Safe Toys For Dogs?

By Dr Jeannie Thomason

Dog Toys, they come in all colors, sized and textures, they squeak, they squish, they bounce, you can stuff them with treats or let your dog tear the stuffing out of them. Your dogs chew on them, shake them, suck on them, and love tearing them to pieces (literally). Sounds like fun right? However, did you know there is really no totally SAFE dog toy? Some toys if ingested even in small amounts can cause cancer and liver damage! Vinyl and plastic dog toys contain a chemical compound that has been under investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) due to possible cancer risks to humans. The chemical in question is DINP (di-isononyl phthalate), used to make hard PVC plastic soft and pliable. In 1998 Health Canada issued an advisory warning about the dangers of mouthing soft plastic toys by small children, and some countries, such as Sweden, Germany, and Italy, have already phased out DINP for use in children's toys. But, for some reason no one is talking about the effects DINP may have on our dog's health.

Scientific research has shown that DINP can be toxic to lab animals, causing liver and kidney damage and at higher levels of exposure, increased cancer incidence. These findings prompted even further review of exposures to children due to mouthing soft plastic toys. These studies focused on small children who generally only mouth toys for brief periods during a small fraction of their lifespan. Dogs, in contrast, may chew and ingest soft vinyl toys for hours at a time throughout their entire lives.

According to, "almost all soft plastic toys contain PVC," so avoid these types of toys if you're concerned about the health risks mentioned above. Natural rubber or latex soft toys provide a non-toxic and environmentally friendly alternative.

References: - PVC in Toys USCPSC � The Risk of Chronic Toxicity Associated with Exposure to Diisononyl Phthalate (DINP) in Children�s Products 1998

More recently, Lead was found in children's toys mainly coming from China. This prompted an investigation into dog toys. Nancy Rogers a woman who owns three dogs,was alarmed when children's toys started being pulled from store shelves for testing positive with lead, Rogers says she started to wonder about the safety of her pets' toys... "Every toy we picked up had a made in China tag on it," she told CBS 2. When she couldn't find toys made in the U.S. to replace them, Rogers, a registered nurse, decided it was worth almost $200 to have all 24 of her dogs' toys tested for lead. "The highest was 335.7 parts per million," she says. That amount was found in a tennis ball toy, and while it's less than the federally acceptable levels of lead in children's toys, Rogers was still very concerned because these toys are constantly in her dogs' mouths." (you can read the entire story HERE)

After they started recalling children's toys made in China due to the levels of lead in them, hired a lab to test cat and dog toys from WalMart, and other agencies and private people did the same with toys from Petsmart, Petco, the dollar stores, etc. They found that many of the dog and cat toys made in China included lead, chromium, and cadmium - some in very high dosages. No one is sure just what prolonged exposure to these can do to dogs, but the short-term symptoms are loss of appetite, diarrhea, and aggressive behavior.

A dog owner, Marilyn Anderson, found loose metal nuts in a plastic bone she had bought for her dog and would like to see legislation changed so that toys for pets are made as safe as toys for children.

She said she was horrified to think that her smooth-haired lurcher, Pepsi, could have choked on the nut.


The Food and Drug Administration today issued a nationwide public health warning alerting consumers about a number of recent cases in Canada of human illnesses apparently related to contact with dog chew products made from pork or beef-derived materials (e.g., pigs ears, beef jerky treats, smoked hooves, pigs skins, etc.).

R A W H I D E S, C O W H O O V E S, & P I G S ' E A R S

These well-liked dog treats are purchased in large numbers, especially around holidays, by well-meaning dog owners hoping to give their pets something special. These toys are favorites for many dogs and are popular with owners because they keep their pets occupied and supposedly out of trouble during holiday activities. There are definite risks associated with these treats, however. All three types are supposedly made of digestible animal products. However, they are usually cooked at high temperatures so are in reality, digested quite slowly and, if consumed rapidly, can cause either vomiting, diarrhea or even an obstruction from pieces still sitting undigested in the GI tract. If these chew toys are swallowed whole or in large chunks, there are additional dangers.

