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Hello again, it’s Ash. Two weeks ago, it was time for Janice and Leroy to head into the vet for a quick check up before the winter hits. It can get pretty hairy around here with snow and ice, so I like to go into the vet before the weather really hits, just to make sure that there’s nothing going on that could get worse before I could get back into town. While I was there, a dog was rushed in for an emergency appointment. It seems that the little gal had pulled apart a toy and swallowed some strings, and now they were causing her to be very constipated. This can be a really dangerous situation for a dog, because strings can get tangled up in and around their intestines. Luckily, my vet was able to x-ray the dog and see that she was just fine, and give her a laxative.
But the whole event got me thinking about another instance where I saw a dog’s toys work against them, with much sadder results. When I had Gloria, my first Boxer, I brought her into the vet once to witness a dog who’d gotten a half-deflated rubber ball stuck in his windpipe. It was lodged in such a way that the dog was barely breathing, and he passed away before the vet was able to get it out of there. I’ve always remembered that scene every time I buy my dogs any toys, and it’s made me pretty paranoid about what kinds of toys I’ll get. So today I rounded up some information for you about 11 very common types of dog toys that could be dangerous, and how to choose safer toys.
(1) Squeaky Toys
The first toy on this list is a classic, especially for small dogs that were originally bred to hunt small rodents. Dogs love to make their toys squeak because it activates that prey drive to catch and kill small rodents that make that same noise. But the problem with squeaky toys is that those little squeakers can be dangerous. For most inexpensive squeaking toys, the squeaker inside the toy is simply a loose item that is shoved into the stuffing or the inside of the toy. That means that if your dog manages to get the toy ripped open, they could easily swallow the small squeaker, and choke.
A safe alternative is something made by a company that gets great reviews on dog safety, KONG. Their squeeze toys, which come in a variety of shapes, are made so that the squeaker is hidden inside a protected recessed area of the toy. Even if your dog manages to make a hole in the durable rubber, the squeaker won’t fall out.
Ropes can be dangerous for dogs because the threads can fray, and the dogs can swallow those and choke, or cause major damage to their intestines. However, ropes are a pretty popular toy because they work great for tug of war. Dogs love to tug and pull on toys, especially when you play with them in return. It’s one of the ways that puppies first learn to play with each other and with you. Tugging games also help energetic dogs learn how to direct their energy so that instead of running around, they are being relatively still and working on a game. Finally, tugging games also teach puppies how to share and enjoy the sharing, so it’s a pretty important developmental tool all around.
Instead of using ropes, you can try a sturdy tugging toy like this one by West Paw. It’s made out of a stretchy, toxic-free material that can float and be thrown for other games as well.
If you’ve never seen a shoe hide toy, you probably have no idea why anyone would think these are a good idea. Basically, someone takes rawhide and shapes it into a shoe, sewing the sole onto the fake shoe with a thinner strip of hide. There are two main things wrong here. The first is that the thin strip of hide can be dangerous if the dog manages to get a longer piece of it out of the shoe. But more importantly and more probable here is that your dog is learning to chew up shoes! Your dog does not understand the difference between a fake shoe and a real shoe. If you teach him it’s okay to chew a hide shoe, he’ll think it’s okay to chew anything shaped like that.
(4) Pig Ears and Cow Hooves
These are popular “natural” chew toys that I’ve seen a lot of owners giving their dogs who are heavy chewers. It’s true that these toys can help a dog satisfy a deep urge to chew, but both cause big health problems. Pig ears can get lodged in a dog’s throat and cause them to choke. If chewed the wrong way, they can also get very sharp and rip a dog’s esophagus or stomach lining when swallowed. Cow hooves have been shown to crack and fracture teeth time and time again. Dogs don’t really know “when to stop” when it comes to these things, so they’ll keep chewing on that tough hoof despite their teeth being put under strain.
A better option than both of these for heavy chewers is a sturdy Nylabone. These are designed for heavy chewing, but won’t injure your dog’s teeth or their innards should anything get torn apart.
Speaking of chewy bones, however, there are some things you need to consider when you choose these. For the most part, there are some companies that you can trust to make a quality product that won’t be ripped apart. If that happens, your dog could easily choke on the smaller parts. Good companies to start with include KONG and Nylabone. Look for toys that have a lot of reviews online, or name brands that your vet signs off on.
