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Choosing Safe Dog Toys

Still, the perception is that U.S.–made means safer. At an H.H. Backer pet trade show in Baltimore, Pattie Boden looked hard for new toys made in the U.S. She found just one. Ironically, the only certified organic toy she could find was made in China. But a few U.S. companies are indeed producing quality toys, and the shorter the production path, the better. Some companies use recycled materials (though that’s not synonymous with safer toys, it’s better for the planet). And a company focused on “earth-friendly” products is more likely to avoid problems with toxic materials.

What makes a toy special to a dog may escape human logic, but knowing your dog can help you make wiser choices.

Do you have a Type-A chomper? Technically, dogs don’t chew toys, but rather, tear and shear them as they would prey, using their premolars and molars. These teeth are situated farther back in the mouth, and any toy that finds its way into this set of grinders is a potential victim—so look for appropriately sized toys your dog can’t work to the back of his jaws. Martin relies on her dog Kodi’s play style to choose his toys. The 160-pound Newfoundland is a power chewer who “eats rather than plays with toys. He has some very good squeaky toys he has not destroyed,” she says. Most of his playthings “are the heavy-duty rubber kind.” Kodi’s style, not his large size determines Martin’s toy selection; a small dog can be a power chewer just as a giant breed can be gentle on toys.

From hyper puppyhood to senior moments, knowing your dog also means selecting toys based on his life stage. A dog who’s teething doesn’t play like an old soul whose teeth are worn. A rambunctious adolescent craves different toys than a placid adult dog.

Before buying, use your senses. Strong chemical smells indicate residual chemicals. Brightly dyed fabrics may contain toxic ingredients and leach dye when wet. (Fabric dyes aren’t tested for consumption.) Avoid toys treated with fire retardants or stain guard, as they may contain formaldehyde and other chemicals. Study labels and visit manufacturers’ websites for additional information. Conscientious companies are transparent about their processes.

Safe fun: two words that often collide in a dog’s world, where mysterious edges and flimsy seams can make the most alluring objects. As long as the toy industry is an unsupervised playground, it’s up to loving owners to keep their eyes on the ball …and ring and squeaker.

Smart Choices
Here are a few companies that make toys worth a woof.

Go Dog
Realistic plush toys that will thrill most dogs, but aren’t suitable for aggressive chewers. A new proprietary process (Chew Guard technology) has been added to some stuffed products, enabling them to withstand more rigorous play. The toys, made in China, are double-stitched, reinforced and machine washable. Their label, “New Material Only,” means the product is not made from reprocessed fabric, vinyl or plastics.

Kong Company
Kong is based in Colorado, and all of its rubber products are made in the US. The original Kong is a treat-holding, nearly indestructible object with a tantalizingly odd bounce. The Kong Flyer, a soft rubber disc, is top-notch Frisbee equipment. The squeaky toys don’t hold up to power squeakers—a bummer for dogs who thrill to the squeal—but the silenced squeaker remains safely inside the toy. Think durable fun for power chewers (and hope for upgraded squeakers). Their website offers a breed search to help shoppers to determine the right size toy.

Nina Ottosson Zoo Active
These unique wooden puzzles operate on the principle that dogs actually enjoy working for their grub. Power chewers may also discover that brute force isn’t as effective as using noggin and nose. This Swedish company’s interactive games are available in the U.S. from pawlickers.com.

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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!


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!


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 |

If you realize what rss submission means, you will have to know that it will optimize your website. You're just click away from the rss blog submission service. Choose that and you would have optimized traffic.

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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