Most dogs love toys, but could your fur friend’s favorite plaything pose hidden dangers?
In a word: Yes.
And, no, we’re not being alarmists.
Dog toys can cause a number of injuries that may result in a pricey trip to the vet — or worse.
But that doesn’t mean you want to completely deprive your dog of fun toys either — you just have to do what you can to minimize the risks they present.
Safety is our main goal, and we want you and your pup to enjoy playtime with no oopses or ouchies. So, we’ll dive into dog toy safety below and discuss ways you can prevent problems with your pooch’s toy collection.
The Potential Dangers of Dog Toys: Key Takeaways
- Dog toys are essentially mandatory, but they can present dangers. You don’t want to deprive your doggo of toys that’ll stimulate his mind and fight off boredom, but you should exercise care and discretion to prevent problems.
- Different types of toys present different kinds of dangers. Some present choking hazards, while others may lead to obstructions and other types of digestive-system damage.
- To reduce the chances that your pooch will suffer an injury, try to pick a toy that suits his play style. Don’t, for example, give your power-chewing pooch a toy that he’ll be able to destroy in seconds.
General Dog Toy Dangers
Like the objects themselves, the dangers of dog toys come in all shapes and sizes, from obvious risks to hidden troubles. The most common injuries tied to toys are:
- Choking: Your dog might swallow the toy whole or chew off a piece, such as a knot on a rope toy, and wind up with the object wedged in his throat. This is clearly life-threatening and may require the dog Heimlich maneuver.
- Intestinal Obstruction: If your pooch ingests a piece of toy, it can get lodged in his digestive tract, causing a painful (and possibly deadly) obstruction. Dogs that swallow a piece of plastic, toy, or any foreign object should be seen by the vet ASAP.
- Mouth or Tooth Injuries: Everything from sharp edges to hard objects can spell disaster for your pup’s mouth. Lacerations, cracked teeth, and bloodied gums are just some potential injuries the wrong toy can cause.
- Toxic Exposure: While often overlooked, this is one of the most dangerous risks that come with dog toys. Unfortunately, manufacturing processes are not safe in every country of the world, and some factories use dangerous chemicals or ingredients, like lead or arsenic.
- Bacterial Buildup: Anything that’s repeatedly chewed or slobbered on can become a ticking bacterial time bomb. This makes regular toy cleaning a must to avoid potential illness for you or your pooch.
Despite the risks, toys are vital in keeping your four-footer happy and engaged, and we want your pooch to enjoy his favorites. Luckily, with these dangers in mind, you can lessen the chances of any problems by taking necessary precautions.
Dangers Presented by Specific Types of Toys
Every toy has inherent risks, and as we dig deeper into your dog’s bin, you’ll see that some present more risks than others.
Additionally, you’ll find that certain dangers are unique to specific types of toys. While these hazards may not entirely rule a toy out, they’re important to keep in mind during play.
Here are the most common dog toys and their associated risks:
- Chew toys: Chews can range from cow hooves and pig snouts to Himalayan yak chews and nylon bones, though many share the same dangers. Some are entirely too hard and can crack your pup’s teeth, leading to pain or tooth loss. Chews also present a choking or obstruction risk if swallowed, and sharp edges can cause mouth injuries or stomach perforations.
- Plush toys: Plush or fleece toys are cute and cuddly, but they’re also relatively easy for your dog to shred. If ingested, some of the tattered pieces and stuffing can lead to digestive issues, including obstructions or even poisoning.
- Squeaker toys: Dogs love the high-pitched squeal of squeaker toys, but that noise-making gizmo is a serious obstruction risk. Some pups have impressive skills at excising and swallowing them whole in a flash. Not every squeaking toy features the traditional plastic squeaker design, however, with others having a rubbery portion that produces the sound. Unfortunately, these too can be easily chewed and swallowed, risking poisoning or digestive trouble.
- Balls: While fun and bouncy, balls pose a serious choking risk, as the shape can be difficult to dislodge from the throat if swallowed. Balls are also behind many stomach obstructions. In some cases, tennis balls can also be too abrasive and lead to tooth damage.
- Interactive toys: Many interactive dog toys are made with hard plastics that are not only potentially damaging to teeth if chewed, but that can also cut your pooch’s mouth. More damage (and pain) can occur if ingested, with hard plastic causing stomach damage or rectal injury.
- Rope toys: Rope toys shred easily, and if swallowed can cause choking or digestive obstructions. Depending where they’re made, ropes also can include harmful chemicals that make puppers sick. Ropes are a hotbed for bacterial buildup, too.
- Treat-dispensing toys: Heavy chewers can make quick work of certain treat-dispensing toy varieties and may ingest pieces that can lead to digestive problems or blockages.
Keeping Your Canine Safe: How to Reduce the Risks of Dog Toys
If the above section made you freak out a bit and consider throwing away all of your dog’s beloved toys, fear not!
While a risk of injury is always there with just about everything, you can greatly reduce your pup’s chances of harm while playing with his toys if you follow a few safety precautions, including:
- Only purchase high-quality toys. Cheap toys may be tempting (especially if your dog goes through them quickly), but in the long run, they can be far more costly, not only in vet bills but in the potential loss of your best fur friend due to poisoning or injury.
- Always inspect toys before giving them to your doggo. Check for any loose portions, sharp edges, or damage before each use. This can save your pooch from mouth injuries, choking, or accidental ingestion.
- Monitor your dog during toy time. This is particularly important with puppies and when giving your four-footer a new toy. Anything that presents an obvious choking hazard (balls) should never be offered for play when you can’t give them your complete attention.
