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Are Tennis Balls Safe Dog Toys?

Don't tell my daughter's little puggle Molly she can't have her tennis balls!

Don't tell my daughter's little puggle Molly she can't have her tennis balls!

Are Tennis Balls Dangerous as Dog Toys?

There are a heck of a lot of pet owners who would stand up and say a resounding "NO" to that question. To be honest, until recently, I'd not thought too much about it.

While malamutes aren't typically ball dogs, my youngest malamute, Gabby at 1-1/2 years old loves tennis balls. She loved them so much that I even went out and bought other tennis ball "like" toys with the same covering on them.

I'm definitely rethinking that purchase these days. All our tennis balls and "like" toys have gone into the trash. Why?

Gabby at 1-1/2 years old is still not over her teething phase. This particular malamute of ours seems to have a propensity to eat things, however, not just chew. We weren't clued into it at first, but several months ago, started noticing that parts of things were disappearing.

Curtain bottoms have been redecorated for us as well as bedskirts, blankets and even a couple down pillows now have air holes on the ends of them. In short, we have a chewing menace on our hands.

She also has discovered that if you chew on tennis balls long enough, you can rip them open and even worse, she has decided that she can (and will) eat them very quickly.

Most people who have dogs that love tennis balls think all this hoopla about the balls being dangerous for dogs is hype. I tend to disagree. Having seen what Gabby has thrown up in terms of huge pieces of the ball (along with other pieces of my household), I'm a little inclined to think it could be a dangerous thing.

Not to gross anyone out but the remains of these things once they have passed into her stomach come out looking very horrible and are quite mangled. I'm thinking that if some of that "stuff" gets caught in her intestine, it's going to be a horrible experience and a hefty vet bill.

Balls like these are a dangerous situation waiting to happen.  Throw them away.

Balls like these are a dangerous situation waiting to happen. Throw them away.

Dangers of Dogs and Tennis Balls

Let's look at a few of the reasons why there are reports of tennis balls being unsafe for dogs as a plaything.

  • Certain dogs such as shepherds, retrievers and labradors (I would include malamutes) have a propensity to put the entire ball in their mouth--they have very large mouths but the balls are "just the right size" to become lodged in their throat
  • Avid chewers will keep on chewing until they destroy the ball and then pull off pieces
  • Some rabid chewers are also rabid swallowers--there is no guarantee what the rubber and felt will do once it hits their intestines--just like fabric, it can pass or it can become lodged in the throat or stomach and end up needing to be surgically removed
  • There are reports that lead-based dyes are used to paint the lettering on so-called pet safe tennis balls--buyer beware
  • The processed felt is said to be an abrasive on dog's teeth especially if they are enthusiastic chewers
  • Tennis ball "fuzz" picks up added dirt and chunks of debris--which in turn go into your dog's mouth--which can hurt their teeth but can also be harmful ingestions depending on what the material is--think de-icing salt, etc.
  • Balls can get lodged in a dog's throat--Oprah lost one of her dogs this way--and the dog may choke to death before you get the ball out
  • If the ball or pieces of the ball go into the dog's stomach and intestines requiring surgical removal, depending on the age of the dog, sometimes it can be fatal--it can also lead to nasty infections
Some dogs can't seem to live without their tennis balls.

Some dogs can't seem to live without their tennis balls.

Are Tennis Balls Bad Dog Toys?

Well, reading the above you would start to think why am I giving my dog tennis balls again? Because I want a big vet bill or I want to run the risk of damaging their teeth or maybe even poisoning them a bit?

These of course are worst case scenarios and I tend to be a middle of the road person but I do think some of the warnings and concerns are very valid.

I won't say that I'll never use tennis balls again with my dogs--Gabby in particular loves tennis balls--she loves the bounce and she loves (unfortunately) the fuzz. I've switched her though to Kong balls or other rubber balls but with the caveat that I've also decided to eliminate the choking possibility by not leaving her alone with the toys.