Rawhide chews can lodge in the throat and cause choking, or a large piece may be swallowed, scraping and irritating the throat and esophagus on the way down. Once in the stomach or intestinal tract, a large piece of rawhide can also create a physical obstruction. An additional danger that is less widely known is the practice, in some countries, of using an arsenic-based preservative in the processing of rawhide toys. We recommend that, if you do purchase these products, stick to brands processed in the U.S. There has also been a recent FDA alert about the risk of Salmonella associated with dog chew products made from pork or beef-derived materials: refer to the FDA advisory or call 1-888-INFO-FDA. See below (discussion on pigs' ears) for more details.

Rawhide chews can lodge in the throat and cause choking, or a large piece may be swallowed, scraping and irritating the throat and esophagus on the way down. Once in the stomach or intestinal tract, a large piece of rawhide can also create a physical obstruction. An additional danger that is less widely known is the practice, in some countries, of using an arsenic-based preservative in the processing of rawhide toys.

Cow hooves can be dangerous as well. They can be broken off into sharp fragments which may cause a partial intestinal obstruction. Partial obstructions are often difficult to diagnose until the point at which the fragment is ready to perforate the wall of the bowel from pressure against the sharp edges. If perforation has occurred, the infection that ensues from leakage of intestinal contents can be fatal.

Pigs' ears can cause GI upset if overeaten, although obstructions are less common because the ears are not usually shaped into solid chunks. There is, however, a less widely known danger associated with pig ears: in October of 1999, the FDA advisory published by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human services stated that there was "a nationwide public health warning alerting consumers about a number of recent cases in Canada of human illnesses apparently related to contact with dog chew products made from pork or beef-derived materials (e.g., pigs ears, beef jerky treats,pigs skins, etc.)... FDA urged pet owners... to handle them carefully. Anyone who comes in contact with these treats should wash their hands with hot water and soap.

Any dog owner knows how much our dogs love to gnaw and chew on things. This is a natural dog instinct. Our house wolves however tend to chew on not so natural or nutritious items, slippers, carpet, furniture, walls, etc. So, to prevent the ultimate destruction of their homes, dog owners run out and buy "chew toys" for their dogs. (a large percentage of what they buy is rawhide).

WHAT IS RAWHIDE? Rawhide is literally the outside of a cow - the skin. It provides dogs with a satisfying chewing experience and it's cheap and easy to find. So why is so dangerous?


The likelihood of injury depends on a couple of factors, the first being size. Current data shows that the rate of injury rises dramatically for dogs over 55 pounds. Larger more powerful dogs are more likely to dismantle and ingest chew toys not meant for consumption. The second factor is your dog’s personality. A more aggressive chewer will be more likely to break teeth on hard chews, and will be more likely to gulp down large (and potentially fatal) pieces that are torn from the toy.

Rawhide is regularly ingested even though the manufacturer states that the item is not to be ingested, or claims that it is a chew toy, then it is not classified as a feed item, and hence falls under no regulatory control. With no control, the manufacturer is free to use any ingredients or materials despite safety or health concerns. Due to the lack of controls, many inexpensive rawhides are imported from the Asian continent, most notably Thailand. In many of these countries, the hides are processed with mercury vapor, chromium salts, lead solutions, arsenic compounds and formaldehyde!

But even with some modern, safe processing these dried hides still present safety problems for our dogs. As the chewed rawhide softens, our carnivorous’ powerful jaws easily tear off pieces and the dog swallows them. The cured hide is supposed to be digestible, but it breaks down far too slowly in the intestines, and swallowing too many pieces too quickly can easily lead to at the very least, gastric irritation from the abundance of undigested materials. This will usually be accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea. Worse yet, some of the swallowed pieces may be only partially softened and still have hard, sharp edges and corners. This can lead to choking, esophageal lacerations, and gastrointestinal obstructions. In the case of the obstruction, surgery will most likely be necessary to remove the rawhide

Since rawhide used for dog chews is not regulated in any way. Especially foreign hides may be ones to be avoided but even those made in the U.S. have other detrimental ingredient such as antibiotics, lead, or insecticides that could adversely affect the health of your dog.

