The health of your dog is directly related to the food you give him … and the bowl it goes in. And that bowl can potentially contaminate food and harm your dog … or be highly breakable and cause injury.
So here are the best dog bowls evaluated. They include the pros and cons of various types to help you choose the best dog bowl for your dog.
8 Best Dog Bowls Evaluated
Here are 8 of the best dog bowl materials used for dog bowls and the pros and cons of each type.
Stainless Steel Dog Bowls
Stainless steel bowls are the most popular of the best dog bowls evaluated. They’re easily cleaned, are non-porous and don’t break. But there’s a serious caution.
In 2012, radioactive materials made their way into stainless steel pet bowls. Several Petco stores discovered low levels of radiation in pet bowls. This was due to a small content of Cobalt-60. It’s thought to have happened as a result of recycled medical equipment that contained radioactive materials making its way into the manufacturing process. Petco issued this statement: “The affected products were limited to two cargo containers that entered the United States in late May and early June.” Since that incident, the United Nations has called for increased screening of e-waste and recycled metal targeted for consumer goods.
So … for the best stainless steel dog bowls, always make sure your dog’s bowl is food-grade stainless steel. The type used in food-grade products is type 304 stainless steel. This is 18/8 stainless steel which refers to the percentage of chromium and nickel in the stainless steel alloy. Products stamped with 18/10 are better quality with higher nickel content.
Manufacturers will try to save money by using lesser grades of stainless steel. So if they don’t disclose the grade of stainless steel they use, it’s likely an inferior grade and you shouldn’t buy it.And if it’s not a human grade stainless steel dog bowl, don’t buy it! And if it isn’t dishwasher safe, or it’s “for pet use only” don’t trust it. If you can’t safely use it, you don’t want your dog using it either.
And some metal stainless-steel-like bowls are chrome-plated metals that are not rust-resistant. They can chip and rust and eventually leach iron oxide into your dog’s food.
Galvanized steel is another metal to avoid. These bowls are coated in zinc, which can be toxic to dogs in high concentrations.
Here are the pros and cons of stainless steel dog bowls.
Pros Of Stainless Steel Dog Bowls
- Non-porous so won’t absorb or hold onto bacteria
- Easy to clean
- More durable to withstand rough use
- Dishwasher safe and easy to clean and sterilize
- Don’t leach chemicals into food or water
- Available in various sizes
- Offered in various styles and with rubber bases to reduce tipping and spills
- Won’t crack or break if dropped
Cons Of Stainless Steel Dog Bowls
- Marketplace offers many cheap, versions that aren’t food-grade
- Some dogs react to the noise of a metal bowl
- Can’t be used with supplements like bentonite clay as they absorb the metal
- Cheap bowls can be made from recycled metals that may contain radioactive material
Ceramic Dog Bowls (And Stoneware)
Ceramic bowls are also popular as one of the best dog bowls evaluated … as long as your dog isn’t too overenthusiastic at mealtimes. Some dog owners choose these for the weight and stability. Stoneware, earthenware, and porcelain are all types of ceramics. But you need to be sure that the glazed coating is lead-free. Like stainless steel, a ceramic bowl needs to be graded for food use. If it has warnings “for dog use only” don’t give it to your dog.
Pros of Ceramic Dog Bowls
- Weight offers stability
- Attractive, with many design choices
- Available in various sizes
- Dishwasher safe and easy to clean
Cons of Ceramic Dog Bowls
- Can chip or crack and harbor bacteria
- Break easily if dropped
- Might not be good for a dog who pushes his bowl around while eating
- Can contain lead in the glaze so must be food-grade
Glass Dog Bowls
Like ceramic bowls, glass bowls are non-porous and easy to keep clean. But they are definitely breakable … so they’re not the best for large or rowdy dogs. But they’re readily available and come in various sizes. Most small dogs will do well with glass bowls.
Bamboo Dog Bowls
Bamboo bowls are completely safe for dogs.
Pros of Bamboo Dog Bowls
- As strong as plastic but natural
- Don’t leech into food
- Most are dishwasher safe
- Natural antibacterial properties so they don’t collect bacteria
- Made from a sustainable plant
- Available in a variety of colors, patterns and sizes
- Available in a slow-feeder style
- Can have non-slip base
- Some have a carabiner clip for travel
Cons of Bamboo Dog Bowls
- More expensive
- Not as readily available at brick and mortar stores
Plastic Dog Bowls
You really need to do your homework if you choose plastic bowls for your dog. There are many grades of plastic to wade through. Older and cheap plastic bowls usually contain bisphenol A (BPA) (3). Studies show BPA is an endocrine disruptor that can have serious adverse effects on your dog’s brain, cardiovascular system. It has the potential to cause cancer, among other issues.
