Are Tennis Balls Bad for Dogs? How a Tennis Ball Could Cost You Thousands of Dollars….
Are tennis balls bad for dogs? This is an interesting question.
Tennis balls are the epitome of a dog toy.
They’re tons of fun to play with and easily accessible. At fairly low prices, most people can acquire them pretty easily.
Pet stores, local sporting goods stores, and even grocery stores tend to carry plenty of them in stock.
However, tennis balls are best used only when you can keep a close eye on your pup. This is because, while they are undeniably one of the most beloved dog toys out there, tennis balls can pose health risks for dogs.
One of the major roles I play in writing articles for this blog is educating my readers. We also like to provide fun stories, tips and a peer group of people who are having the same questions or troubles. Recently, I was flipping through dog videos on YouTube.
What caught my eye over and over as I watched numerous videos was the use of regular felt tennis balls. I am definitely an advocate of using toys in your training program to build drive and also to add fun to regular dog training and you can read more about that here and here.
However, it has long been known in the dog training world that regular tennis balls are dangerous!
A large, strong dog with a powerful jaw can split a tennis ball in a matter of minutes if not seconds! And those halves can be swallowed quiet effortlessly. Even a whole tennis ball can be easily swallowed by large or giant dogs!
Another concern is that when a pooch chomps down on a tennis ball his jaws are strong enough to compress the ball.
If for some reason the ball pops to the back of his throat when he releases his jaw, the ball can get caught in his throat and cut off his air supply. Whole tennis balls have been swallowed by dogs.
Plenty of dogs enjoy chewing on tennis balls until they pop.
Dogs with powerful jaws can easily break tennis balls in their mouths. This can lead to serious choking hazards. Sometimes, one-half of the tennis ball can get lodged in the back of their throats, blocking the airway.
The ball itself is not the only choking risk.
Some dogs enjoy shredding the yellow-green fuzz that surrounds the tennis ball.
Eating this fuzz can lead to choking hazards and intestinal blockages that could require surgery.
In fact, according to the AKC, Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Retriever, Gracie, choked to death on a tennis ball.
Choking hazards aside, tennis balls pose another risk: dental wear and tear.
According to the experts, yes, the fuzz can wear down teeth (called "blunting"), but it would take a lot of use to actually impact your dog’s dental health.
Tony Woodward, a veterinary dental specialist, notes that "Rarely does this kind of blunting cause any problem, even among dogs that live many years and chew pretty regularly on tennis balls".
Unless your pooch is a ball fanatic and chews on one at all hours, you probably do not need to worry about dental issues.
This potential for abrasion is also true of other heavily used soft toys, like soft frisbees.
So, if your dog always has a toy in his mouth at all hours, especially if it’s often covered in grit or sand, you may want to switch to a toy with a solid surface.
This also benefits your dog as he won’t ingest as much of that grit or dirt during play (ingesting too much grit off of a toy has landed our dog Mort with some gastrointestinal upset and even at the vets once - we had to learn the hard and costly way). But what if the dog toy is more dangerous than the tennis ball?
According to the AKC, “That green fuzz might seem soft, but tennis balls are designed to withstand tennis courts and rackets. Dr. Thomas Chamberlain, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist, warns that the fuzz is actually quite abrasive, and accumulated dirt and sand increases the abrasive quality of the ball. As your dog chomps on a tennis ball, the fuzz acts like sandpaper, gradually wearing down her teeth in a process called “blunting.” This can eventually lead to dental problems such as exposed tooth pulp and difficulty chewing.”
So let’s look into tennis balls, dog toys, and safety: is that ball made for your dog really safer than the kind you find on the courts?
The outer felt covering is what makes the tennis ball tough enough to stand up to the back and forth play on a tennis court.
The felt is abrasive to begin with, and over time dirt and grit build up on the felt making it even more abrasive.
The outer covering of a tennis ball is like a scouring pad and can wear down your dog’s teeth if they are passionate chewers.
However, it would take a lot of gnawing even for excessive chewers to wear down their teeth.
One of the most common concerns about dogs and tennis balls (designed for humans) is damage to the teeth.
You can avoid this damage using balls specifically designed for dogs, which are said to be safer.
However, you need to be careful about which doggy products that you’re getting for your pup, because some “dog toys” can actually be just as harmful.
How to Play With Tennis Balls Safely
There are plenty of big risks involving playing with tennis balls, but they don’t all need to get tossed into the garbage.
Instead, make sure that your dog only has access to his tennis balls during supervised play sessions.
It’s extra critical for dogs that like to chew on tennis balls, due to the fact that they are the most at risk for choking and dental wear.
There are other methods and cautionary measures that you can take in order to make sure that your dog won’t get injured when playing with a tennis ball.
Work with your dog to make sure that tennis balls never become part of a game of “keep away.” You need to know that you can get the tennis ball away from your dog quickly if it becomes dangerous, and the “drop it” command is also a useful command to have in your arsenal in case your dog puts something else in his mouth, for example a bone or piece of dangerous trash.
It's a great idea to keep more than one tennis ball on hand, so that you can keep playing fetch you’re your dog and keep it moving. It’s a great form of cardio exercise for your dog that will keep it in tip-top shape.
This way, if something happens to a tennis ball, the game of fetch doesn’t have to end.
However, you need to be careful about keeping only one ball active within the game of fetch at a time. Dogs that pick up multiple tennis balls could get the ball at the back of their throats lodged dangerously.
When it comes to ball launchers, you need to be careful.
You don’t want to use an automatic ball launcher to shoot dozens of balls around your yard or the park. The ball launcher could scatter the balls, or some of the balls could be unaccounted for if they’re not all fetched right away.
In this case, you’re leaving a situation where your dog could try to fit multiple balls in its mouth at once, which could be lethal.
If you launch thirteen, and only retrieve, say, eleven or twelve, then you have a couple balls laying around that your dog could also play with unsupervised, which could lead to an accident.
If your dog can’t handle tennis balls without chomping obsessively, you may want to consider an alternative toy.
A rubber ball, especially one designed for powerful chewers, makes an excellent tennis ball substitute, without some of the risks.
All in all, tennis balls can be a fun part of your daily routine, as long as you are aware of the potential risks and take the necessary steps to prevent accidents.
Dog Toys Vs Tennis Balls
If you have an active, ball-obsessed dog, you may have concerns about how safe those tennis balls are. Are tennis balls safe for dogs, or are dog toys safer?
You might have heard stories about how tennis balls aren’t safe for dogs. These stories may include concerns about enamel abrasion, or perhaps something about what the tennis balls are made of.
You probably heard that you should stick to ones made for dogs, instead of the kind used on the tennis courts.
However, you might be surprised to learn about a potentially more serious safety concern at the pet store. That's right: just because that toy is made for a dog does not mean that it's safer.
This fact surprised me. It astounded me. Toys made for dogs could be worse for your dogs than the ones made for humans. It just didn’t make sense!
However, I did some digging, and I found out why some dog-specific tennis balls are more dangerous for your dog than one that wasn’t designed to be chewed on.
The materials used to make tennis balls for humans are subject to regulation, and toys made for dogs are not.
Dog toys are often made outside of the country and are sometimes full of toxic materials that could be more harmful than potentially abrasive tennis ball fuzz.
Especially when consumed.
Heading to the pet store for a dog-specific toy may therefore not be the immediate answer for finding something that’s “safe”, especially because your dog holds these toys in his mouth and may even ingest some pieces of it.
Why does it matter so much? Are toxic toys all that common?
Why should you be concerned? In a test of 400 pet products, 25% of all products were found to have lead present in the materials. The study also found that it was more likely for tennis balls intended for dogs to contain lead than ones made for humans. (source). This isn't to say all non-dog toys are OK, or all dog toys are unsafe, it's just that you need to check each product individually.
Check the Safety of Your Dog’s Toys
It’s not up to your puppy to determine whether or not the toy that you are encouraging it to play with is safe.
It’s our responsibility, as dog owners and dog trainers, to make sure that our dogs are in a safe, healthy environment, and that includes making sure that dog toys are safe.
Checking whether a product you give to your dog is toxic is particularly important for soft toys your dog may inadvertently ingest tiny pieces of.
If the item is not in the database, many companies will have information about the material used on their website (noting non-toxic or similar).
If not, contact their customer support for information on where and how the toys were created.
In general, Chuck It and Planet Dog are safe for dogs to play with. They are well-liked and positively reviewed, and their products tend to be both safe and tough. Planet Dog, in particular, is a great option for a wide variety of doggy goodies and toys.
It's also important to remember that most or all toys carry some amount of risk to your dog from chewing and the potential for consumption, which is dangerous whether or not the toy is toxic. A bored dog with a destructible toy can have disastrous results. For example, even very small pieces from a toy - or the fuzz pelt torn from a tennis ball - can become lodged in or damage the intestinal tract. I've even heard of large dogs swallowing tennis balls whole. So make sure that you either monitor your dog with toys or take reasonable precautions about what toys are left with your dog while unattended.
Exercise is great for providing both physical and mental stimulation for your dog. However, there is some level of risk for most dog toys that you’d play fetch with, especially tennis balls.
Always make sure that the toys you are training with are large enough and safe for your dog!
Play comes with excitement and excitement sometimes comes with some abnormal chewing and sometimes grabbing and possessive behaviors.
Make sure that your pooch does not choke when he runs around celebrating with his newly won toy!
The fuzz or felt from the regular tennis ball can also be ripped off and swallowed and like swallowing the whole ball, this can be a danger. The fuzz does not break down in your dog’s stomach or in his intestines and if he swallows enough or any other foreign body it can get stuck in his stomach.
Stomach and bowel obstruction surgery is not only painful for your dog it is also expensive and potentially deadly!
And, last but certainly not least, is the fact that the glue used to glue the felt to these balls can break down the enamel on your dog’s teeth.
You can imagine how acidic glue must be, and some dogs chew and chew and chew and chew on a tennis ball, this makes the glue wet and then, with the chewing motion, the abrasiveness of the felt damages your dog’s teeth.
Even when your dog releases his ball, the glue remains on your dog’s teeth slowly and steadily breaking down the enamel!
There are sooo many reasons not to use regular tennis balls! Instead find an adequately sized rubber ball!
The “Chuck It” brand sells a rubber ball that is the same size as a regular tennis ball and only a bit heavier and it also floats! It’s perfect for a game of fetch at the park, or even a casual game of fetch at home.
My dogs would prefer a ball over a treat any day and the sight of their “Chuck It” will send their bodies into anticipation shivers!
There is no reason not to use a ball, or a ball on a string, just make sure it is not your classic tennis ball or even the “doggy tennis balls” that you can get at your local pet retail store.
Just doing this simple task will make your dog healthier and happier!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.