Dogs are such an amazing addition to a family. But with dog ownership comes a need for caution if you’ve got an infant in your household, which is why it's so important to baby-proof dog bowls and their feeding area in general. No matter how well you know your dog, it’s important to remember that canines can be unpredictable and will return to their basic instincts if annoyed or threatened, even if unintentionally. What could your baby possibly do to threaten your dog? Getting in between your dog and its food, for one.
How to baby-proof dog bowls
Why might you need to baby-proof a dog bowl? A look at the data about babies and dogs is where parents need to start, according to Christa Green, MPH, Injury Prevention Coordination for Pediatric Trauma at Medical University of South Carolina. “The first thing we need to do is be realistic,” says Green. “We don’t want to put a baby between a dog and their food.” While choking on dog food or drowning in the water bowl— a baby can drown in an inch of water — are real concerns, it’s dog bites we should be afraid of.
The greatest incidence of dog bites between 1980 and 2020 was reported in 0-9 year olds, accounting for more than 80% of those 86,880 injuries, according to a 2022 report in World Journal of Pediatric Surgery. Even if your dog and baby have a good relationship, if a child gets in the way of meal time, a dog could react, pushing a child or even biting them.
Creating safety zones
This means that the dog has a child-free space to eat, Baby has a dog-free space to eat, and nary the two shall meet.
“I know a lot of dog owners who use baby gates for this,” says Green. If your dog has specific meal times, then you can deploy a baby gate just for those hours so they can access their baby-proof dog bowl in peace.
“But if you have a grazer, don’t leave that food on the floor in any area a baby could get to,” says Green.
If you want to get your grazing dog on a more regimented feeding schedule, Dr. Danielle Bernal, the Global Vet Nutrition Director at Wellness Pet Company, recommends, is supplementing a dog’s food with crave-worthy additions “like air-dried veggies,” she says. If the meal is more satisfying, a dog will be less prone to graze and you can start making mealtimes a scheduled activity. That way you’ll know when to separate baby and dog during eating hours.
Handling the dog food
At a certain age, even when babies are just learning fine motor skills, you might be interested in sharing the dog feeding time with your child. They could even put a scoop of food in the bowl to help out. Green says this is great, but when it comes time to pass the food to the dog, make it a baby-proof dog bowl by only having an adult do this step.
This will keep them away from hungry pups at a time when they could act out.
For example, “my dog eats like she’s never eaten before, I don’t want my child’s hands near her mouth,” says Green.
“You also want to remember to keep dog bowls really clean,” says Bernal. This will lower the chance that baby picks up anything nasty if you do catch them in your dog’s bowl. She recommends stainless steel or ceramic bowls which are easier to clean and to avoid wood bowls altogether.
Keeping your guard up
This is a hard fact to face, especially for dog lovers, but according to the National Trauma Data Bank, 0-2 year olds comprised 30% of all dog bite cases between 2007 and 2014. Most occurred at home and most injuries were to the child’s face.
It’s so easy to see a pet as an extended family member, but they’re still animals with animal inclinations. If you teach your child good baby-proof dog bowl behavior at home, they’ll be safer at other places with dogs.
Another note Green hopes parents consider is that while there’s a natural inclination to protect babies from big dogs, small dogs can be just as threatening, if not more.
“Small dogs actually bite more,” says Green. So don’t let down your guard just because that chihuahua looks harmless around your baby.
And finally, another thing to keep in mind is dog bites have increased dramatically over the past couple years, according to the Journal of Pediatrics. With families inside, parents working while juggling childcare, and kids having more freedom on their own, accidents continue to happen.
And, as you might imagine, as much as a new baby will rock your world, it can upset a dog’s routine too. Dr. Bernal says acclimating a dog to a baby’s arrival by introducing them to new baby gear and showing them their safe space and baby’s safe space before baby even comes home will help baby-proof dog bowls.
Baby-proof dog bowls
Baby-proof dog bowls still require parents to put them in a safe, dog-only space. But with that in mind, these dog bowls have some smart attributes that will help better protect your kiddo from grabbing a bite of kibble or playing in a water bowl. Bernal is a big fan of microchip bowls. These products only allow pets access to food by releasing a window when a dog’s microchip is within range. This means a baby can’t touch the food at all if the dog isn’t nearby.
Another option Bernal says could work before a baby starts to lift up and/or walk, is an elevated dog bowl, provided your dog is tall enough. This is a baby-proof dog bowl in that the food is literally well above a baby’s head and therefore doesn’t allow them access.
The best advice, say Green and Bernal, is to take every precaution to baby-proof dog bowls is to put it in a pup only safe space. Never leave babies unaccompanied around dogs, especially when they’re eating, and keep in mind that dog injuries can and more often do happen at home.
Then, when you’re ready to invest in a baby-proof dog bowl, review the product’s safety guidelines online, says Green, to see if it’s the right product for your family.
Fein, J., Bogumil, D., Upperman, J. S., & Burke, R. V. (2019). Pediatric dog bites: a population-based profile. Injury prevention : journal of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, 25(4), 290–294. https://doi.org/10.1136/injuryprev-2017-042621
Patterson KN, Horvath KZ, Minneci PC, et al. Pediatric dog bite injuries in the USA: a systematic review. World Journal of Pediatric Surgery 2022; 5:e000281. doi: 10.1136/wjps-2021-000281
Christa Green, MPH and the Injury Prevention Coordination for Pediatric Trauma at Medical University of South Carolina
Dr. Danielle Bernal, Global Vet Nutrition Director, Wellness Pet Company