And if you’ve ever seen a dog with pink blotches on his black nose, it could be plastic dish nasal dermatitis. This is when chemicals in the plastic are carried in the water or food and penetrate the skin of your dog’s nose. These chemicals block the synthesis of melanin and cause the loss of color in the nose and adjacent areas.
Pros Of Plastic Dog Bowls
- BPA-free and phthalate-free bowls are better quality, more durable and safer
- Dishwasher safe
- Easy to find
- Available in many styles and sizes
Cons Of Plastic Dog Bowls
- Some contain phthalates used to make plastic products more flexible. Studies report phthalates are toxic to mammals over the long term.
- Cheap plastics can leech chemicals into food
- Can cause plastic dish nasal dermatitis
- Plastic can retain smells and tastes
- Shouldn’t be heated
- Dogs can chew and swallow bits of plastic that could build up over time and cause blockages
- Easy to scratch, so bacteria can build up
- Dogs can become allergic to plastic and develop rashes
- Not biodegradable so bad for the environment
- Can harden and crack in time
Melamine Dog Bowls
Melamine bowls resemble plastic but are hard and extremely durable. A lot of kitchenware and restaurant ware is made of melamine because of its durability. Although it’s considered safe, if you use melamine, it should never be heated as that could cause melamine to leach into food.
There are several studies that document the release of melamine and formaldehyde when melamine kitchen utensils were heated. One 2016 study measured the release of formaldehyde and melamine when in contact with food and acetic acid for 2 hours. 62% of the products tested (manufactured in Thailand, China, Vietnam and unspecified countries) did not meet the regulatory standards of the European Union. A more recent German study conducted in 2020 found similar results.
Pros Of Melamine Dog Bowls
- Extremely durable and unbreakable
- Mildew and bacteria-resistant
- Available in many shapes and colors
Cons Of Melamine Dog Bowls
- Releases toxic chemicals if heated
- Needs to be handwashed
- More expensive than plastic
- Harmful to the environment as they aren’t recyclable
Silicone Dog Bowls
Silicone is a non-toxic, non-stick, rubber-like material that’s often used for travel dog bowls.
Pros Of Silicone Dog Bowls
- Highly heat-resistant so they withstand boiling water
- Don’t retain stains or odors
- Collapsible so easy to store, pack or carry
- Many have clips to attach to a belt loop or backpack
- Dishwasher safe
Cons of Silicone Dog Bowl
- Not very functional as a permanent pet bowl
- Strong chewers can destroy them
Aluminum Dog Bowls
Like stainless steel, these bowls may be durable and easy to clean … but that’s where the similarities end. High levels of aluminum can accumulate in the body leading to cognitive dysfunction and bone damage. It also causes confusion, muscle weakness, difficulty walking and seizures. And when your dog is eating and drinking from his bowls every day, that’s a lot of contact.
Aluminum cookware needs to be anodized which is a process that forms a hardened layer on the surface and makes it resistant to corrosion. This should also prevent the leaching of metals. But it’s not dishwasher safe. And it has a shorter lifespan as it will wear down.
Avoid Aluminum Dog Bowls
So if you’re using an untreated aluminum bowl, it means your dog is in constant contact with aluminum when he eats or drinks. It’s best to avoid aluminum and not take any chances with your dog’s health.
And then there are dog bowls that are a little different and some that aren’t actually bowls.
Alternative Dog Bowls
These choices solve the needs of some dogs.
Slow Feed Bowls
Some dogs gulp down their meal in mere seconds … and you have to wonder if that’s healthy. Slow feed bowls have obstacles to slow down eating. They have ridges or cones or mazes to force dogs to take smaller bites at a time. You’ll find them made of plastic, bamboo and stainless steel. There are also stainless steel balls in various sizes that you add to the bowl along with the food for the same effect. You still need to look for the best materials described earlier
Lick Mats And Platters
You might have a dog that habitually takes food from his bowl and drops it on the floor or takes it elsewhere to eat. This is instinctive and perfectly natural. After all, in the wild, he wouldn’t have eaten from a bowl. Here are some alternative feeding options for dogs.
Lick mats and platters are also used as slow feeders as they can slow down the speed eater. Use them with wet or raw food that you spread into the nooks and crannies. They allow your dog to eat, lick and forage from ground level without barriers around his feeding area, standing over his food. The action of licking can also be a calming therapy to reduce anxiety.
One type of feeding platter is cellulose fiber that is food-safe, BPA-free and dishwasher safe. It’s also completely recyclable.
