Are Tennis Balls Bad for Dogs – Harmless Toy or Hazard?



Ben Team


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Are tennis balls good for dogs

I don’t know who the first person to give a tennis ball to a dog was, but he or she was a genius. Most dogs love playing with tennis balls, and some lose their minds at the mere sight of one.  

But unfortunately, it turns out that tennis balls present some risks to dogs, risks that many owners fail to consider.

We’ll talk about the safety of tennis balls below, and help you decide whether a tennis ball is a good toy for your pup.

What Are the Risks?

At first glance, tennis balls seem pretty benign, but a deeper look will bring a few potential dangers to light.

1. Tennis Balls Can Be a Choking Hazard

Choking is certainly the acutest danger tennis balls present.

Most dogs with a mouth large enough to accommodate a tennis ball have a mouth formidable enough to rip a tennis ball to shreds. Some will then eagerly consume the choicest cuts from the disassembled carcass.  

But your dog isn’t going to be able to digest the rubber or furry cover very well at all. Over time, these pieces will become stuck somewhere in the digestive tract, creating a medical emergency that may require surgery to resolve.

Big dogs may not even need to tear apart a ball to create a problem, as many are capable of swallowing an intact tennis ball. Or, to be more precise: They’re capable of almost swallowing an intact ball. An intact ball is practically guaranteed to become stuck in the dog’s throat.

This too will cause a serious medical emergency, and your dog may not be able to breathe during the process.

2. Tennis Balls Can Cause Dental Damage

Even if your dog doesn’t try to eat his tennis ball, it may still cause him harm.  

The outer covering of a tennis ball is quite abrasive, so abrasive that it can wear down a dog’s teeth – sometimes severely. After years of this kind of wear and tear, it may become possible to see tennis-ball-shaped grooves on the inside surface of a dog’s canines that correspond with the way he carries the ball in his mouth.   

This kind of damage can cause considerable pain and make it difficult for your dog to eat. It may even make your dog’s teeth more susceptible to breakage.  

3. Tennis Balls Can Give Dogs Tunnel Vision

Many dogs become hyper-focused on their tennis ball during playtime and essentially tune out everything else. This can certainly occur with any toy, but it is pretty common among dogs who play with tennis balls.

If you are playing in some sort of picturesque meadow with nothing but well-manicured turf grass stretching in all directions, a bit of tunnel vision probably isn’t a problem. But, if you are playing in a place with numerous divots, rocks, or other obstacles, your dog may trip, sprain his ankle, bump his snoot, or suffer any number of other injuries.

For a dog playing with a tennis ball near a busy street, a sprained ankle could be the least of your worries. He may run right out into the street, with potentially tragic consequences.  

tennis balls for dogs  

What Are the Benefits?

There are also plenty of good things about tennis balls – there’s a reason people and pets have been playing with them together for decades. Accordingly, it is important to weigh both the pros and cons of tennis balls (or any other toy) when deciding if it is a good idea for your pet.

Some of the best benefits of tennis balls include:

  • They are quite affordable.
  • They bounce around in ways that most dogs find appealing.
  • They’re easy to throw long distances (and you can use a variety of tools like the Chuckit Ball Launcher to get even more distance).
  • They’re unlikely to seriously injure your dog if you accidentally peg him when throwing it.
  • They’re easy to see – even in dim light.
  • Most dogs can find their ball by smell (at least in small areas), as the furry cover will collect scents from your hand.
  • Tennis balls float, so they’re great in the pool or at the beach.  
  • A lot of dogs like squeezing a tennis ball with their jaws.  

What’s the Bottom Line – Can I Give My Dog a Tennis Ball or Not?

Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide whether a tennis ball is right for your pet. So, just think through the issue carefully and try to act in your pet’s best interest. Be sure to run the idea by your vet and get his or her input on the subject too.

Tennis balls certainly improve the quality of life some dogs enjoy, so they shouldn’t be automatically discounted because they present some risks. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate all of the potential dangers your dog will face. It’s often wise to simply limit the risks presented and pick your battles, so to speak.