'Tests on imported pet products made from animal hides by UK health authorities revealed many carried the salmonella bug, a common cause of gastro-intestinal infections in humans." "They found that one in three batches imported from Thailand and one in eight from China contained salmonellosis that had survived processing and manufacturing"

Edible Chew Toys

Winter of 2006 - a so called dental treat/chew was found to have killed several dogs and caused obstructions in many others that had to be removed surgically. The company stated that they should not be given to dogs that "gulp" instead of chew. The facts are that dogs will "Chew" or gnaw off large chunks of toys and swallow them just as they would food. Dogs are carnivores and as such do not have molars to grind and actually chew or masticate before swallowing. Greenies are wheat, corn and cellulose based which dogs are not naturally designed to digest no matter what the label may say about being "digestible"..

Pimple Balls

In the fall of 2008, Four Paws withdrew a "pimple ball" dog toy from shelves due to reports of injuries to dogs. Whole story on Snopes


Let's face it, there is no 100% safe toy for our dogs. The key is to supervise your dog's play time with toys. Play WITH the dog and the toy. Stimulate your dog's mind as well as making play a part of his/her daily exercise regime.

Many toys state they are not intended for strong or powerful chewers, other state they are not intended for chewing at all. Make sure you are getting an appropriate toy for the activity level and chewing ability of your own dog.

I don't believe that dogs should ever be left alone with toys that can be destroyed easily. If your dog is exercised properly before you ever leave him/her alone, chances are that they dog will simply sleep most of the time you are gone. A tired dog is a content and happy dog. The best toys are toys that YOU can play with to interact with your dog.

Buy Organic Toys when possible
For the reasons stated above, to avoid exposing our canine companions to toxins and allergens that can lead to grave illness or death, organic cotton is safe, non-toxic, made of all-natural materials originating from nature. Organically grown, the fibers are unbleached, untreated, and unprocessed. Look for organic toys that only use natural extracts from plants and minerals to dye the fibers.

Give Your Dog A (RAW) Bone
The safest and healthiest chew toy I have found over the years is a fresh, RAW marrow or knuckle bone from our local butcher. (NOT the smoked, cured, cooked ones in the pet stores) These raw bones provide hours of gnawing pleasure, clean the teeth and contain minerals, vitamins, etc. In the 25 years I have been feeding my dogs raw marrow bones I have never had one break a tooth or be able to bite off a piece to swallow. IF they did swallow a piece though, the dog’s digestive system is such that it CAN and will digest and pass RAW bones perfectly. Of course, my dogs have been raw fed all their lives and have very healthy teeth and gums. It is hard to say if an elderly dog or dog with bad health and/or teeth would break a tooth or not. I just know they have been the perfect chew toy for own dogs over the years.

*IMPORTANT* NEVER give your dogs cooked bones! Cooking changes the structure of the bone and will make it brittle and if ingested, non-digestable! Feed Raw bones only.

The original Nyla Bones' are a very popular and safe alternative. I do not recommend the edible ones or the soft Gumabone as they are easily chewed off large pieces.

Again, the original Nylabones are made from pure virgin nylon, which makes them stronger and more durable than Gumabone. In fact, the Nylabone Galileo Bone is the World's Strongest Dog Bone! Nylabones are: unique therapeutic devices designed to satisfy the chewing instinct of aggressive chewing dogs; safer than other dog chews; they will not splinter or break off in chunks but be worn down or be chewed off in very small fibers that are easily passed through the digestive system. While I prefer a raw beef bone for my Boston Terriers, I have used Nylabones for over 20 years have found them to be safe and enjoyed by my dogs.

Dr Jeannie and The Whole Dog is as concerned with your dog's health and happiness as you are. We carry only safe, non-toxic and organic dog toys. Please be sure to see what we have to offer while you are here.

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