We spend a lot of time talking about how best to feed cats here, but I don’t think we’ve ever mentioned what to put that food in or on. Last week, TheOldBroad mentioned that she had a couple of cats with skin problems related to eating from plastic food bowls. While this is not a common problem, it is certainly worthy of mention.
Allergies to plastic products have been documented in the scientific literature. I was looking for veterinary-specific research when I stumbled upon this gem from the human side of things that I can’t resist sharing:
Allergic contact dermatitis to various components of toilet seats is being recognized and reported with increasing frequency. This report details the case of a young girl who was found to be allergic to plastic found in both a toilet seat and a school chair. It highlights particular problems with patch testing young children and the difficulty in confirming allergy to plastics.
Persistent allergic contact dermatitis to plastic toilet seats. Heilig S, Adams DR, Zaenglein AL. Pediatr Dermatol. 2011 Sep-Oct;28(5):587-90. Epub 2011 Apr 26.
So while I couldn’t find any scientific evidence to support the existence of plastic allergies in cats, it stands to reason that if the condition exists in people, it may very well also be a problem for animals.
The condition that is most often cited as being caused by eating or drinking from a plastic bowl is called either chin acne or feline acne. It is characterized by solid or pus-filled bumps that primarily affect the chin region. The lesions can be allergy-related, but contact with plastic is certainly not the only (or even the most frequent) underlying trigger. However, since switching types of bowls is so much simpler than diagnosing or managing other types of allergies, it certainly makes sense to try a change of bowls first.
Allergies to stainless steel have also been described (primarily in certain breeds of dogs, but why risk it with a potentially allergic cat?), which leaves ceramic or other types of sturdy glassware as your best option. Whatever bowls you end up using, make sure to clean them thoroughly and regularly (daily is optimal). The bacteria-laden slime that can form on the bottom of food bowls when they are ignored for too long is another possible trigger for chin acne.
If switching food and water bowls and keeping them impeccably clean doesn’t resolve the lesions, try cleaning the affected skin once or twice a day with over the counter benzoyl peroxide wipes that are used in the treatment of human acne. This is often all that is needed to resolve and prevent the recurrence of mild cases of chin acne. More aggressive treatment becomes necessary when the area is very itchy, painful, inflamed, swollen, and/or draining pus or blood. A veterinarian can prescribe the antibiotics, corticosteroids, and other treatments that may be needed to get the condition under control and recommend management techniques and/or maintenance therapy that will prevent it from returning.
Dr. Jennifer Coates