In this post:
- Dog toy safety
- Is tearing up toys a sign of aggression in dogs? Is it safe?
- What you should know about dog chew toys
- What you should know about active dog toys
- What you should know about soft dog toys
Dogs love toys, and we love to spoil our dogs with toys. A lot of insight can be gained into watching how our dogs interact with the toys we can provide. So let’s review some of these behaviors and whether or not we should be concerned about the ways our dogs are interacting with the toys we provide.
Dog toy safety
Who Regulates Dog Toy Safety? No one!
There are currently no national standards for lead and other toxins in pet toys. Most companies use a standard of 600 parts per million for lead, which is the standard for children’s toys. Many vets question the standard because what is safe for a child, might not be safe for a 10 lb Yorkie.
Tests conducted by ConsumerAffairs.com found a variety of mainstream toys (mostly Chinese-made) tainted with toxic heavy metals, including cadmium, lead, and chromium. These toxins are released when wet or when bits of the toys are consumed (our dogs don’t use hands to play, they use their mouths!)
Dogs tear up toys out of boredom, when they are stressed or simply because they enjoy it. This is not an aggressive behavior and can be allowed as long as the damage is limited to your dog’s toys, not household items.
The danger in tearing toys up is if the dog is eating any part of the toy, like the stuffing. Avoid giving your dog toys that are not meant for dogs. These may have dangerous stuffing, strings, and other dangerous materials for your dog. Replace your dog’s toys when they are no longer safe.
What you should know about dog chew toys
“Dogs explore the world with their mouths—they get into a chew like a person gets into a good book, which benefits their brains” explains Kristen Collins, an animal behaviorist from the ASPCA behavior team. They use their molars and premolars, which are situated farther back in the mouth, and any toy that finds its way into this set of grinders is a potential victim — so if you do not want a dog to chew on a toy, buy toys that they cannot work into the back of their mouth.
There are dangers to chew toys as many of them are filled with toxins and latex-based plastic. The chemicals that give plastic its chewy quality are known as phthalates. According to one Danish study that examined the effects of these on pets, found that the grinding, heat, and moisture associated with chewing breaks down the plastics, depositing phthalates into your dog’s body and increasing his risk of liver, kidney, and reproductive problems. There are many companies out there like WestPaw and Kong, that use the only USA made rubber and FDA-approved materials that are routinely tested.
A good test for safe chew toys is to dig your fingernail into the toy. If you can’t make a dent, it’s not safe. Puppies and seniors need even softer surfaces than this for their more tender gums.
Make sure chew toys have at least two holes to prevent suction from drawing the tongue into the hole and it getting stuck there.
What you should know about active dog toys
Toys allow you to bond with your dog by participating in play. There are many different types of active toys like fetch toys and tug toys. Look for toys that are sturdy and can withstand a lot of mouthing, chewing, and tugging on. Be aware that tennis balls are great for fetch but can do a lot of damage to your dog’s teeth if the dog chews on it. Plus, the fabric is not meant to be consumed when the ball is torn apart. Instead, get a ball that is made of dog-safe materials like this Kong Ball or Planet Dog Rubber Ball.
What Are the Benefits of Active Dog Toys?
- By focusing on a specific task—such as repeatedly returning a ball, Kong, or Frisbee® or playing “hide-and-seek” with treats or toys—your dog can expel pent-up mental and physical energy in a limited amount of time and space. This greatly reduces stress caused by confinement, isolation, and boredom.
- For young, high-energy, and untrained dogs, interactive play also offers an opportunity for socialization and helps them learn about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, such as jumping up or being mouthy.
Remember that while tennis balls make great dog toys, you need to keep an eye out for any that could be chewed through, and discard them once this happens.
What you should know about soft dog toys
Soft toys are great for dogs. Some dogs like to “baby” toys, so pick a toy that is easy to carry around. Others love to kill their toys, so chose one that is tough enough to withstand dog’s attacks and large enough to prevent swallowing. Supervise your dog with the squeaker so it is not ingested.
Avoid toys that are treated with fire retardants and stain guard as they contain toxins that can be released when wet. Comfort toys are not built to be indestructible. GoDog toys make a toy with ChewGuard Technology that makes their toys last longer, but even they cannot stand up to a champion shredder. Supervise your dog if he is known to kill his toys.
How to use soft dog toys for the most benefit?
- Rotate your dog’s toys weekly by making only a few toys available at a time. Keep a variety of types easily accessible. If your dog has a favorite, like a soft “baby,” you may want to leave it out all the time.
- Provide toys that offer variety—at least one toy to carry, one to “kill,” one to roll, and one to “baby.”
What hazards do soft dog toys have?
- Take note of any toy that contains a “squeaker” buried in its center. Your dog may feel that he must find and destroy the source of the squeaking, and he could ingest it. Supervise your dog’s play with squeaky toys.
- Remember that soft toys are not indestructible, but some are sturdier than others.
- Soft toys should be machine washable.
Avoid or alter any toys that aren’t “dog-proof” by removing ribbons, strings, eyes, or other parts that could be chewed off and/or ingested. Look for toys that are safe for children under three.
I understand that a lot of dog toys on the market right now are expensive. But that doesn’t mean that you should sacrifice safety for price. Make sure that the toys you’re purchasing for your dog are 100% safe for them to be playing with. If a toy requires supervision, ensure that your dog doesn’t have access when you’re out of the home or in the other room.
In addition, use playtime as a way to strengthen your bond with your dog, let go of your own stress through a fun activity, and keep an eye out for any unwanted behaviors or symptoms. If you have any concerns, please discuss it immediately with your veterinarian.
Special thanks to:
Burien C.A.R.E.S. (Community Animal Resource and Education Society) is a non-profit 501 c(3) Corporation. They are the Animal Care and Control authority for the city of Burien, Washington, and operate a no-kill community animal shelter that houses and cares for Burien’s strays, and adopts out unclaimed animals to new loving families. – Thank you for letting us play with your dogs.