Are Tennis Balls Safe For Dogs?
At first that sounds like a bit of a silly question. After all, what can be harmful about a tennis ball? For most dogs they are not too large or too small, they are relatively light and soft with little risk of knocking out a tooth when caught in midair, and have just enough give and bounce with durability for your dog to safely grip without trying too hard or instantly puncturing. All around, they seem like the perfect dog toy.
So why even ask the question? Well, as it turns out, we sell on our site some dog toys which are very much like a tennis ball but not intended for tennis play, but specifically intended for your dog. In the description, the manufacturer states ‘these toys are covered with durable, high-quality tennis ball material that’s non-abrasive.’
Well that’s new. I never even considered whether or not the felt found on standard tennis balls might be abrasive and harmful to my dog’s teeth. I mean, my goodness, my dog chews on bones, sticks, and all kinds of other toys which are much tougher. If a bone is considered all natural and actively promoted to dog owners, surely the felt on a tennis ball shouldn’t be a concern. Or should it?
So we did some research. It’s a fairly popular topic and common question amongst the dog owning community. We went to some of our favorite medical sites specifically for dogs and couldn’t find anything about the felt being abrasive. We then went to Google and following their prompts for popular searches, ended up entering is the felt on tennis balls bad for dogs.
224,000 results came up for that search term. Reading through the most popular ones the jury seems a bit split. The general consensus is that yes, the felt on a standard tennis ball is abrasive and if chewed excessively and constantly, can begin to wear down your dog’s teeth. (Some argue that it’s more likely to be the dirt and sand caught in the felt that is causing the wearing.) However, most of these conclusions are also accompanied by a bit of perspective in that excessive and constant chewing of just about anything that can be excessively and constantly chewed upon will likely have a wearing effect on your dog’s teeth. Also, when allowed in moderation, the abrasive nature of the felt on tennis balls is a great way to combat tartar, which is typically much worse and more of a problem for dogs than the threat of wearing down their teeth with a tennis ball. So here again we seem to have the lifelong truth of ‘all things, but in moderation’.
Since we have a dog that is absolutely addicted to fetch, and loves nothing more than a new (even if used, new to him) tennis ball, we’re going to keep them as part of his toy collection. You should see him when he gets a new ball. He walks around on cloud nine, with his happy tail making his whole body wag, and insists on showing everybody his new treasure. The amount of joy he gets from a new ball is just something we can’t and won’t remove from his life.
However, we do have some new rules for playing with the tennis ball.
- 1. We’ll only play fetch with a tennis ball for a few minutes a couple of times a day. We substitute rubber balls, and one that glows for nighttime use, during the other fetch sessions.
- 2. We don’t let him have the ball unsupervised and they are NOT chew toys. He absolutely destroys tennis balls in a matter of minutes and unlike our border collie, is not smart enough to spit out the parts. We’ve been lucky that he has never choked on any pieces, and we’ve definitely spotted remnants in his feces.
- 3. We also now use some of the tennis balls specifically designed for pets. Just be careful about what you buy. Some have been found to have high levels of toxins like lead due to the paint used to label these alternative tennis balls.
The true dangers of a tennis ball is not the felt wearing down their teeth, but the risk of the ball breaking in bits and obstructing either their airway or digestive track. There have been reports of a ball splitting in half, and when the half is swallowed it pops back open to full size and acts as a diaphragm in the dog’s throat. If that happens, your dog will likely not make any sound and will suffocate in a matter of minutes. Even if it doesn’t block their airway, the felt and rubber and glue used to make a ball is not good for their body to digest. While most will hopefully be expelled, it still sat in their system for all those hours and goodness knows what was absorbed by their body.
So by all means, still get out there and play fetch with your dog and their favorite tennis ball if that’s what they enjoy most. Just do yourself and your dog a favor and do not leave the tennis balls laying around if your dog likes to chew on them. Remember, there are toys for playing, and toys for chewing. They may share many similar features and traits, but are intentionally designed with different objectives in mind.