(6) Vinyl Toys with Phthalates
One very dangerous toxin that can really ruin your dog’s day is called phthalates. This toxin is found in soft vinyl toys. These are very bad for your dog’s entire system and can be just as dangerous as lead over time. Typically, trusted name brands will say something about not containing this ingredient on the packaging, but if you can’t find any reference to this on the package, it may be time to do some research online before you buy. You definitely don’t want to leave this up to chance.
(7) Tennis Ball
Traditional tennis balls that are made for the courts are not healthy for dogs. They are not strong enough to withstand chewing, which means that pieces can come off and get swallowed. Another problem is the “hair” on the balls, which can be ripped off and eaten. This usually contains dye that isn’t good for your dog, and can also lead to a sore throat and digestion issues. You can find tennis ball sized rubber balls that will work just fine for fetch if you’re trying to replace the old faithful.
Here’s one interesting case that proves that you can’t always just blindly stick to name brands. You really do need to consider a toy’s features. This is a KONG product that was blasted online and in the dog loving community because it caused a lot of health problems. The way the ball on the end of this tug toy was designed, it was very easy to get lodged in dogs’ throats, and it didn’t have a required safety measure that prevents the ball from staying inflated when bitten. If you are looking for a toy with a rubber ball and it only has one hole in it, stay away! This causes a dangerous situation having to do with suction that could injure your dog’s tongue and throat. Always make sure there are two holes in a rubber ball if it has any holes at all.
(9) Laser Pointers
This toy isn’t necessarily dangerous for your dog in and of itself, but it can cause some very bad behaviors that can be hazardous – and can also lead to a very dissatisfied dog. Here’s why this toy isn’t the best choice:
A laser pointer teaches a dog to watch for those quick movements and shifting light. That could mean that your dog will start chasing after anything that moves and is shiny – like, say, a car in traffic. And because dogs don’t understand the difference between the point of light in your home, and the light on the tail of a car, they won’t understand why they aren’t safe doing this. You’ll never be able to get them to understand the difference. Another problem is that a laser light doesn’t offer anything for the dog to actually catch. He’ll always be frustrated by this game, and never feel satisfied – which means that your plan to wear him out may work physically, but mentally he’s always going to be riled up and unhappy after this game.
A better option for keeping a dog running in circles without much physical effort on your part is a flirt pole. You can sit and move this around, the dog will have fun chasing something that doesn’t teach him to play in traffic, and you can eventually let him catch the flirt pole so that he feels satisfied. Everyone wins!
It’s pretty common to see dogs being allowed to play with a cute stuffed animal that the owner found in a children’s toy aisle, or something they “borrowed” out of the kids’ toy box. But the problem with this is that safety measures for children and dogs are very different. The safety eyes in a stuffed animal that keep little fingers from pulling out the tiny pieces don’t stop a dog from gnawing their way through the animal and swallowing them. The stuffing itself could be dangerous for dogs to eat, and if there are other hard plastic parts on the toy, that could also be hard a dog’s stomach.
A better option is just to be sure that your dog only chews on toys that are made for dogs. You can find plenty of stuffed animals for dogs that are made without small plastic bits, and that are safer for dogs if they accidentally eat anything. Another good point about these toys is that they usually have less stuffing than a child’s toy, so there will be less mess for you when your dog drags out the innards.
Finally, let’s talk about rawhide chew toys. Did you know that these are not actually a piece of dehydrated beef? It’s actually a chemically preserved piece of leather that you are giving your dog! They don’t break down in your dog’s body at all, and I can’t tell you how many times Steve has told me about a dog who had to have a bit of rawhide removed from its stomach at the vet’s office. Additionally, rawhides have been linked to health problems like pancreatitis, which can be deadly for dogs. These are really best avoided all the way around, so I would recommend finding something else.
If you want a long-lasting chew for your pup, try dehydrating some sweet potato, or talk to your vet for their recommendations.
At the end of the day, choosing a safe toy doesn’t have to be hard. For the most part, once you find what works for your dog and is safe, you can just stick to that. I know that Janice and Leroy like KONGs and rubber balls, so I just make sure to check out the reviews on the balls online and that’s about all I need to do before I order them a new toy. But taking a few moments to do that research into toy safety can be the difference between a sad day at the vet, and a long and happy life with your furry pal.