Toys can be a wonderful source of fun and enjoyment for dogs – and can play an important role in keeping a dog entertained and preventing problem behaviour, such as destructive chewing and continuous crying and barking.
Interactive toys, in particular, can be particularly good in this respect as they stimulate your dog’s brain, encouraging them to use their problem-solving skills to figure out how to obtain rewards, such as food treats hidden inside them. They are a particular lifesaver for dogs that struggle to cope with being left alone in the house and either become destructive or anxious and noisy. However, interactive toys can also have a “dark side” so it pays to choose them wisely.
General Toy Safety
No matter what the manufacturer’s label says, no toy is 100% safe or indestructible. Different factors can contribute to how safe or dangerous a dog toy can be and they are further dependent on your dog’s personality, habits, energy level and size. Don’t simply go on size though – there are medium-sized breeds that are very powerful chewers and some giant breeds that have very soft mouths. Dogs with persistent personalities are also more likely to “attack” a toy until it comes apart under the onslaught and thus possibly presenting dangerous parts which may be swallowed.
In general, with any new toy, always watch and supervise the dog initially to see how he interacts with it. You can quickly get an idea of how fragile the toy is and whether it is suitable for prolonged, unsupervised play. Don’t take a chance – discard any toys which seem likely to pose a threat or at least save them only for supervised play.
In recent years, interactive toys for dogs have become very popular. As more and more people have to work and leave their dogs at home, they are finding these interactive toys an ideal way of keeping their dogs busy and preventing problem behaviours from developing. These toys range from the Kong to “treat balls” or “treat cubes” – the fundamental principle is the same: treats are hidden inside the toys and can either be slowly licked and chewed out, as in the case of the Kong, or fall out as the toy is pushed around, as in the case of the treat balls and cubes. Most dogs find these toys very entertaining, helping them expend both physical and mental energy as they play with them and seek the treats hidden inside. However, a few recent incidents have shown that these such dog toys are not without their risks – in particular, a particular type of treat ball which only has one hole for the treats to fall out of.
Perhaps the most well-known horror story connected with the dangers of these interactive treat balls is the story of Chai, a 10 year old Labrador-cross living in New York. Chai had been left alone at home and was playing with a rubber treat ball when his tongue became stuck. It was sucked inside the one hole in the ball and because of the vacuum that was created due to the lack of any other holes, it became impossible for him to pull his tongue back out again. The restricted circulation soon caused his tongue to swell up and although he was rushed to the veterinary clinic where the ball was finally cut away and removed, the tongue remained so swollen that it was unable to be saved and had to be amputated.
Following the surgery, Chai has had a hard time relearning how to eat and drink without a tongue and his cooling ability is severely hampered without a functional tongue to pant with. The surgery cost his owner thousands of dollars and there is further expense in the special diet Chai needs to be on post-surgery. Chai isn’t the first dog to suffer this accident with the same ball – a previous Labrador-cross lost his life when his tongue became stuck in the ball and several other owners have come forward since Chai’s story was made public to report similar incidences with their dogs.
While this toy has been recalled by the company and many dog owners have been warned by Chai’s story, it serves as a reminder. There can be other toys with a similar effect. Therefore, in general when considering treat dispensing toys, make sure there are at least 2 holes in the object, whether a ball or cube or any other shape – to avoid the ‘vacuum effect’.