There are so many factors to consider when choosing dishes for your cat, whether you’re worried about materials, shape, and/or cost. What about height? With so many options available for elevated cat bowls (ECBs), it’s easy to brush height aside as yet another gimmick that caters more toward the cat owner’s aesthetic than to the cats themselves. In this case, though, that’s just not true! Elevated cat bowls provide many benefits and have virtually no downsides.
Beneficial, Not a Miracle
Although manufacturers of ECBs proclaim they increase appetite, improve digestion, and prevent vomiting, veterinarians advise against using the bowl as a cure-all for gastrointestinal troubles. Dr. Catherine Barnette, DVM, recommends ECBs, but draws a clear line between promoting good health and treating illness. “An elevated cat bowl should never be regarded as treatment for gastrointestinal issues in cats,” says Dr. Barnette, before explaining that a veterinarian may encourage you to elevate your food bowl as part of managing a health condition, but first any gastrointestinal issues should be evaluated by a medical professional to determine the cause. Always call your vet first if you cat starts vomiting or has a sudden change in appetite.
The Physical Benefits of the Elevated Bowl
With that said, there are three main benefits to elevating your cat’s bowl: physical, hygienic, and management of special conditions. Physically, a food or water dish raised to the appropriate height for your cat can reduce strain on the cat’s neck and back. Dr. Jennifer Freeman, DVM, says the higher levels create an “ergonomic” eating position, one more in line with the cat’s natural posture. This can slow or reduce the development of damage caused from slouching, such as osteoarthritis. For a cat already suffering from arthritis, this position is more comfortable.
In a similar vein, while an ECB isn’t a cure for digestion issues or vomiting, it is a lifestyle modification that may indirectly cause a reduction of these troubles. Posture is again part of the picture; some animals lie on their sides while eating or drinking. The ECB’s improvement to eating posture is not only good for the bones, but for the digestive system. When slouching and crouching, your cat’s stomach and digestive tract are compressed; reducing this pressure can help reduce gastrointestinal troubles.
According to Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM, the ECB also reduces gorging. The position forces the cat to slow down while eating, and this simple modification can cause a reduction in gas and vomiting.
The Hygienic Benefits
Regarding hygiene, bowls at ground level are more likely to gather the same dust and particulate matter that you sweep from the floor. The simple act of raising the bowl can prevent your cat’s food and water from gathering pollutants from the outside area.
Depending on the bowl you choose, you may also see a reduction–or elimination!–of spillage. Many ECBs are skid-proof, so messy eaters are less likely to make a big mess by pushing the bowl around as they eat, spilling food along the way.
The other main hygienic issue that elevated cat bowls can reduce or prevent is mold. If you have a water bowl on the floor, drips down the side cause moisture to gather on the underside of the dish, and mold and mildew can form very quickly. Even if you have a mat to protect your floor, the dish itself may still form mold on its underside, and your cat will inhale these spores at with every drink.
Special Condition Management
Several special situations may call for an ECB. We’ve mentioned arthritis and how an ECB can reduce the impact of arthritis on a cat’s diet. Another common trouble for elderly cats is kidney disease. Caring for a cat suffering Chronic Kidney Disease is an emotional roller coaster, and one of the frequent troubles is encouraging a CKD cat to eat despite the nausea that comes with the condition. Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide, a mainstay in CKD education, recommends elevating your food dish as the first step to dealing with appetite loss. The explanation as to why is simple: gravity. When the kidneys begin to slow, acid reflux is common, and keeping your cat’s head above the stomach lets gravity keep some of that acid out of the esophagus.
Megaesophagus is another condition that can be managed with the help of an ECB. Cats with this condition, in which the esophagus muscles don’t work properly, and other conditions that can cause difficulty swallowing, can see considerable improvement in quality of life from this simple change.
Normally considered a canine disorder, Laryngeal Paralysis does occur in cats. Although this is an ailment of the throat, following the tie-back surgery performed to open the animal’s airway and improve breathing, raised dishes can help the cat eat safely without throat blockages.
Finally, your cat’s breed may make a difference! Flat-faced cats, such as Persians and Himalayans, benefit from dishes that are both elevated and tilted.
Choosing a Dish
With so many options available, the next question you may have is, “Which elevated cat bowl is the best?” If the thought of buying multiple sets of expensive dishes until you find the one just right makes you hesitate, let me propose an alternative.
Most ECBs are 4-6 inches from the ground, and since the ideal height is just below the cat’s front knee, this is proper for the average adult cat. Since cats come in all sizes, though, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t always the best.
My experience experimenting to find the right food dish began with an abandoned Persian cat with late-stage CKD. From the list of above conditions, you know there were multiple reasons to try an ECB! Starting with Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide, I took her advice of taking upside-down flowerpots of different sizes as bases with the bowl Kitty Siskin had already grown accustomed to. She was a small cat, so the flowerpots were quickly ruled out. Teacups, ramekins, and even pudding cups went through the test. In the end, her wide and shallow stainless steel food bowl, chosen to accommodate the shape of her face and her whiskers, was just right when perched atop an unopened 5.5 oz cat food can. Kitty Siskin was very ill when I first took her in, and so we didn’t have much time together, but this one-inch raise was what soothed her stomach.
On the other hand, when my massive tuxedo, Big Meow, needed to have several teeth removed, he struggled with eating in the adjustment period; he kept dropping food once it was in his mouth. Eventually, the swelling in his gums went down, and he could normally eat again, but for a two-week period, he needed his food on a plate, not a bowl, and it needed to be placed atop a wide, 11 oz can of sweet corn.
If you already have a bowl that your cat knows and trusts, consider buying a stand for that bowl or using other household objects that are wide and sturdy for a transition period. This will help you ensure you have the appropriate height for your cat before you spend much and ease the shock. Cats are very finicky about their eating habits, so you will want to ease the transition as much as possible!
Frequently Asked Questions
What material bowl is best for my cat?
Stainless steel is the best choice for a number of reasons. It’s durable, it’s affordable, and unlike ceramic or plastic, bacteria can’t hide inside scratches or pores.
What shape should my cat’s bowl be?
To prevent “whisker fatigue,” choose a bowl that is wide enough that your cat’s whiskers don’t touch the sides, and shallow enough that the cat won’t feel buried.
Why does my cat’s water bowl get slimy?
“Biofilm” is a collection of bacteria, including that from your cat’s own saliva, that can form a slimy residue in the water bowl. It is caused by many factors, including stagnant water, improper temperature, and porous materials like plastic.
Elevated cat bowls have multiple benefits for cats, both as preventatives against arthritis and pollutants and as lifestyle changes to help manage conditions brought on by illness or medical procedures. Experiment to find the right height and angle for your own cat; no two cats are alike, so make sure you’re getting what your kitty needs!