Should You Use an Elevated Bowl to Feed Your Dog? The Answer May Surprise You

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

elevated dog bowls

Story at-a-glance -

  • Some dog parents are big believers in elevated feeding bowls, while others refuse to use them
  • A potential benefit of raised feeders is less strain on the necks, backs and legs of large dogs and those with arthritis or other painful conditions
  • A potentially very serious drawback is the possible link between elevated feeding bowls and the risk of gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat) in susceptible dogs
  • Other considerations when selecting dog food bowls are the size (smaller is better) and the materials used (plastic can be problematic)

Especially if you have a large or giant breed dog, you’ve probably either considered or are currently using elevated food and water bowls. For the uninitiated, these are bowls sold with a stand that holds them at a certain height off the ground.

Some of the stands have cutouts you slip the bowls into, while others are elevated stands you place the bowls on. The stands can be made of wood, metal or plastic. Some are even adjustable. You can see several examples at this link. If you’re familiar with elevated dog bowls, you may also be aware there’s considerable controversy over whether or not they’re a good idea, so let’s look at some of the benefits and drawbacks.

Pros and Cons of Elevated Feeding Bowls

Pet parents with large or giant breed dogs, older dogs with arthritis or other mobility issues and dogs with neck or back pain say that elevated bowls are simply easier and more comfortable for canine family members to eat from. They put less strain on the neck, back and legs because the dog doesn’t have to bend down to the ground to eat or drink.

Another potential benefit is less mess on the floor, since bits of dropped food and drips of water are more likely to land on the stand than the floor, depending on the design. The biggest and most serious potential drawback to elevated food bowls is the risk of bloat, also known as gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV), in deep-chested large and giant breeds like the Great Dane.

A study at Purdue University published in 2000 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, linked elevated food bowls and bloat, concluding that approximately 20% of cases of GDV among large breed dogs, and 52% of cases in giant breeds were attributed to having a raised feed bowl.1

Needless to say, not everyone agrees with the conclusions drawn by the Purdue researchers. I’m personally more inclined to believe it’s the speed with which a dog eats, along with other risk factors, rather than the bowl he or she eats from, that is important. However, if you have a dog who may be predisposed to bloat, and you have no compelling reason to feed from an elevated bowl, it may be best to keep your pet’s bowls at ground level.

Now Let’s Take a Look at the Size of Your Dog’s Food Bowl

According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition,2 the size of your dog’s food bowl and the gadgets used to measure or scoop food into it are very likely contributing to the pet obesity epidemic. For the study, 54 dogs and their owners participated in a four-treatment trial that included kibbled dog food and the following serving combinations:

  • Small bowl and small scoop
  • Small bowl and large scoop
  • Large bowl and small scoop
  • Large bowl and large scoop

The dog parents used each of these four combinations during each of four trials. As you might guess, the food portions offered to the dogs using the small bowl with the small scoop were significantly less than all other bowl and scoop combinations.

The small/small combination averaged about 151 grams versus 172, 173 and 185 grams for the other combinations. The small bowl/large scoop and the large bowl/small scoop amounts were almost the same (172 grams versus 173 grams). Use of the large bowl with the large scoop resulted in a 185-gram serving.

These results are consistent with results in human trials. According to study authors, the results emphasize the need for pet parents to use standard measuring cups and for people with overweight pets to use smaller bowls and serving scoops.

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Toss the Humongous Bowl and Random Measuring ‘Tools’

Unfortunately, there is a general tendency among many pet parents to buy oversized food bowls for their dog. Since the correct amount of food looks like too little food when it’s placed in a gigantic bowl, many people add more food to improve the “optics” of the meal. If you’ve purchased a too-large food bowl for your pet, consider using that bowl for fresh water instead. Interestingly, in many homes with pets, the food bowl dwarfs the water bowl, even though water is one of the most important nutrients in the diet of dogs.

So, there’s the jumbo food bowl problem, and also a scooping device problem. Both these problems sabotage efforts to feed portion-controlled pet meals. Especially if you’re still feeding kibble (which I don’t recommend), when it comes to a scooping device, please don’t use a random plastic scoop from the back of your kitchen gadget drawer.

Don’t use a coffee mug or an empty yogurt cup. Your dog will get way more food than she needs. Use kitchen measuring spoons and/or cups to portion out your dog’s food — you can buy a set of inexpensive plastic measuring cups and spoons for just a few bucks. If you feed by weight, a kitchen scale is also a must-have.

Again, this is especially important if you feed dry food, because most kibble is high in calories. It’s also extremely important if you have a small dog. It’s incredibly easy to make a small pet overweight with a few extra pieces of kibble at mealtime or a few daily treats. If you’re unsure how much food your dog should be eating, use this daily calorie calculator.

Finally, Let’s Talk the Materials Used to Make Pet Food and Water Bowls

Plastic food and water bowls are probably the most popular with pet parents, but I’m not a fan. While plastic bowls are inexpensive and convenient, they’re also impossible to thoroughly sanitize, and in addition, as the plastic begins to break down it can leach toxic chemicals into your dog’s food and water.

Bacteria and oils can also get trapped in the peeling plastic, potentially causing skin irritation or worse. Some dogs can develop allergies to the dyes and materials in plastic bowls, and they’ve also been linked to tear staining. In addition, aggressive chewers have been known to gnaw their bowls into small pieces and swallow them.

I recommend stainless steel, porcelain or glass food and water bowls for your dog, but even those options have some disclaimers. BPA-free plastic bowls can be used in a pinch when you’re traveling with your canine family member or in other temporary situations, as long as you clean it thoroughly after each use and replace it at the first sign the plastic is degrading.

Buying 18-gauge stainless steel is important, and preferably through a company that has done third party purity testing, since even stainless steel has proven to be contaminated, as demonstrated by the Petco metal bowl recall several years ago. Some porcelains can contain lead and others are not approved for food products, so make sure you buy good-quality porcelain made for food use from a company you trust.

Pyrex or Duralex glass bowls are my favorite, as they’re durable and nontoxic, unlike other cheaply made glass products that may contain lead or cadmium.