Dog chewing Kong

Different dogs need different toys. Some dogs can only be trusted with the toughest, most indestructible toys on the market, so get to know your dog’s chewing capabilities early if possible. When evaluating the safety of a toy, consider the following:

  • The toy should not be small enough to be inhaled or swallowed. Overly small balls are especially dangerous, as they can lodge in the trachea and cannot even be dislodged by hand. Dogs have asphyxiated in front of their owners from lodged balls.
  • The toy should not have parts that can be pulled off and inhaled or swallowed.
  • The toy should not have any sharp parts and should not be able to be chewed into sharp parts.
  • Avoid linear soft objects such as strings, ribbons, pantyhose, socks and rubber bands that can be swallowed. Such toys, if ingested, tend to travel lengthwise along the intestines. They can cause the intestine to scrunch up accordion-style, even turning in on itself like a sock. This is a life-threatening medical condition that usually requires surgery to correct.
  • Use rawhide or vegetable chewies with caution and only under supervision. If your dog can swallow a big hunk of it, it’s probably not safe.
  • Avoid hard chewing items. Bones and hooves are responsible for many cuts (on lips and gums) and cracked teeth, particularly slab fractures of the large carnassial teeth (the very large premolars near the back of the mouth). In a slab fracture, a sheet of the tooth’s crown breaks off, sometimes exposing the pulp of the tooth and requiring veterinary attention.
  • If your dog is obsessed with dissecting squeaky toys to get to the squeak, only let him have such toys when you can supervise him.
  • Avoid children’s toys. Children and dogs are very different in their play habits.
  • Avoid any toys stuffed with beads or beans.
  • Many modern toys that emit animal sounds or move on their own contain batteries. Never leave a dog alone with such toys, as the dog could chew the battery out of the toy and swallow it.
  • Never give your dog a container in which the dog’s head could become lodged. Dogs cannot pull these containers off and have suffocated when they became stuck.
  • If you give your dog a stick, be sure it doesn’t have sharp ends and that it is either too short or too long to be jabbed into the ground should the dog hold it by one end (as though he were drinking out of a straw). A running dog carrying a stick like this can ram the far end of the stick into the ground, impaling the end in his mouth up into his palate or throat.
  • Long ropelike or tug toys that could possibly be wrapped around a dog’s neck should not be left with multiple dogs who could possibly wrap each other up in play.

  • Toys thrown to dogs to catch should not be hard or heavy, as they can fracture the front teeth.
  • Do not use rocks as toys.
  • Tug toys are fine for most dogs but should be avoided with dogs who have neck or back problems, especially those with herniated disks.
  • Avoid playing games that encourage dogs to jump and twist simultaneously. Such maneuvers can cause leg and back injuries such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture or herniated vertebral disks.
  • If your dog always pulls the stuffing out of toys, especially if he eats it, gut the toy for him and let him play with the skin. Many dogs enjoy them more this way.
  • Do not get a rubber toy that has a small hole in only one end. Some dogs have gotten their tongues into the hole, creating a vacuum so that the tongue became stuck. If you have such a ball, drill a hole in the other end so a vacuum can’t form.
  • The ever-popular tennis ball can even be a bad choice, not only because some dogs are large enough for the ball to become lodged in their trachea, but also because the fuzz on the ball’s surface is abrasive to teeth. Tennis ball addicts may develop worn teeth from catching and chewing on tennis balls; at normal levels of play, however, the balls should not be damaging.
Unfortunately, dog toys are not regulated for pet safety by any government agency. That means that much of the responsibility for choosing a toy safe for your particular dog is up to you. Some toys are made from toxic materials, or may contain unsafe levels of lead, cadmium, chromium, formaldehyde or BPA (a hormone disruptor). Even if you buy products made in America, that is no guarantee that the components are nontoxic. Also, avoid strong chemical smells and study label instructions when available.

And don’t worry so much that you forget to have fun! Most toys, with a little thought and supervision, are fine! When in doubt, ask your vet’s advice.