How to choose a dog toy, and what to avoid

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With Christmas just around the corner, many of us are looking to buy the perfect dog toy for our beloved pets. And the great news is, there are no end of dog toys on the market – from balls and chew toys to boredom-busting dog puzzle toys.

But with so much choice available, it can be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff to work out the best toys to buy for dogs. And it can be even more difficult to avoid accidentally buying a cheap imitation, which can break or contain dangerous chemicals that could cause serious harm to your pooch.

With that in mind, we’ve created a guide to help you choose a suitable dog toy and know which ones to avoid. So, whether it’s a Christmas gift for your dog, or you just fancy spoiling them, you can choose a safe dog toy that will set their tail wagging with excitement.

The Dos and Don’ts of choosing a toy for your dog

Dog holding toy in mouth

Don’t: choose toys that can present a choking hazard

Whether they’re toys to play with, chew on or stay entertained with, it’s important to consider which items could present a choking hazard to your dog.

  1. Any dog toy filled with polyfill or other synthetic fillers is a definite no-no for several reasons. Pets can chew the filling out of stuffed toys, for them to then get it stuck on their teeth and prevent them from fully swallowing the string, causing choking or worse. And, if they do swallow it, it could lead to intestinal or other types of internal blockages.
  2. Squeaky toys or toys with bells are also on the ‘avoid’ list – a dog’s natural instinct is to get the squeaker or bell out of the toy, and are at risk of choking if they swallow it.
  3. Toys made of rawhide – usually shoe shapes – can become softened and break off. These torn-off pieces can either present a choking hazard or get lodged in the intestines.

Do: avoid vinyl toys with BPA and phthalates

Vinyl products that contain phthalates (a group of toxic chemicals) are unmistakeable – you’ll be able to identify them from their heavy smell. In fact, the stronger they smell, the more phthalates they contain. And that’s where the danger to your dog lies. The more your dog plays and chews on vinyl, the more phthalates seep out. This can result in liver and kidney damage if these toxins are absorbed into your dog’s gums or skin. BPA – or Bisphenol A – is another chemical found in vinyl that should be avoided, as it can be extremely toxic to dogs.

Puppy playing with toy

Don’t: go for ball toys with only one hole

There are so many ball toys for dogs on the market – but something to watch out for, and avoid at all costs, are ones with only one hole. Balls with one hole can form a suction in your dog’s mouth and create a seal, meaning their lips and teeth can become stuck, with detrimental consequences. It can be difficult enough for you to remove them if they’ve become suctioned, let alone for your dog who doesn’t have the hands to do it. Always consider the shape and features of a dog toy before buying it, so that your beloved pet can have fun but most importantly, stay safe.

Do: stick to well-known brands

We’re massive fans of shopping around. But when you’re browsing online, stick to those tried and tested brands and retailers with a good reputation and a reputable website. If you’re shopping IRL, buy your dog toys from a shop – not a market stall. And if you’re in any doubt, try to buy direct from the brand itself rather than via a third-party seller. That way you know you’re getting the real deal, and you’re supporting the brand in the process.

Don’t: rely purely on online reviews

Online reviews are a great way to get a feel for a product and see what everyone else has to say about it. But not everything is always as it seems. Some sellers provide incentives – like a free product – in return for a review, which can seriously skew the overall impression. Plus, it’s hard to know what a dog toy is like, and whether your dog will get on with it, without actually getting your hands on it first. Instead, get recommendations from an actual human. Get chatting to either fellow dog owners – on Facebook groups, for example – or staff members in a pet supplies store, who can advise on which products sell well, along with suitability.

Dog playing with puzzle toy

Do: pick a puzzle toy that suits your dog’s ability

Starting with a basic puzzle toy gives your dog a chance to get to grips with the idea and enjoy the rewards of getting it right. That way you can work your way up from beginner puzzles to more complicated options gradually, which can stop your dog from getting bored and keep them in tip-top condition, mentally. As for what to choose, you can get everything from treat dispenser games to interactive puzzles, and there are also some really cool options for cats.

Don’t: assume one size fits all when it comes to dog toys

Lots of dog toys are specially designed to suit a specific size or breed, so don’t be tempted to grab the first thing you find on the shelf. Buying a ball that’s too small for your dog, for example, means they risk squashing it in their jaws and popping it open – which creates a choking hazard. Likewise, a too-small ball can easily slip down their throat. Buying a ball that’s too big, on the other hand, may mean they simply can’t pick it up between their jaw, which will quickly take all the fun out of your game of fetch.

Do: choose a dog toy that suits your dog

Choosing the right size toy is important for safety, but there are other things to bear in mind that will come down to your dog’s age and stage. When it comes to chew toys, for example, you’ll want something that’s durable enough to last – and the right toy for a tiny puppy will be very different to one for an older, bigger dog. Dog-safe plush toys are another popular option, but might not be the best idea for a teething puppy.

Ready to choose the perfect dog toy?

Whichever dog toy you settle on, remember to always supervise your dog when they’re playing with it. No matter how well-intentioned and thoughtfully researched your gift is, there’s always a chance it could break and pose a choking hazard to your pooch.

Likewise, don’t give them toys designed for humans – which simply aren’t built to withstand the eager jaws of an over-excited dog. As the saying goes, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. And never a truer word was spoken when it comes to protecting your precious pup!


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