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.
At first glance, tennis balls seem pretty benign, but a deeper look will bring a few potential dangers to light.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.