Options in cat dishes and feeders range from simple to elaborate.
By Lori Luechtefeld
Photo courtesy of Petstages
While many cat owners are in the market for nothing more elaborate than a small multi-species plastic bowl, others are shopping for products designed to meet the particular needs of their feline. As in all areas of business, it’s up to retailers to listen to the needs of their customers and educate them on available options.
No matter the market, several basic considerations go into the selection of a cat bowl. Shannon McWilliams, vice president of marketing for Doskocil Manufacturing Co. Inc. in Arlington, Texas, says the most important factors cat owners look for when choosing a feeding dish are height, durability, ease of cleaning and style.
“Cats typically use low-profile bowls,” he says. “Some pet parents use their dishwashers to clean their cats’ dinnerware, and it’s important that the products be dishwasher-safe. Also, the item should look like it belongs in the room—similar to the way we buy kitchen appliances.”
Osete agrees with McWilliams that ease of cleaning is key when selecting a bowl’s material.
“Bowls should always have smooth surfaces, as not to harbor bacteria or food residue,” she says. “Be careful of painted designs that may chip off, as this could be a hazard.”
Caroline Benson, product manager for Petstages in Northbrook, Ill., says plastic seems to be the material of choice for cat bowls.
“People want the bowl to be functional, but they also want it to look high quality,” she says. “It’s natural to want something aesthetically pleasing. Because these products often sit out in the kitchen, cat owners will frequently ask for something that complements their homes.”
The location of the bowl also plays a role in selecting material.
“If the bowl is meant for indoor use, nearly all materials will be sufficient,” says Amy Osete, vice president of marketing for Bamboo, based in North Hills, Calif. “If the bowl will be outside, ceramic is not ideal, as it could break easily.”
A Developing Market
Tracy McClurg, owner of Companion Pets in Ottumwa, Iowa, says her customers have relatively simple desires when it comes to cat bowls, with functionality and convenience being key priorities.
“We don’t carry any cat-specific bowls,” she says. “The bowls in our cat section are the same as our dog bowls, but they’re smaller. Mainly our customers are just interested in finding a bowl they can throw in the dishwasher.
Patty Hardgrove, manager of Alphapets in Libby, Mont., says her customers’ demands related to cat bowls are equally simple.
Bowls should always have smooth surfaces, as not to harbor bacteria or food residue.
“I haven’t brought in too many cat-specific products,” she says. “No matter what we do, they don’t sell very well.
Mark Kimbrough, founder and vice president of design at Wetnoz Products USA in Pflugerville, Texas, cautions against oversimplifying the needs of cats when it comes to their bowls and feeders.
“For the most part, cat owners do not always make the best purchase decision based on their felines’ needs,” he says. “Many behavioral issues are the direct result of stress unknowingly imposed by the pet owner. Attention should be directed toward bowl construction and material, hygiene, bowl depth and, ultimately, the feeding environment.”
Kimbrough says that many cat bowls on the market are the same as dog dishes—just scaled down to cat size.
“These bowls typically have a wall height too high for cats and can, in fact, irritate the cat’s whiskers during feeding,” he says.
Kimbrough says cat-specific dishes are designed to address issues related to bowl depth and the sensitivity of feline whiskers. Specifically, shallower bowls that are contoured to a cat’s face reduce the amount of contact cats’ whiskers have with the bowl itself, he says.
Osete agrees that small and shallow—even flat—dishes are better suited to a cat’s feeding needs. Shape is also important, she says, as many cats are fed wet diets.
“Round shapes are recommended for wet food, as it reduces the amount of food residue that can become lodged in corners, cracks or crevices,” she says.
A rising trend is the disposable feeding dish. Such a product—available in cat-specific designs—is appropriate for any type of food, but is particularly useful for wet diets.
Osete says that disposable bowls enable cat owners to use clean bowls at each feeding without having to wash off messy, sticky pet food residue.
- Smaller, shallower versions of basic pet bowls
- Decorative bowls featuring cat-themed patterns
- Feline-specific saucers
- Automated electronic feeders designed for cat-size portions
The prevalence of feline obesity remains a driving force in the cat product market, and the bowl and feeder segment is no exception. This trend, along with the need to provide solutions for people leaving their cats alone for extended periods of time, has driven manufacturers to develop a variety of automated feeding systems.
McWilliams says that automated systems provide cat owners with a solution to the daily chore of scooping and measuring food at every feeding.
“It’s ideal for anyone monitoring their pets’ meals for weight control,” he says. “These items are more expensive than generic bowls, but they save customers money in veterinary expenses.”
Bob Halter, a sales manager for Ani Mate Inc. in Conroe, Texas, agrees that the biggest benefit for timed feeders is the ability to manage the frequency and amount of food in a cat’s diet. The key, however, is still in selecting the proper size and type of feeder.
“The bin feeders can store more food, but can’t be used for moist food,” he says. “The smaller two- to eight-day feeders can be used with either dry or moist food, if the moist food is kept cool, but are limited to the number of individual feedings.” <HOME>
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