- Replace toys when they show signs of damage. A damaged toy is an unnecessary hazard to keep around. Not only can they become jagged and cut your pooch’s mouth, but if swallowed, they can lead to more life-threatening situations, like choking, obstructions, and perforations.
- Make sure toys are the right size. Too small of a toy is an obvious choking or obstruction hazard, but one that is too large is also risky for your pupper’s teeth if it’s a hard material. Stick to appropriately sized toys that can be chewed and enjoyed but not fully inserted in the mouth (risking swallowing).
- Consider your pup’s health. For doggos with known dental issues, it’s best to consult your vet to ensure you don’t purchase anything that may break his remaining teeth during play. This is super important for senior pups.
- Watch for guarding. Some canines may become possessive of toys around people or other dogs. This risks a bite to you or a dog fight in a multi-four-footer family. Toy possessiveness is a form of resource guarding and should be addressed by safely separating your dog from the toy (via redirection, such as calling him into another room) and then removing the toy. Consult a professional trainer to manage the behavior going forward.
- Remove anything that your dog may swallow. Some toys feature buttons, flaps, squeakers, and more that can be easily chewed off and ingested by your dog. Skip the headache (and potential pup pain) by removing these things first so your pooch can enjoy the toy safely. Or – once your dog rips open a squeaky toy – quickly dispose of the internal squeaker before your pup can get his paws on it.
- Conduct the thumbnail test. With chew toys, press your nail into the material. If it’s too hard to leave an indentation in with your fingernail, it’s probably too hard for your pup to chew.
- Keep your pooch’s play style in mind. If you have a heavy-duty chewer, for instance, a soft plushie isn’t the best option for him. Avoid anything that you know your pup can easily damage, and if he’s prone to swallowing things, skip anything remotely risky entirely.
- Stick to DIY options that a lot of owners have tried before. While DIY dog toys offer great control over materials and construction, they can be risky if the plans are flawed. Try to stick to ones that are heavily reviewed and always read the comments to spot potential flaws.
- Wash toys regularly. Prevent bacterial growth and buildup by cleaning toys regularly with a mild dish soap and rinsing them thoroughly.
- Buy US-made toys. Imported toys have a well-documented history of containing dangerous substances that can poison your dog. While they may be cheaper in many cases, they’re simply not worth the risk. Made in the USA toys typically have a seal on the packaging. If you can’t locate a toy’s country of origin, it’s likely best to skip it.
Choosing which types of chews and toys to give your dog often comes down to how risk averse you are, and how much the benefits outweigh potential dangers.
For example, I’ll often give my dog hard nylon chews and other long-lasting chews that do not pass the fingernail test.
This is because I feel that, so long as he is being monitored and is not biting down hard with his back molars, the benefits of letting him chew and release his excessive arousal via chews is worth the potential risks.
When initially giving Remy a very hard chew, I kept a close watch on him to make sure he was not biting down hard. After two years of hard chews and dental checks at the vet, I now feel as if I can give him a chew with a high level of certainty that he will be OK.
The same holds true for certain toys and Kongs – I’ve watched Remy enjoy them often enough that I can now feel confident leaving him alone with certain toys.
Yes, there will always be some risk, but I’d rather have toys and frozen goodies to keep him occupied while I’m away than leave him with nothing to do.
The best option for you will depend on your dog and your experiences thus far. – Meg
FAQs About Dog Toy Safety
You don’t have to be a paw party pooper and ban toys entirely. Dog toy safety is all about maintaining a collection of pup-friendly playthings and following a few easy rules. You might still have some questions, and that’s OK!
We’ve got the answers to the most commonly asked dog toy safety questions below.
What is the safest kind of dog toy?
The answer can vary significantly by dog, but generally, the safest toy is one that your dog can enjoy without putting entirely in his mouth.
The toy should also be tough enough to withstand moderate to heavy chewing. For most pups, this would be a treat-dispenser toy such a KONG.
They offer a tasty reward for engaging, are easily washed, and provide a bit of bouncy fun because of their construction.
What is the most dangerous kind of toy?
This is another answer that varies by pooch, but typically, rawhides are more problematic than they’re worth. Not only are they a choking risk, but if ingested, the material absorbs liquid in the stomach, potentially causing serious blockages.
Some rawhides are also treated with a host of chemicals that don’t always pass the sniff test, and the material can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
Is it OK to let my dog destroy toys?
As much as some doggos love to shred toys, we wouldn’t risk it.
Accidents happen and swallowing a destroyed piece can spell disaster. If you’ve ever performed the doggy Heimlich maneuver or paid for an expensive stomach surgery, you’d likely agree.
Are squeaker toys safe for dogs?
Every toy has its risks, and squeaker toys have their fair share of them, too. If supervised, your dog can likely happily enjoy his squeaker toy without a problem. However, for known squeaker eaters, we’d skip these.
Can dog toys be toxic?
Yes. Some manufacturers use dangerous ingredients in toy assembly that can poison your dog during play. This makes screening the country of origin a must with your pup’s toys.
Can toys make dogs sick?
Sadly, yes. If a toy is made with dangerous substances, it can make your dog sick if he licks, chews, or swallows it.
Your dog can also become ill if he ingests a toy not made for consumption, such as a rubber ball. Not only can a bowel obstruction happen, but the foreign material can make him ill, even if it isn’t toxic, per se.
Are toys good/necessary for dogs?
Absolutely! Dogs need an energy outlet and mental stimulation, and toys are the perfect solution. In addition to regular exercise like walks or backyard running, toys help keep your doggo mentally and physically fit.
Puppies and adults dogs alike benefit from toys, with even senior puppers getting in on the fun. In fact, toys are a great way to keep older dogs happy and healthy.
What dog toy safety rules do you have in your house? Any tips for other owners? Share with us in the comments.