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February 27, 2008

The Dirt on Doggie Dishes

By: Emily Refermat

There are so many styles of pet dishes out there, it’s difficult to choose. If only Fido could tell you his preferences, but he’s off sniffing the business end of another pup, leaving you to choose the best dog dishes for him.

Available almost everywhere in some form, what your dog eats out of does deserve some consideration – outside its looks. For example, the most prevalent and affordable material for pet dishes – plastic – is at the center of a controversy. Durable, cheap, colorful and available in infinite shapes and sizes, plastic is a popular material for pet dishes. The plastic critics say the surface is easily scratched and old food gets stuck in the grooves – which harbor germs. As plastic is highly chewable (some chew toys are even made of plastic-like materials leading to understandable confusion) young and enthusiastic dogs are going to create many tooth-shaped ridges. While this is a logical argument especially considering how often (or little) many of us wash our pet dishes – the very prevalence of plastic in pet stores tends to counter the logic. Still, caution may be the better part of valor and plastic may not be the best option. Plus, it tends to be very light and can be pushed around easily by your dog.

Decorative and heavy, ceramic and stoneware bowls are very attractive. They stay in place and can’t be chewed (well, never say never). However, these bowls do tend to chip and are usually rather breakable for the house with those young dogs and children. Another consideration is the coating, because ceramics can be porous, they leave you with the same problem of harboring germs as the marred plastics. Manufacturers of ceramic-type bowls recommend regular cleaning, and often.

The bowl with the least amount of negative press is stainless steel. It won’t rust. It’s not chewable (at least for most pets), it won’t chip or shatter and is dishwasher safe (making cleaning easier). The variety with a rubber bottom keeps it from roaming the floor. Its draw backs? It is still rather light and the dog might tip it over, unless it’s weighted or uniquely designed to prevent this. And, a lass, it will be silver.

Cleaning the dog bowl is a major theme in dish selection. No matter what material the dish is made out of, frequent cleaning is recommended. In fact a number of sources said the bowl should be cleaned daily, or after every meal, which may be surprising. One online source said it was like washing the rest of the family dishes. You wouldn’t serve your family a meal on a plate that hadn’t been washed. Then again, most of the family doesn’t drink out of puddles or eat the garbage. Still, there’s something to be said for cleaning the pet dish more frequently. The solution perhaps is to get a dishwasher safe dish and toss it in each night with the other dishes.

The variety of sizes out there correspond pretty logically to the size of dog, but if you have a puppy and want to buy dishes that will last you awhile, here’s a tip. Buy a food dish that has room for at least 2 cups of kibble. If you know how big your dog will get, head on over to the dog food bags and checkout the servings size, which will help you be more specific in your choice. As for a water bowl, try for one that’s around 1 quart (four cups).

While shallow bowls are great for small dogs and puppies, there are also deep and narrow varieties. These are ideal for dogs with long, floppy ears. The idea is pooch’s snout can go into the food, while her ears hang outside the bowl.

Now for the fun stuff. If you’re away from home, there’s automatic water and food feeding dishes with bins attached to the actual bowl. Some are timer fed, while others simply allow the food to fall continuously into the bowl. Interesting idea, but the continuous feeder may not be ideal for a food-centered Labrador retriever.

For the older dog, or extremely tall breeds like Great Danes, there are dish stands that raise the bowls off the floor. This relieves the pressure on muscles and joints used when the dog is bending to eat off the floor. It also keeps your canine from pushing the bowl all over the floor, although the stands don’t appear very tip resistant.

There is a unique solution for the hoover’s out there as well. Dogs that eat too fast can have stomach problems (not to mention overeat) so manufactures have developed bowls that will slow fido down during mealtime. I found two brands: Brake-fast bowl or Eat Better(tm) bowl, both plastic (see what I mean about it being the most prevalent material for dishes) that have raised mounds-like peaks inside the bowl. The dog is forced to eat around the mounds, which is more difficult. The Brake-fast bowl specifically had an online video of a Doberman devouring its food and then eating slower with the new bowl. Very entertaining.

Armed with some knowledge, picking your pet’s place setting can be fun and practical.

Emily Refermat is a dog lover and long-time writer who just isn't content without a pen in hand and the prod of a cold nose.

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