The following information is from Home Again's December newsletter:
The Right Toys for Your Dog
Spike was choking. The small Jack Russell Terrier had torn apart a stuffed toy and now the squeaker was caught in his throat. Luckily, his owner, Tony, was home and rushed Spike to the veterinarian. The clinic was close by, and the veterinarian was able to dislodge the squeaker without any harm to the dog. Things may not have ended this way, though, had Tony been out of the house when Spike decided to dismantle his new toy.
Sure, Spike was no worse for wear this time, but the situation could have ended badly, and often does. Because Spike is an aggressive chewer, he shouldn't have been given a toy made of fabric. It only took him a few minutes to shred the toy and swallow the squeaker. Tony learned the hard way that it's critical to watch a dog play with all toys to be sure that he doesn't destroy or swallow them. This nearly tragic incident prompted Tony to research safe toys for his little squeaker-eater.
Attention HomeAgain members:
If you find yourself in a situation like Tony, you have a lifeline! Call the Pet Emergency Medical Hotline at 1-888-HOMEAGAIN (1-888-466-3242) prompt 2 for telephone assistance from a licensed ASPCA veterinarian.
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Interactive toys are great for both dog and owner, especially balls and flying discs. However, your dog should never be allowed free access to these types of toys. If he chews and swallows the toy or its parts, he can choke or his intestines can become blocked. Toys to watch out for include:
- Rope or toys made of string
- Any ball that is small enough to get stuck in a dog's throat
- Soft or plush toys, like those made of fabric
Listed below are toys that are safe for a dog to have free access to, as long as the toys are too large for the dog to swallow:
- Rubber toys designed to be stuffed with treats
- Nylon bones and other nylon shapes
- Very large balls (bowling ball size)
Finding Safe Toys
Browse the aisles of any pet shop and one thing is clear—there's no shortage of toys for your dog. So how do you know which toys will be best for your particular pup? Here are a few things to consider when deciding which toys are safe for your dog and which ones aren't:
- The size of the dog - The size of your dog determines the size and type of toy. If the toy is a solid unit, it's okay if it's too big but very critical that it not be too small.
- The size of the toy - A toy should not be so small that a dog can swallow all or part of it. This means that any part of the toy that sticks out will have to be too large to bite off.
- How easily the toy can be destroyed - Don't give toys made of fabric to dogs that are prone to tearing things apart. Fabric, stuffing, and squeakers are all dangerous if ingested. Even if the material is not toxic, foreign substances can cause intestinal blockage. This is also true for toys that are made of string, like rope toys.
- The size of openings in the toy - If the toy can be stuffed with treats, the openings should be small enough that your dog can't get his nose stuck inside. A dog will try to put his snout or lower jaw into these types of toys and can become injured doing so.
- Is your dog an aggressive chewer? - Chew toys such as rawhide or "digestible" toys can pose a choking or intestine blockage problem for some dogs. Toys made of real bones can splinter and puncture a dog's intestines if he's a heavy chewer. The safest toys are made from hard rubber and can be stuffed with treats. Very few dogs can bite off pieces of hard rubber toys and swallow them. Even if they do, the risk of a digestive problem is very low. Toys made from nylon are also safe, but softer ones may be chewed up easily, causing choking or intestinal blockage, so give your dog the hardest nylon toys available.
- Is your dog a toy chaser? - If your dog enjoys chasing toys, like flying discs or balls, the toy should be safe to catch at high speeds. This means that the toy is large enough that your dog can't swallow it or get it jammed in his throat during a catch. Make sure the edges can't injure your dog's mouth or tear his lips and gums. It should also be soft enough that it won't hurt your dog's teeth.
When to Replace a Toy
A dog can become so fond of his toys that a special bone or ball may become worn and old-looking. Wear and tear will require you to replace the toy. Here are some toy replacement tips:
- If the toy is made of fabric, wash it gently by hand or machine-wash it with scent-free detergent to keep it looking new. If your dog likes to take his toys outside, it may be necessary to replace them frequently. Fabric toys need to be replaced when they become ripped and/or very soiled. Keep in mind that fabric toys absorb a dog's saliva, which can promote the growth of bacteria, so wash the toy frequently.
- Nylon bones should be replaced as soon as they become small enough for your dog to fit the whole bone into his mouth, or if the dog is able to chew off large pieces.
- Hard rubber toys generally last a long time, but even these can become worn and should be replaced when pieces are chewed off the edges.
- Let your dog play with only one or two toys at a time. Take old toys away each week and replace them with different ones. This will keep your dog interested in all his toys. The toys taken away can be cleaned, stored, and rotated back into your pup's playtime.
- Each dog is different and has different needs, so experiment with various toys to see what your dog enjoys the most. Even though many toys are made of the same material, individual dogs prefer certain shapes.
Susan Bulanda, MA, is a certified member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a Search and Rescue Incident Commander, and a developer and instructor at the Canine Training and Management Program at Kutztown University.