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Choosing Safe Dog Toys
Choose toys with more than fun in mind
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Orbee-Tuff

They make the world go round. They make it bounce, roll and soar. They’re objects that inspire play, enrich training, ease boredom and curb problem behaviors. Toys, according to the experts (and every dog worth his molars), are a must-have. 

Despite the constant media comments about how we pamper our pets, toys are no mere luxury. Experts say that dogs need them, and need more than one kind. That doesn’t mean more bells and whistles, just different types. Toys can take the edge off a bad day, like a stress ball you squeeze when you’re mad. Softer toys a dog can “baby” satisfy gentler instincts. Frisbees, balls and tugs are ways to share the fun, while squeaky playthings cry out for attack. 

The question is, which toys? With a global pet economy, the options—and problems—keep growing. On the pet aisles, shoppers are greeted with all the persuasive power of an infomercial. Bright, funky objects, packaged to the nines, demand closer inspection—but not too close. The readable text is mostly advertising, not information. “The packaging for these products is incredible and totally deceiving,” says Pattie Boden, owner of the Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va. Boden, who is picky about sourcing safe, natural toys to stock her shelves, says that a 25-year career in advertising has made her a skeptic.

Unfortunately for dogs and owners, manufacturing of pet toys relies on the honor system; for less scrupulous companies, it’s trial by error. In some cases, even errors (discovered through consumer complaints) are ignored. Choose carelessly and our dogs may pay the hidden cost. Among the most familiar hazards are choking and stomach obstruction. Pieces as well as particles may be ingested, and since our pups use their mouths to play, toxic materials and coatings also pose a risk. Yet the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate dog toys, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission only regulates pet toys that can be proven to put consumers (people, not dogs) at risk.

This reality hits hard when a beloved animal is injured at play. One such horror story became news after a dog’s tongue was trapped in a hole in a ball, requiring long and painful medical intervention and finally, amputation of the tongue. The owner was shocked to learn that this wasn’t the first such incident—other dogs had been harmed, even killed, by the same toy. The company, Four Paws, eventually recalled several of its toys, according to its website.

Denise Smalt, a trainer in upstate New York, issues a warning about the harmless- seeming tennis ball. Eight years ago, Smalt sold a Shepherd puppy to a couple. “Even though I tell all my puppy people, as well as all my obedience students, how dangerous tennis balls are for large breeds, they still let their Shepherd play with tennis balls because they had always let their dogs play with them, and had no problems. At two years old, the dog choked to death on a tennis ball in front of his owner. I use his story to help save others,” she says.

The concerns don’t end with injuries and choking hazards. While dyes, preservatives and chemical residue are nothing new, a string of toxic Chinese imports has sparked fresh worries. Tests conducted by ConsumerAffairs.com found a variety of mainstream toys tainted with toxic heavy metals, including cadmium, lead and chromium. From cancer agents to neurological poisons, these chemicals are released from affected toys when dogs lick and chew them, according to Dr. Ernest Lykissa, the toxicologist who assessed them. Another lead-laden plaything is made from latex—a material sometimes recommended in lieu of plastic, which may contain phthalates and BPA (hormone disruptors). Adding to the problem of contaminants is a dearth of toxicity data for dogs. What’s presumed safe for a 40-pound child may be deadly for a half-pint Chihuahua.

“Please don’t think because things are made in the U.S. that they are safe,” Ann Martin, author of Foods Pets Die For, an exposé of the pet food industry, advises. “The massive pet food recall is a good example. They did not bother testing any of the raw materials going into these foods; hence, numerous dogs and cats became ill or died.”

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Submitted by Dwight | January 31 2010 |

I'm a graduate of Ashland University with degrees in science and secondary education. One of my former professors, Dr. Weidenhamer, has made national news due to his research of childrens' toys and jewelry and presence of high levels of lead and cadmium contained within them. The biggest dangers occurs when the children have prolonged exposure to the lead and smaller children putting the toys in their mouth. Many of the toys that have shown extremely high levels of lead are ones made overseas (mostly China). Here's a link that about this: (http://personal.ashland.edu/~jweiden/lead.htm) and (http://blogs.consumerreports.org/safety/2009/09/lead-levels-in-childrens...).

My wife and I rescued a black lab mix dog. He goes through a lot of chew toys. While at the store, I noticed many of the toys we get for our dog also comes from overseas (ie. China). I've even come across some toys that are exactly the same as what's found at children's toy stores.

This got me to thinking. Should pet owners also be concerned of the possibility of lead in their pet toys? Has there been any research of the effects of lead in pets (dogs)? Since dogs tend to do a lot more of putting things in their mouth, chewing, and swallowing small amounts of chewed up plastic, what are the dangers of lead poisoning of our pets?

I've emailed my professor, Dr. Weidenhamer, regarding the testing of pet toys. He stated that some of the soft plastics used in pet toys are also used in physical therapy for people. Due to the large number of children's toys and general public's concern of their children, he doesn't have the time to test the pet toys.

