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6 Tips for Choosing the Right Cat Food Bowls

We asked two experts for their suggestions on cat food bowls and cat dishes — and when you should feed your cats without bowls or dishes.

Kellie B. Gormly  |  Oct 12th 2017


Figuring out what to feed your cat can be tough enough — but what about how you present food to your cat? What type of cat food bowls or dishes you choose (or neither — more on that later) can make all the difference in your cat’s eating habits and health. Let’s take a look at these six tips:

1. Avoid plastic cat food bowls.

A white and gray tabby cat with a cat food bowl.

The way you present your cat’s food matters just as much as what kind of food she eats. Photography ©Alena Ozerova | Thinkstock.

Bacteria and oil build up in the plastic material’s scratches and may cause cat acne, which appears in the form of black dots on your cat’s chin. Choose bowls made of ceramic or stainless steel instead, says Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat-behavior consultant in the San Francisco Bay area, who is also known as The Cat Coach.

2. Consider the depth of  cat bowls.

Cats prefer dishes and bowls that are fairly shallow and wide. When cats stick their faces too far into bowls to eat, they may experience discomfort, Krieger says.

“Some cats are very sensitive to the feel of the dish around their little whiskers,” she explains. “It might not be comfortable for them. They might use their paws to take food out of the dish.”

Krieger says that cats may also feel uncomfortable with a deep bowl if it prevents them from looking up to see their environment while eating.

Dr. Leticia Dantas, D.V.M., M.S. and Ph.D., as well as a faculty member at the Athens-based University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Behavioral Medicine Service, says the whisker-irritating theory about deep, narrow bowls isn’t scientifically proven. Still, she echoes the idea that most cats do best with shallow bowls.

3. Some cats require different food bowls.

What if you have a flat-faced cat like a Persian? Buy specialty dishes that have elevation and a slight angle, so your flat-faced kitty has an easier time eating out of the bowl, Krieger recommends.

4. Think about where you locate your cat food bowls.

Put some thought into the location of the cat food bowls, too, Krieger advises. You wouldn’t want to eat by your toilet, so don’t place the bowls near your cats’ litter boxes. Locate the bowls in private areas of the house, so passersby don’t stress cats out while they eat. And if you have more than one cat, don’t place the bowls too close together — cats are solitary hunters and get irritated when another cat eats too close to them.

5. Practice good bowl hygiene.

Wash the cat dishes or cat bowls, preferably every day with soap and water, Krieger says. Dry cat food tends to be oily, so bacteria can collect and smell. If you feed your cat wet food, wash the bowls after each use.

6. Go beyond cat food bowls and cat dishes.  

You can appeal to your cat’s inner playful hunter by using other feeding vessels for dry food.

“It’s not just the bowl; there are many other ways of feeding cats,” Krieger says. “Have your cat hunt a little by putting pieces here and there.”

You can buy food puzzles that challenge your cats to work for their food or use items like muffin tins to create easy DIY versions. Another idea? Put dry food in PVC connectors and tennis balls that have holes.

“You can use your imagination,” Krieger says. “You don’t have to just use the standard and conservative bowl. You can do that, too, but then mix it up with other things.”

Dr. Dantas, who is also a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, similarly recommends using standard dishes and bowls for wet food, but prefers food puzzles and toys for dry food. “It is good for their mental health and increases their rate of physical exercise as well,” she states.

Plus, dealing with a sloppy eater? See some advice on cat bowls for sloppy eaters on Paws and Effect >>

Thumbnail: Photography ©vladans | Thinkstock.

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