When you think of classic dog toys, tennis balls likely make the list. Throwing a ball in a game of fetch is a great way to play with your pup and give them some time to run. But, are they safe for dogs? For the most part, yes. When used in a game of fetch, there generally aren’t any issues. However, there are some precautions to be aware of when it comes to chewing, especially if your dog is an aggressive chewer or has “jaws of steel”. If your dog is known for going through toys quickly, here are some things to keep in mind:
Potential Hazards with Tennis Balls
The biggest hazard with tennis balls is choking or ingesting pieces of the ball. Because modern tennis balls are just two halves sealed together, a dog is capable of breaking it apart. It’s all too easy for one of the halves to become lodged in a dog’s throat, and may cut off their air supply.
A persistent pup can chew a tennis ball apart over time and risk choking on the pieces or ingesting them. The tennis ball felt isn’t great for your dog’s stomach and can cause blockages that require surgery. Just as with any other chew toy or bone, you don’t want to leave your dog unsupervised with tennis balls either.
The outer covering of a tennis ball is felt. Felt is a relatively abrasive material – it needs to be in order for tennis balls to stand up on the court. However, it does make for harsher chewing material, especially as dirt builds up over time. If your pup is a passionate chewer, blunting can occur, where excessive chewing wears down their teeth over time. To be fair, this can happen with soft toys too, but would take a lot more chewing to get there. It’s still something to keep in mind for your pup and perhaps consider switching them to a rubber ball made for chewing to better protect their teeth.
Unlike tennis balls approved for sport use, pet toys are unregulated. Also, many are produced outside of the US. All of these factors can result in toxic substances, like lead, chlorine, mercury, arsenic, and more, ending up on your dog’s toys. Make sure you check the label on all of your dog’s toys, including tennis balls. If you’re still concerned, buy tennis balls that are regulated and certified for sport use or choose a rubber ball option.
Other Ball Options
Some dogs are obsessed with tennis balls. If your dog is one of them, but you don’t want to keep using tennis balls, you can always try one of the rubber ball varieties. Whether you want a ball your dog can chew on or just one he can chase, there’s a ball for you.
Chuckit! Balls come in a variety of sizes and are great for a game of fetch. They can also be used for a short chew session. You will want to keep a special eye on large or giant breeds, however, as these are about the size of a tennis ball or range a little smaller, which can present a choking hazard. KONG also provides a variety of balls, ball toys, and other toys to choose from.
Tips for Safe Play
Whether a tennis ball or another type of ball, the precautions you can take to keep your dog safe are the same.
Stick to One
If your dog is not prone to trying to carry more than one ball at a time, then this one may not apply to you. For some dogs, they’ll try to fit as many toys in their mouth as are available. In these cases, or if your dog has a ball obsession, it’s best to stick to one ball at a time. In doing so, you reduce the potential choking hazards for your dog and the potential tripping hazards for you.
Out with the Old
There comes a point with every dog toy when it’s time to say goodbye. Tennis balls are known for picking up dirt, grit, and grime. When they start getting worn and dirty, it’s time for them to go. Rubber balls can be cleaned relatively easily, but once they start showing wear and tear, it’s time to dispose of them as well.
Instead of using tennis balls in chew sessions, teach your dog to fetch instead. They may still want to chew on it, but at least they’ll have to chase it down first! You do want to make sure to train your dog to bring it back and to “drop it” on command. In doing so, you ensure the ball does not become a “keep away” game and that you are able to remove it quickly if needed.
As with any chew toy, don’t leave your dog with them unsupervised. Not only does your pup get to spend time with you, but you also get to keep an eye on them. This allows you to step in if a toy starts to break, rip, or splinter and remove it before anything serious has a chance to occur.
When this happens, your pup will likely be put-out that you’ve had to take away their toy. You can always have a backup stashed away to replace it. That’s bound to turn those sad puppy eyes into a lolling tongue and wagging tail.
With this information and these tips in hand, you can ensure your dog stays safe and happy while playing with tennis balls or other toys.