We love our dog. He's an important part of our family. I know many others feel the same way about their dog(s). From going to the store the other day and seeing bottled water for dogs (which personally, I think is over the top), I know many people want the best for their dog...to be happy, healthy, loved, and well cared for. I feel that this is something that should also be looked into. Out of our love, I don't want to be an irresponsible pet owner and get something that could potentially be harmful for our dog. There are days that I believe our dog doesn't have too many IQ points to spare...he can't afford to lose anymore. (just kidding, he is pretty smart) Seriously, I think as a responsible pet owner, we need to speak on their behalf as to the hidden potential dangers of lead contained within pet toys.

So now, whenever we do get him some toys, I check the labels as to where they were made. It's not a guarantee, but hopefully it's a step in the right direction of keeping our beloved dog healthy.

Submitted by Mary | February 4 2010 |

Check out Healthstuff.org They tested pet toys for chemicals, including lead.

Submitted by Caitlyn | September 7 2010 |

I make my dog his own rope toys, I've never seen him go so crazy over a toy before!

www.NerdyDogs.com

Submitted by Becky S | January 22 2011 |

I own a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a breed known to its owners as one of the most aggressive toy chewers in dogdom. I limit my girl's toys almost entirely to lacrosse balls and black Kongs. Lacrosse balls are great: They fit inside Chuck-its, have a great bounce, and last a long time. They come in lots of colors - my favorites are pink and light green. Best of all, they're only a couple of dollars each! Just like Kongs, you have to check for cracks in the rubber and throw them out before they begin to break apart.

Most of my friends with retrievers have switched to lacrosse balls and are very happy with them.

Submitted by Jess | June 23 2014 |

Friends dog choked on a lacrosse ball.

Submitted by Elia | May 2 2011 |

Jawz FTW! my Border Collie has had one for months, and its held daily use in the park. Meteoballs are great too, and the light drives dogs bananas. Braided strings for tug o war we buy often, but they last a couple of weeks in the park.

Submitted by Jeff | November 22 2011 |

I hope that everyone reads this!!! DO NOT USE LACROSSE BALLS TO PLAY FETCH!!! DO NOT!!!!!!!

I just lost my yellow lab.. he choked to death right in front of me. I couldnt get the ball out. I have thrown a lacrosse ball for him 10,000 times.. this time it killed him!

SPREAD THE WORD! NO LACROSSE BALLS

Submitted by Tough Dog Toys ... | March 23 2012 |

As far as the "bright fabrics" are concerned, what kinds of fabrics should we be looking out for here? Is it the type of fabric used or the dye that is used, or a combination of both?

Submitted by annie | August 12 2013 |

Toys should be appropriate for your dog's size and breed. Toys meant for puppies should not be given to adults. Large dogs can easily swallow puppy-sized toys, while puppies can wrap themselves with a large toy and possibly suffocate. In other words, don't give a toy meant for a Chihuahua to a Great Dane, or vice versa.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 28 2012 |

My dog choked and suffocated to death on a Chuck It ball - the orange and blue solid ball. Please protect your dogs from the horrific death my dog suffered and do not use these balls.

Submitted by LS | July 5 2013 |

I'm at the Emergency vet hospital now because of the same thing only our dog was able to clear it from his airway and swallowed it .... Still doesn't look good

Submitted by SHARON27Fletcher | July 27 2012 |

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Submitted by lalarcdd | December 18 2012 |

My dog choked and suffocated to death on a Chuck It ball - the orange and blue solid ball. Please protect your dogs from the horrific death my dog suffered and do not use these balls.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 18 2012 |

This got me to thinking. Should pet owners also be concerned of the possibility of lead in their pet toys? Has there been any research of the effects of lead in pets (dogs)? Since dogs tend to do a lot more of putting things in their mouth, chewing, and swallowing small amounts of chewed up plastic, what are the dangers of lead poisoning of our pets?

Submitted by Anonymous | March 1 2013 |

The big companies that sell millions of dog tags to people who have to license their dogs are reticent about supplying where there metal tags come from - for good reason - China. Then they say that they "don't think" there is any lead in them - "DON'T THINK"?

Submitted by xXjxlxkXx | December 19 2012 |

I just wanted to make a note that as far as KONG products go, the standard rubber ones are made in the USA, but the new squeaker varieties are MADE IN CHINA!

Submitted by Sharon | May 3 2013 |

The PetStages DurableStick is another made-in-China death trap. It flakes when chewed into what is basically Chinese construction waste - wood pulp and plastic. When my dog got his intestines blocked from the material, PetStages offered $500 in exchange for a gag order and a hold-harmless agreement. Petco and PetSmart have both ignored my case and continue to sell the PetStages Chinese death stick.

Submitted by Deb | May 4 2013 |

What about nylabones.....been using for YEARS pls tell me this is OK!!!!

Submitted by Liz | May 8 2013 |

Sharon, please tell us how you accomplished that with the company! I just spent thousands on my golden retriever's intestinal blockage from a Skineeez toy. A little reading on the internet and a conversation with the surgeon reveal I'm not alone. More of us need to put pressure on these companies! Any details you can share on how you handled the matter with the company would be appreciated, by many of us, I'm sure. It's not just about recouping some of the cost - but about letting these manufacturers know we are paying attention and expect safer products.

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