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The Toys I Strongly Advise Against Giving Your Pet

Story at-a-glance

  • Choose toys that are the right size for your dog; larger toys for larger dogs, smaller toys for smaller dogs
  • Avoid toys that can be chewed into small, inhalable pieces or those with sharp points or edges
  • Let your dog play with long rope-like or tug toys under supervision only, as they could become wrapped around your dog’s neck
  • Pet toys are not regulated, so they can be made with virtually any material (including those that contain toxic chemicals)
  • Choose toys made in the U.S. out of 100 percent natural rubber, organic cotton or other non-toxic materials, and which have no chemical smell

By Dr. Becker

Pets in the U.S. are lovingly spoiled, averaging 34 toys each, according to one survey of more than 100 pet owners.1 Your dog may have one or two favorites, or he may choose a new No. 1 depending on his mood, but one thing’s for certain — most dogs love to play with toys.

If your dog is new to your home, offer him a variety of toys — tugs, balls, Frisbees, chew toys, squeakers, stuffed options, and more — and you’ll quickly learn his favorites.

Since many pet stores allow pet visitors, you can even take your dog with you down the toy aisle and see which ones seem to peak his interest.

You’ll want to pick and choose carefully, however, as not all toys on the market are safe for dogs or safe for your dog. Your dog’s temperament, size and age all play a part in determining which toys are safe, and there are considerations, too, based on the toy itself (material, brand, shape and more).

Toys are meant to be fun above all else, so use the tips that follow, compiled by Vet Street, to ensure the toys you choose for your dog keep him not only happily playing, but also safe.2

Toy Safety Tips for Adult Dogs

Size and Shape Considerations

These Items Should Not Be Used as Toys

If you opt to offer rawhides to your dog, you should supervise chewing sessions closely. You can find more information on how to select safe, non-toxic bones and chews for your dog here.

Use These Toys Only Under Close Supervision

Some Toys May Contain Toxic Chemicals

Another aspect of toys’ safety is what the toy is made out of. Pet toys are not regulated, so they can be made with virtually any material. Plastic toys, in particular, can be dangerous, as many contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA).

In one study, researchers found that old or weathered toys (such as those left outside) leached higher concentrations of the harmful chemicals.3

While BPA-free toys are available, the BPA may be replaced with similarly (or more) toxic chemicals, including bisphenol-S (BPS), so this, unfortunately, is not a reliable indicator of toy safety. Other toxins sometimes found in dog toys include heavy metals (lead, etc.) and formaldehyde.

When looking for new toys, choose those made in the U.S. out of 100 percent natural rubber, organic cotton or other non-toxic materials. I recommend the sniff test to start with: toys should have no smell. If the toy smells strongly of chemicals, put it back.

I have found the best toys for pets are usually handmade, by individuals or very small companies and found at local farmer’s markets or sold regionally in upscale pet boutiques.

So, annoyingly, I can’t give you a list of my favorite, widely available, and non-toxic toys because I haven’t found one company that has all 100 percent organic toys found nationwide. The good news: there are some great, all-natural toys you can also find online, if you go searching.

How to Bring New Life Back to Old Toys

As any pet parent knows, dogs can quickly tire of the same-old toys sitting in their toy bin. The novelty factor is huge in peaking your dog’s interest. A study published in Animal Cognition found that dogs preferred to sniff or pick up a novel toy, instead of ones they’d already played with in 38 out of 50 cases.4

The average U.S. pet owner spends nearly $50 a year on toys, according to the 2015 to 2016 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey.5 So how can you avoid doubling or tripling that amount because your dog so quickly tires of his “old” toys?

Put them on a rotation! Leave out one or two toys out and put the rest away. In a day or two, swap them out and watch your pet’s excitement begin anew. You can even try adding a new scent to the toy, such as by rolling it in leaves, to further entice your dog.

Another trick is to interact with your dog using the toy. Suddenly, the stuffed goose that once just sat in the corner is up and flying through the air or making quacking sounds! Your dog will probably be delighted, and you’ll save money on toys, while spending some quality bonding time with your dog. It’s a win all around!

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Sources and References

  • 1 Trupanion March 8, 2013
  • 2 Vet Street July 30, 2014
  • 3 Discovery News December 11, 2012
  • 4 Animal Cognition July 2008, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 553-556
  • 5 APPA, Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics
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