Antlers, Plastic Chews, Rope Toys and More: What’s Safe and What’s Not?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on March 2, 2019
Posted in Parent Help
Pet parents are never surprised to find their dog chewing on things—even things they’re not supposed to be chewing. That’s why we purchase a plethora of toys and chews to keep our pups occupied.
Unfortunately, not all dog toys are created equal, and some actually pose threats to our dogs’ health. Before you rush to the store to buy a toy to prevent Fido from gnawing on your slippers, it’s important to be informed on what kinds of toys are safe and which ones are not.
Plastic and rubber chews
There are a ton of plastic and rubber chew toys on the market, which can sometimes convince pet parents that they are totally safe. However, these toys aren’t indestructible and can be gnawed down to the point of breakage if your dog chews on them hard enough.
Constant chewing on rubber or plastic bones can cause pieces of the toy to weaken and break off, potentially prompting your dog to ingest them. If this happens, your dog might be facing a medical emergency. Dog’s bodies are not designed to break down plastic, so pieces of plastic toys can lodge themselves in your dog’s bowels and cause blockages, intestinal issues and more.
That being said, the risk of your dog destroying a plastic toy or chew shouldn’t prevent you from giving it one. It just means you need to be careful to observe the toy when it gets worn down and take it away if it poses a health hazard. Once your dog has the toy, keep a close eye on its appearance over time. Look for edges that are worn down or loosely hanging off, as well as toys that are chewed down small enough to be swallowed. These should be taken away as soon as possible.
Additionally, be cautious of the size of the toy you provide. A tiny toy designed for a puppy should never be given to a large dog, since it could break it apart and ingest it easily.
Deer or elk antlers are popular choices for dogs that love to chew on things, but that doesn’t mean they are safe.
Antlers tend to be much harder than the average chew toy. This presents the risk of harming your dog’s teeth, especially if it is an aggressive chewer. Materials that are too hard can quickly cause a broken tooth, which is not only painful for dogs, but can lead to other health problems like abscesses. For this reason, many vets recommend that owners refrain from giving their dogs antlers.
Additionally, while they don’t splinter as quickly as other bones do, antlers can splinter after a period of chewing, which can wound the gums and cause internal damage if the small splinters are swallowed.
To minimize risk of tooth damage and splintering, try to find chews that are a little more flexible. If you do give your dog an antler, never let it chew on it without your supervision and only let it chew for short periods of time.
Rope toys are fun for dogs to play with both alone and with their owners. Generally, rope toys are considered safe because of their softer feel.
You want to make sure your dog’s rope toys are woven and have knots on each end so they aren’t easily digestible. The toys should also be larger than your dog’s mouth to prevent swallowing.
After your dog begins playing with a rope toy, make sure the rope doesn’t start to fray and have strings hanging out, or else your dog could ingest them and develop a blockage.
Stuffed toys make up a large portion of the dog toy market and are generally safe, but dog owners should be cautious when providing them to their dogs. There’s a good chance that your dog will rip into them, whether that’s immediately or accidently due to wear.
When this happens, stuffed toys are no longer safe. You should not let your dog ingest the stuffing inside a toy. Additionally, stuffed toy “shells” can become a choking hazard if they have squeakers inside or are small once the stuffing is removed.
If your dog has a habit of destroying soft toys, select a different type of toy to give to prevent issues.
Choosing the right chew toy
Choosing a chew toy for your dog does not have to be difficult—you just need to be mindful of your dog’s chewing style and size.
When searching for a toy, find one that is slightly flexible. Extremely hard toys with no give can cause tooth damage. Additionally, purchase a toy that is larger than what your dog can fit in its mouth, so there is no risk of your dog swallowing it.
Regardless of what chew toy you give your dog, always inspect it before and after use to ensure it is not damaged and that your dog can chew on it safely. Always throw away toys when they become too small, splintered or damaged to protect your dog from harm. After all—new toys are much more affordable than vet bills!
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan