By Linda Cole
Tennis balls are great for playing fetch with your dog. They’re inexpensive, can stand up to a dog’s teeth, have a nice bounce, are easy to catch, and easy to find in the grass. Many dogs love playing with tennis balls, but are they safe for them? Generally, yes…but there are a few health concerns to be aware of.
My dog Jack loved playing fetch with tennis balls and chewing on them. One day, he decided to really tear one up, and I was afraid he had eaten part of it. Thankfully he hadn’t, but that made me rethink leaving tennis balls lying around when he was home alone.
Today’s tennis balls are made from two half halves of rubber that are molded, pressed together and glued to form a ball. The core is filled with a specific amount of pressurized air to produce just the right bounce on a tennis court. Each ball is then dipped in glue and two bright yellow pieces of felt are wrapped around the ball. At this point, the ball is complete but has to go through a heating cycle that causes the glue to form a seal and bind the two pieces of felt together.
One issue with tennis balls is that large dogs can easily chomp hard enough on a tennis ball to break it into two halves, which could become lodged in the throat. Ingesting part or all of a tennis ball can create a life-threatening blockage, and you certainly don’t want to let your dog eat any part of the ball, including the fuzz.
Another concern is that when a dog 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.
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 (called blunting) if they are passionate chewers. However, it would take a lot of gnawing even for excessive chewers to wear down their teeth.
Interestingly, soft toys made specifically for dogs can also cause blunting over time, and because there are no government standards for pet toys and many are produced outside of the US, toys may contain toxic substances. Tennis balls used for the sport are regulated and contain no lead, while tennis balls made for dogs aren’t regulated and are more likely to contain lead.
A nonprofit advocacy group called Ecology Center released a study in 2009 on over 400 products tested for toxic chemicals that included mercury, lead, chlorine, arsenic, cadmium and bromine. Half of the tennis balls made for pets had detectable lead levels and close to half of all products contained one or more toxic chemicals. It’s up to pet owners to check the labels on toys to try and determine if it is safe or not.
The bottom line on tennis balls is that as long as you take precautions – i.e., never let your dog use a tennis ball as a chew toy or play with one unsupervised – there’s no reason why you and your pet can’t enjoy a fun game of fetch with a tennis ball.
Avoid letting your pooch carry more than one ball in his mouth at a time to prevent him from getting one lodged in his throat. Dispose of worn out and dirty balls that have seen better days. Ingesting even small amounts of toys can lead to gastrointestinal issues that can be life-threatening and expensive.
Fetch is a great activity to play with your dog, but most dogs need a little help to learn how to play. It’s not difficult to teach your dog how to play fetch, so grab a bag of CANIDAE treats and some tennis balls or a favorite toy, and head outside for a training session. A tennis ball is safe for dogs as long as you control when and how your pet plays with it.
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