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Why are plastic bowls bad for cats?

Plastic is a convenient and cheap material for many pet products including food and water dishes. You can get them in many shapes, colors, and patterns. But, how safe is a plastic bowl for your cat?

Studies show that chemicals from plastics can leach into food from plastic dishes, which may be harmful to a cat’s health. In addition, some cats develop feline acne in response to plastic bowls. Also, plastic bowls harbor more bacteria than other materials.

Read on to discover why plastic bowls are bad for cats and alternatives to make your cat healthier and happier.

The Risks of Plastic Bowls for Cats

Although there haven’t been many studies about how plastic bowls affect cats specifically, there have been several studies on how plastics affect humans. These studies help to shed light on how this common material may be affecting your pet’s health. 

Harmful Chemicals

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, chemicals in plastics such as Bisphenol A (BPA) may break down over time and leach into foods stored in these plastics. BPA can be found in many plastic products, including water bottles and even pet food dishes. 

The US has regulated the use of BPA since the 1960s, but still, this compound is commonly found in plastic containers. Scientists have determined that BPA is an endocrinal-disrupting chemical, but a study from 2019 also suggests that these chemicals may also affect neurological and reproductive functions. 

Most of the above studies were conducted with humans in mind but these chemicals affect pets similarly. According to a 2018 study, exposure to BPAs may affect a cat’s vision.

Feline Acne 

Additionally, plastics can cause irritations in certain cats. Feline acne usually develops on your cat’s chin and looks like tiny blackheads. These irritations are itchy for your cat, so he may rub against furniture or brush against your leg to relieve the discomfort.

Feline acne is a minor condition that is easily treated. The main concern is avoiding a secondary infection. Cats may scratch the area causing lesions and wounds that can get bacteria in them.

This medical condition develops due to an overproduction of oils on the chin hair follicles. Cats who develop this condition often have a history of using a plastic food or water dish. Although the connection between the two is not 100% clear, vets recommend switching to stainless steel dishes and washing them frequently to help manage the condition. 

Vets suggest that if your cat develops feline acne, refrain from popping the zits, as that is painful and can lead to infection. Instead, you can seek out your vet for medications to help manage the condition.

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Plastics are unsanitary

Another risk of using plastic cat bowls is the harmful microbes living on them. Plastic bowls cannot be completely sanitized. Even if you clean your cat’s plastic bowl every day, it is impossible to remove all of the germs. Cracks and scratches on the surface of the material are perfect hiding places for bacteria to grow.

Plastic has a porous surface that is impossible to completely clean. Also, plastics tend to take on stains and smells from previous meals. If your cat eats wet food in a plastic dish, these stains and smells linger, making the food less appetizing. This may make your cat not want to eat. Even when your cat eats, he could ingest germs living on the surface of the dish along with his food.

Safe Alternatives to Plastic Bowls

Now that you understand how unsafe plastic cat dishes can be, you are probably considering alternatives. But, which is the best for your feline friend? There are pros and cons to each type of material used for cat bowls. When selecting a new bowl for your cat, consider what will work best for you and your pet. 

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel bowls are easier to clean, more durable, don’t retain odors and stains, and are more resistant to bacteria growth than plastic bowls. Vets often recommend stainless steel bowls as an alternative to plastic when a cat is diagnosed with skin irritation, such as feline acne. 

There are a variety of stainless steel cat bowls to choose from. You can get narrow dishes or more shallow and wide ones (which are better for your cat’s whiskers!) There are stainless steel dishes that sit on pedestals, automatic feeders, side-by-side food and water dishes, and even stainless steel water fountains. 

Your choice should be based on a combination of your cat’s preference and how you plan to feed your cat.

When purchasing a stainless steel bowl for your cat, be sure to research to see what grade of stainless steel was used. Some lower-quality bowls may have metal coatings that flake off into the dish. This will ensure the best quality dish for your cat.

One con to stainless steel is that the dishes are usually lightweight, which means your cat can scoot them around while they are eating and drinking. This can lead to spills and loud noises that may be annoying.


If you can’t stand the clanking sound that stainless steel bowls make when the cat food hits the dish or your cat moves the dish around while eating, you may wish to consider either a glass or ceramic bowl.

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Ceramic bowls are heavy, which means your cat won’t be scooting it across the floor while they eat. There are also many colors, patterns, and designs for you to choose from when it comes to ceramics. 

However, ceramic bowls can be somewhat more difficult to clean, especially if there is caked-on food. Additionally, some of the glazes on the ceramics may deteriorate over time and flake into your cat’s food. If you drop a ceramic dish, you can also potentially break it, which can be frustrating and costly.


Glass is one of the safest food bowl options. It is non-porous, so it is easy to clean and prevent bacteria build-up. It is also non-toxic. 

However, glass dishes have a similar issue to ceramics. If you mishandle them at all, they can easily break, which can be costly and frustrating. 

There are several types of glass and ceramic dishes on the market, many with similar features to the stainless steel versions.

Maintaining Safe Bowls for Cats

Besides choosing a safe and durable material, you should also consider your cleaning routine for your cat bowls. 

According to the CDC, you should clean your pet’s bowl after every use of wet food. You should clean it every day after dry food and water. Making this a routine will help you to remember to complete this task, and it will ensure the best health and safety for your cat.

To properly wash your cat’s dish, wash the item with non-toxic dish soap and warm water. Scrub the bowl with a sponge or brush to remove debris. Rinse off the soap and air dry.

Alternatively, some pet dishes can be placed in the dishwasher, but be sure to look for the “dishwasher safe” label and read more about using the dishwasher for cat dishes in our article: “Can You Put Cat Bowls in the Dishwasher?


There are many cat bowls on the market today and even though plastic bowls can be a cheap and varied option, they may not be the best choice for your cat’s health.

Plastic bowls can be bad for cats because they can leach chemicals into the cat’s food. Plastic bowls can also cause feline acne and harbor harmful bacteria.

There are several alternatives to a plastic dish, such as stainless steel, ceramic, and glass bowls. 

No matter which safe alternative you choose, be sure to build a routine of cleaning your cat’s dishes to make sure to keep your pet as healthy and happy as possible.