The Hidden Danger in Dog Toys.

First published May 2019

Not all dog toys are safe for all dogs.

The shape of a dog’s mouth can make a very safe toy into a highly dangerous one.

This is especially an issue for dogs like Boxers and pugs and other flat-faced wide mouth (Brachycephalic) breeds of dogs.

  1. Soft toys

The pink pig toy, featured below, is suspected as the possible cause for why an adult healthy Pug suddenly experienced two distressing episodes of ‘fainting’ or collapse over a 24-hour period. The signs were similar to what happens when Boxers play with tennis balls and the ball closes off the Boxer’s airway, causing the dog to collapse.

In the case of this Pug, the dog was playing with this pink pig toy both times when the collapse occurred. We suspect the toy was the perfect shape to have its head fit inside the wide mouth of the Pug. The pink toy tongue then slipped down over the back of the dog’s throat and obstructed the airway. Luckily, because the Pug’s mouth was shallow, the toy fell back out when the Pug fell over and air supply was restored. This shape of toy would never be recommended by any vet, as the toy shape would be suspected to have the potential to trigger issues beyond just blocking the airway. It is best to avoid this style of dog toy.

2) Tennis Balls are a favourite toy for many dogs but there are a few rules for tennis ball use:

  • Don’t give Tennis balls to Boxers and other Brachycephalic breed dogs to play with.
  • Always wash the ball after play in warm water to remove the grit that dries into the ball. Dental specialists hate tennis balls because used balls with ingrained dirt act like sand paper on the enamel of the teeth and wear the tooth down.
  • Extra-large Tennis balls are now available. Choking is less of an issue with these but if used too much the larger balls cause “carpet-burn like injuries to face and nose. I have had second opinions on these dogs, where the original vets worried the dogs had aggressive skin cancers or immune conditions that were resistant to normal medications. Once the over-sized Tennis balls were withdrawn, the face and noses healed up all by themselves.

3) Sticks

Dogs love chasing sticks and we love throwing them. However, when the dog runs onto the stick and injuries the soft tissues of the mouth and throat, serious damage can occur. These injuries can be a nightmare to heal, as tiny splinters can work their way through the dog’s body. The splinters are impossible to find and easily remove, so the dogs often need to be sent to specialist centres with advanced imaging equipment needed to track down these tiny foreign bodies. What was a cheap free toy, suddenly becomes very expensive to have used. Kong makes a series of artificial cloth and rubber sticks that bend if the dog lands heavily on it, so protecting the dog from injury. The rubber sticks also float well in water. We have some of these style of  sticks in stock at the clinic 04/2020

4) Hollow Toys that can trap jaws and tongues.

Many thanks to Georgie Moody from the UK for allow our clinic to share photographs of her wonderful dog Dudley’s run in with a hollow bone toy so we could share and warn others. Dudley was 6 years old in these photos. They have no idea how he did it, one minute he was chewing the bone and the next he’d somehow got it wedged as in Photo 1. Dudley was absolutely fine after his vet removed the bone under sedation: Photo 2.

We are aware of several small dogs also getting their jaws or tongue trapped in similar designed smaller toys so everyone double check your own dog’s toy box for any potential issues. For those who have access to Facebook, we have also shared a link May 14th 2019 on our clinic’s page illustrating how other toys can distressfully jam a dog’s mouth open.

The end message: Always fit the toy to the size and shape of your own dog. If in any doubt, ask your own Vet for their opinion first before you purchase any new dog toys.