What To Look For In Dog Bowls
As well as material, sanitation, cleanliness, quality and toxicity, you want to consider the following features when choosing a bowl for your dog:
- Effect on temperature of food
- Insulation needs
- Size of your dog
- Size of your dog’s snout (use a shallow bowl for short snouts)
- Length of your dog’s ears (smaller bowl to keep ears out of the bowl)
Should Dog Bowls Be Elevated?
There are mixed opinions about elevated dog bowls. For some dogs, an elevated dog bowl can be essential to helping them eat and drink.
Pros Of An Elevated Dog Bowl
- Can help older dogs with limited mobility
- Can help dogs with restricted movement
- Reduces further damage and improves a dog’s ability to eat and drink by preventing additional straining
- Stabilizes bowls to prevent dogs from playing with or moving food or water bowls
- Improves the flow of water in the esophagus of larger dogs
- Helpful for dogs with shorter snouts to reduce air intake to minimize choking and bloating
Cons Of An Elevated Dog Bowl
- Can increase the risk of bloat in dogs – Purdue study shows 52% of large dogs with bloat used a raised bowl (4)
- Each dog requires a customized height
- It’s an unnatural position for animals who eat off the ground in nature
Another important concern is the possibility of heavy metals in your dog’s bowl.
Heavy Metals In Dog Bowls
Often bowls made with inferior materials contain toxins like heavy metals. Lead is a heavy metal (found in some ceramic glazes) that can be toxic or poisonous at low concentrations. Lead poisoning in dogs can lead to serious issues like anemia, gastrointestinal disorders, lethargy and anorexia, and neurologic or behavioral changes. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, weakness, seizures and even blindness.
When choosing a bowl for your dog, it should always be food-safe. If it’s not or if it’s “for dogs only” find one that can be used by you … and your dog.
Healthystuff.org is a website that has analyzed thousands of products for heavy metal content including dog bowls.
And most importantly, to ensure you get rid of bacteria, your dog’s bowl needs regular cleaning.
Bacteria In Your Dog’s Bowl
The National Sanitation Foundation, a worldwide organization, names pet bowls as the fourth most germ-filled place in the home. Part of the reason is inadequate cleaning practices plus the materials used. The Hartpury Research Journal named the pet water bowl as the third most contaminated surface in the home. This followed a 14-day study with 6 dogs where pet owners were instructed NOT to clean the bowls during the study’s duration (1).
Two plastic bowls in this 2018 study showed no growth on days 7 or 14. On day 7, the stainless steel bowl had the highest bacterial count. But, all counts were lower after 14 days, and the plastic bowl had the highest remaining bacterial count. The ceramic bowl had the lowest bacterial count throughout the study. At the conclusion, researchers saw no significant difference between the bacteria count and bowl materials. Their conclusion: “… ceramic bowls appear to reduce bacterial proliferation more than stainless steel and plastic bowls.”
In a 2012 study, Gebhardt et al researched the development of an antibacterial coating for stainless steel. They stated that negatively charged surfaces are hydrophilic (meaning they attract moisture) … like stainless steel, so they attract more bacteria than positively charged (hydrophobic) surfaces like plastic (2). And other studies show ceramic surfaces have a lower bacteria adhesion, possibly due to their hydrophobic nature. The study also pointed out that accumulation and adhesions of bacteria were dependent on the type of bacteria.
How Do You Clean Your Dog’s Bowl?
You wash your own dishes after every use, and you should do the same with your dog’s food bowl. You should also wash water bowls and refill daily. Give it a good scrub once a week. Water bowls get a slimy build-up called biofilm, and that allows harmful bacteria to take over.
You can load your dog’s bowls into the dishwasher for some easy sanitizing. If you’re handwashing, use fresh, hot, soapy water, and apply some elbow grease. You can wash them with your own dishes. Just as you wash glassware first, and pots at the end, you can also save your dog bowls for the end. Avoid using anything abrasive like steel wool that can scratch your dog’s bowl.
1. Wright, C., Carroll, A. Microbiological assessment of canine drinking water: the impact of construction material on the quantity and species of bacteria present in water bowls. Hartpury Student Research Journal. 2018.
2. Gebhardt, F., Seuss, S., Turhan, M.C., Hornberger, H., Virtanen, S. and Boccaccini, A.R. (2012) Characterization of electrophoretic chitosan coatings on stainless steel. Materials Letters [Online]. 66 (1), pp.302-304.
3. Ling Y, et al. Simultaneous determination of eight additives in polyethylene food contact materials by ultrahigh-performance liquid chromatography. Se Pu. 2021 May;39(5):488-493. Chinese.
4. Glickman LT, et al. Non-dietary risk factors for gastric dilatation-volvulus in large and giant breed dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000 Nov 15;217(10):1492-9.