If you want to let your dog play with a tennis ball while reducing the risks they present, try to embrace the following practices:

 Only use the tennis ball to play fetch. Don’t just leave a tennis ball lying around the house for your dog to gnaw on all day.

 Never allow your dog to play with a tennis ball without supervision.

 Only play with a tennis ball in enclosed, hazard-free places. Dog parks are usually a good choice, or you may be able to establish a dedicated play zone in your backyard.

 Discard any ball that begins to fall apart. Typically, dogs will pull on a portion of the cover until they free a small flap. Once they do this, the ball’s days are numbered.

You may want to consider purchasing special tennis balls that are specifically made for dogs. Some varieties are even made from extra-durable rubber and non-abrasive felt to help make them safer for your pooch.

As you can see, tennis balls do present a few risks for dogs, but, if you embrace a few common-sense safety practices, you can likely allow your dog to play with one in moderation.

What are your thoughts on the whole tennis ball debate? Do you let your pup play with tennis balls? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Personally, I’ve always been a fan of tennis balls for dogs. My Rottie occasionally likes to chase one at the park, as has just about every other dog I’ve ever owned.

In particular, I had a chocolate lab for a decade and a half who was simply obsessed with her tennis ball. She carried one with her everywhere she’d go, and at least two or three times a day, I’d look down and see her waiting with an impatient expression while staring at the ball she’d placed on my lap without me noticing.

I let her try out several other toys over the years, but she always preferred a good old fashion tennis ball.

She’d occasionally tear one apart, but she had no interest in eating the resulting pieces. Honestly, I don’t know if the felt caused any damage to her teeth, but the vet never mentioned anything, and she never suffered from any serious dental problems.

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Written by

Ben Team

Ben is the managing editor for K9 of Mine and has spent most of his adult life working as a wildlife educator and animal-care professional. Ben’s had the chance to work with hundreds of different species, but his favorite animals have always been dogs. He currently lives in Atlanta, GA with his spoiled-rotten Rottweiler named J.B. Chances are, she’s currently giving him the eyes and begging to go to the park.

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  1. Avatar

    My Border Collie loves tennis balls too.He would destroy other items if not for those.

  2. Adam Avatar

    Are Kong balls OK for dogs or do they have all the cons as all of the other balls

    1. Ben Team Avatar

      Hey, Adam.
      The original Kong Ball is slightly larger and tougher than a typical tennis ball, so it is not as likely to represent a choking hazard. It also lacks the felt covering that may abrade a dog’s teeth over time. However, some dogs may be large enough to choke on an intact Kong Ball. For that matter, while they’re quite tough, Kong Balls aren’t indestructible, and some dogs are able to rip them to shreds.

      So, are they safer than a tennis ball? I’d say “yes,” in most cases. But they aren’t completely safe (no dog toy is).

      Similarly, the Kong Tennis Balls are available in sizes that are larger than a typical tennis ball, and the manufacturer claims that they’re made from a non-abrasive felt. However, they also contain a squeaker, which can represent a choking hazard for dogs who rip the ball apart. But once again, they’re not perfect, so always exercise care (as you would when giving your dog any toy).
      Best of luck!

  3. Linc Denise Avatar
    Linc Denise

    Tennis ball shot from a spring type of launcher is one necessity for my six month old Doberman “Justice”, who is also my “service dog in training.” The trainer suggested this as my ability to throw is limited and Justice is a high energy dog requiring a large amount of exercise. After a dosen or so retrieved shots that land a great distance away, he ‘s ready for a nap. Saw solid blue and yellow solid balls similar in size to tennis balls; think I’ll pick up several as he is very interested in blue……he may see yellow, but after several shots, they tend to look just ugly. The solid balls may not fly as far as the hollow tennis ball, but we’ll give them a try. Oh, he loves water, and tennis balls do float…on any type of water. To my husband’s horror, Justice recently chased one into a run off type of pond, and came out as green as it was.

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