Tips for Dogs and Tennis Balls

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If you're going to use tennis balls with your dogs as a toy, make sure you think about some of these precautions--and you and your dog should go bouncing along happily:

  • Remember that any dog toy can be hazardous--if it has parts on it that come off or can be eaten by your dog--supervision is key
  • Once a ball starts to deteriorate, get rid of it
  • Balls including tennis balls should be BIGGER than the dog's mouth--then they can't choke on them--little balls can be choked on by any breed dog very easily
  • If you're playing fetch and throwing the tennis ball--know what you're throwing it into--if it's going into cinder sand or de-icing salt on a winter day---if it sticks to the ball, it goes into your dog's mouth--so do pine needles and sticks and twigs, pieces of leaves
  • Look for green products when it comes to your dog's toys--any toy can become dangerous if it is made poorly, has chemicals added in the making of it, or it is too small for the dog in the first place
  • Best practice is to check for recalls on dog toys and/or to buy simple, trusted, uncomplicated products for your dogs to play with--make sure it's appropriate for your dog's own temperament when it comes to chewing
  • Just like leaving kids alone with toys that they can put in their mouths or disassemble, it's best to put toys up and away when you can't supervise their play--be careful about the kinds of toys or things you leave your dog alone with
  • Know dog CPR and how to dislodge an object from his or her throat and always have an emergency vet number handy--just because you never know
  • Even though it's so darned cute---don't train your dog to put 2 tennis balls in his mouth
  • On the top 10 for things that dogs ingest, tennis balls are #5
Even though it's so cute, don't train your dog to put 2 tennis balls in his mouth.

Even though it's so cute, don't train your dog to put 2 tennis balls in his mouth.

What to Do if Your Dog Chokes on a Tennis Ball

  1. Get help if you can--call for someone to assist you.
  2. Don't panic--the dog will respond better if you remain calm.
  3. If the ball is stuck in the dog's mouth, gently reach inside and try to dislodge the tennis ball.
  4. If the ball has slipped into the throat, using your fingers, try to move the tennis ball back up into the dog's mouth, reach in and remove. CAUTION: This can cause the ball to lodge more tightly so if you aren't sure, don't do this maneuver.
  5. If the dog is choking and you cannot dislodge the tennis ball, perform one of the several techniques shown on the YouTube video for a choking dog. Basically they are:
  6. For small dogs, pick them up by their back feet--you can even give a few shakes to help dislodge the object. For larger dogs, pick up the back legs with the head hanging down and position the dog like a wheelbarrow. Tilt the dog forward.
  7. If that doesn't work, give the dog 4 or 5 sharp blows on the back between the shoulder blades.
  8. Failing the above, perform a canine Heimlich maneuver by fisting both hands gently below the dog's ribcage and doing 3-5 inward and upward thrusts with your clasped hands.
  9. If the dog stops breathing, perform CPR. Clear the dog's airway and make sure the object has been removed. Have someone drive you to an emergency vet while you perform this maneuver.
This is the correct proportion of dog to tennis ball.  Use this as a guide when you buy your dog's tennis ball.

This is the correct proportion of dog to tennis ball. Use this as a guide when you buy your dog's tennis ball.


Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 06, 2012:

Ah yes - whatever works...our mals are kinda funny - but then malamutes always are~~ Gabby is one of the most "ball crazy" and goofy ones who loves to swim whereas our other 2 can leave water completely and look at balls like what is that for? Tugging might be a cool activity though it's usually not recommended for dogs with malamute temperament though I often wonder if it's the incisors~~~

We wrestle with ours though all the time but they are definitely not the "typical" dogs---Gabby and her tennis ball fetish (and curtain and bedding and.....) totally blows me away - oh well - I can't wait to see what she does once we get "out on the road" with pull training big time in the next few should be interesting to see if she puts her own "spin" on that one ---more hubs to come most likely and I hope they aren't from the ground looking up~~

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on September 06, 2012:


I, too, have a rubber ball for my dog, but she doesn't seem to care much about balls in the first place. She'd much rather grab a rope and tug.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 05, 2012:

Helen M - too funny on the buckets~ They do have their own fetishes, eh?

