and then that whats used for livestock, then there is a goop coating pored along the seems to keep from leaking. Who knows what that is? I know US stopped making it since its fumes were so poisonous when welded now Mexico takes over and has a higher shine and thinner so I don’t trust it??!!

  10. Have you put any time into researching copper water bowls for dogs? Copper has self-sterilizing properties as well as many other purported benefits. I have only found one company that offers true copper water bowls for dogs.

  11. Not sure if it’s been said. Why not just use same bowls safe for humans. Be it NSF metal or food safe ceramics. If it’s not safe for you to eat your cereal out of and don’t feed your pet out of the same dish. I use perfect size custard dishes for my cats

  12. I read recently that there are no adult lead standards for cookware, drinkware, dishes, bowls, etc., in the U.S. The standards are only for children’s products. So even if it says “food safe,” it may contain harmful materials. I haven’t researched this on the FDA web site, but given how many kitchen products test positive for lead, I don’t doubt what I read.
    Uncoated, nonglazed, clear glass is the safest thing for us and our pets.
    I have read in several places that titanium is the only stable metal that won’t leech into food or water. Any metal can all be toxic at some level, whether it’s nickel, copper, aluminium, iron, etc.
    Also, acidic products can cause metals to leech into food or water. If you ever put apple cider vinegar in your dog’s food, as I do sometimes, it can be unsafe in a metal bowl.
    I’ve been using stainless steel for twenty years, but I’m switching to glass as of today. Better safe than sorry.
    Thanks for the great article with such helpful info and resources.

  13. Susan Manning on

    We’ve found that stainless steel bowls cause chin acne on our 9-month-old Lab. It went away when we tried melamine, but he cracked it immediately. Went back to stainless; acne returned.

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