As they represent a good percentage of classic dog toys, we’ll use tennis balls as our example–electric green, slightly furry, and a favorite of many dogs, tennis balls are not as benign and friendly as they seem. The “made for sport” kind can be problematic, but the truly spooky thing is that many balls and other toys, which are actually intended for dogs, are more toxic than your average ball! So what can be done? Are any toys safe?
The Classic Sport Ball
Sport tennis balls are made to withstand high-speed contact with racquets and tennis courts, and must be tough to maintain their shape and integrity for many games. The fluff on the outside actually helps slow the ball in the air, helps give it spin, and while it may not pick up plenty of gunk on a court, that fuzz does collect dirt, sand, and grit of all kinds when you bring it to the park or beach.
This build-up of grit becomes a problem for dogs obsessed with holding onto, chomping, chewing, and shredding balls. The grit accumulated in the fuzz of the ball can begin to mimic sandpaper and negatively affect your dog’s teeth. This is primarily a concern for ball-crazy dogs, as the consistent gnawing, catching, picking up, and chewing on of these grit-covered balls can cause “blunting” of the teeth. Blunting, or the gradual wearing down of the teeth, can cause dental problems later on (1). This same problem can also occur with soft toys (like fabric frisbees) that also accumulate grit, so if you’ve got a doggo who adores fetching and chomping on toys that are softer, or felt/fluff/fabric covered, switching to a rubber could be a great decision.
When it comes to grit and grime build-up on toys, also consider the intake of your dog;s stomach–getting a bunch of sand or dirt and detritus from the park in their stomach isn’t much fun and can potentially cause upset some pups with sensitive tummies. So even for pups who aren’t huge ball fiends or chewers, there can still be an issue with toys that get covered in dirt and grit.
- Bring more than one ball/toy, and switch out when one gets too gross.
- Switch to a rubber or smooth ball/toy.
What About Ones Made Specifically For Dogs?
If there’s still fuzz on it, it can still collect grit and grime, and cause issues, but what’s ultra important to know here, is that dog toy quality is not universally regulated, hence, many of the toys made ‘for’ dogs are not actually very safe. As it stands, there are no official rules in the US, to govern the safety of pet products (2). This means that domestic manufacturers are not forced by law to test all of their products for dangerous substances, and likewise, there is no government-imposed testing for products incoming from other countries. Many dog toys can contain anything from lead to formaldehyde (3)! What is to be done? How can I protect my pet given this lack of oversight?
First, you should know that there ARE companies out there who have adopted better manufacturing processes and testing policies. PetSmart claims to test all of their products before allowing them onto the shelves, but their methods are not public. There are also some dog toy manufacturers who have taken it upon themselves to produce products that are entirely non-toxic. We love PlanetDog!
As with many things related to pup health, the impetus is on you, as the consumer, to research, find, and support companies who have imposed their own, strict quality control rules .
How to Identify Companies Which Make Safer Toys
It’s easy to be fooled by branding. In fact, without any legal definitions surrounding pet products, even the use of the term “natural” is left to the interpretation of the manufacturers. In fact, a sampling by the Michigan-based Ecology Center of hundreds of pet toys and accessories, showed a serious chunk of these products containing “alarming levels” of lead and other harmful chemicals.
So how do we know which companies are maintaining strict manufacturing and testing policies? This is tricky road to navigate. Some retailers (like PetSmart) claim to practice rigorous testing, and small, informed and independent stores are more likely to provide well-researched products. Check out the mission statements of your fave stores and brands and look for anything about transparency and quality standards. If they don’t elaborate, contact them and ask for more information and their stance on quality control, and avoidance of toxic chemicals and harmful materials.
- Look for toy and accessory companies that bear logos like “B-Corp.” Should you see a toy manufactured by a B-Corp company, you are in safer waters.
- Support small, local companies on a mission.
- Put together a list of safer companies and use it as a roadmap. Here’s a good starter:
Keeping retailers and manufacturers honest and on their toes can be hard, that’s why it’s important to let them know that you demand safe materials for your pet’s toys and accessories. We can do this by actively seeking out and choosing companies that honor quality, safety, and transparency, and contacting and demanding better from those who don’t. Every choice we make makes a difference!
Important: Please remember that all toys, so some extent, can pose potential danger to the user (dog or human!) Please supervise your pet for safety, and play with them!