Hendrika - I agree with the vets truly after seeing my mal destroy a couple....the rubbers balls are awesome!

Kristy - Definitely have to ban something they can't stop going at~ I had a couple of ropes that Griffin was going after the PLASTIC on and trying to eat the pieces and he is kind of out of the puppy chewing phase but he couldn't resist these - in the trash that one went!~ It's good to know there are other dog owners who pay attention and don't take chances~ They just are too precious to me to lose them for something so "stupid" I guess.

Kristy Sayer from Sydney, Australia on September 05, 2012:

We had to ban our older dog from tennis balls because she gets obsessed with them. She will bite at them until her gums bleed and tear apart the "fluff" as your dog did.

HendrikDB on September 05, 2012:

I used to buy tennis balls for my dogs but fortunately I found it too light to throw it far enough for my one dog which is a keen ball chaser. So I switched to these special rubber balls for dogs sold by pet shops. I must admit, these rubber balls last longer. I spoke to a vet, according to him rubber balls does not have any health hazard for dogs.

Helen from New Zealand on September 04, 2012:

Good article. I have personal seen dogs destroy tennis balls. I have been lucky with my broader collie/retriever, at 9 years old still has his originally soft toys. He has never destroyed balls or toys just plastic buckets that he likes to carry when the horses have finished there dinners.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 04, 2012:

Do It For Her - I think that's the deal---if they aren't aggressive chewers...okay probably you'll be fine. But after seeing a couple of the reports on the getting caught in their throat, I'm not super keen on it and thinking bigger is better~~~

Maddie - Thanks for noticing---it is a tough question really - I love giving my dogs stuff that they like but then....I don't want to end up like Oprah losing one of my precious I think only supervised and even then now I'd rather use the big rubber balls~

BJ - How astute of you to notice the difference....Denaya is the kind of malamute who does not "believe" in lowering herself to playing with toys...of any kind. She actually has picked up a ball or two in her lifetime but then carried it around looking completely lost as if to say "what the heck am I supposed to do with THIS?"

I did not mean to exclude her by any means---she is just one serious dog and doesn't ever play with anything--well sometimes she'll run about with the other reindeer--but that's about it! Most of the time she is in a supervisory capacity now and watches her charges with interest--though I do see some eye rolling from time to time and definitely some head shakes.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on September 04, 2012:

Audrey - After reading the dire consequences of dogs playing with tennis balls, I hereby swear not to supply any canines I know with those devilish products.

BTW, you mention two pets: Gabby and Griffin. Didn't you also have a Mal named Denaya? Just wonderin'.

Maddie Ruud from Oakland, CA on September 04, 2012:

You've done a great job of presenting a balanced perspective on the issue, as well as providing very helpful tips for those who do make the informed decision to continue using tennis balls.

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 03, 2012:

I stutter over the word inflatable which means with her huge incisors she could perhaps puncture it? I'll have to check it out though...I have some training "sticks" which are really hard---she actually acts more like a lab than a malamute in that she will chase things and (sometimes) bring them back~~~ but as hard as they are, she can even break them down and eat them! The key with her is just not leaving anything for too long in her mouth---or never leaving her alone with it!

She's also working on converting Griff to bad behavior--last night they destroyed my favorite down pillow---on Bob's watch while I was on the phone and he was pleasantly sleeping--not for long! Griffin looked at me like I don't know how this happened...or she made me do it! I swear Gabby was grinning----I imagine we'll be seeing feathers for quite some time~

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on September 03, 2012:

You can buy them here:

Audrey Kirchner (author) from Washington on September 03, 2012:

Will - that's hilarious---I'm thinking maybe I'll invest in some ATV tires for Gabby~~~ Good lord! Thanks for dropping by.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on September 03, 2012:

Good Hub! My lab's retrieve toy was a boat bumper, for this very reason!

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