Not all dog toys are created equal. In fact, some toys for dogs can actually be dangerous for them to play with and chew on. It's our responsibility as dog owners to provide our pets with safe, healthy chews to aid in dental health, jaw strength and to satisfy their natural instinct to chew.
As with the other decisions you make for your dog, do plenty of research and consult with professionals and other dog owners when choosing appropriate dog toys. What’s right for your neighbor’s dog isn’t necessarily going to be for your dog. Vets are the best people to ask about this, but which dog toys do veterinarians recommend most often?
“They are going to have a toy preference the same way that children have toy preferences. Once you determine their favorites, you can adjust your selection and your budget accordingly for the toys that entertain your pet.” – Dr. Mark Stickney, DVM (source)
You can always ask your vet for specific recommendations, or visit any number of forums online to ask others with similar dogs which toys they prefer. It'll be a process of trial and error, but as long as you follow these basic guidelines, you should be able to avoid anything disastrous on your quest to find the perfect dog toys for your pet companion.
READ ALSO: 5 Best Dog Toys Made in America
Which Dog Toys Do Veterinarians Recommend?
Dog Toys to AVOID
As with dog foods and treats, it is sometimes easiest to talk about what is recommended by starting off with what is not recommended and what you should avoid altogether.
Knowing what's not safe or healthy for your dog when shopping for dog toys can help you better understand why the alternatives are so highly favored and what to look for. It can also help you avoid unknowingly putting your dog in potentially dangerous situations.
“No pet toy is indestructible. Some pets are much more destructive. In fact, the destruction is much of the fun for most dogs and some cats. It’s a little bit of buyer beware.” – Dr. Katherine Miller, PhD (source)
There are several hard rules to follow when remembering which dog toys to avoid getting for your dog, all of these often recommended by many veterinarians.
1. A dog toy must be soft enough to indent it with your thumbnail
Dog toys, specifically bones, which are harder than this risk breaking your dog’s teeth.
Vets oftentimes see the giant premolar as the main dental casualty in the dog-on-bone battle. This tooth is full of nerves, costly to repair, and greatly missed by dogs who must have it removed.
2. Dog toys must not be able to be torn apart
Your dog should not be able to disembowel, shred, or ingest bits of his doggy toy.
Many inappropriate puppy toys contain squeakers, fake eyeballs and other small bits which can easily cause choking or intestinal obstruction.
3. The dog toy must be bigger than the dog’s mouth
One of the first things to pay attention to is the size of dog toys. If a toy can comfortably fit inside the dog’s mouth, it instantly becomes a choking hazard.
This is especially true for dogs playing or running around with toys in their mouths. You should also pay attention to this when looking for the best puppy toys.
4. Avoid anything which could contain Salmonella
When it comes to dog chew toys, a new level of risk opens up. Studies have also shown that certain unsafe dog toys (usually Chinese) expose dogs to many harmful substances.
This is a highly debated territory, but it is better to err on the side of caution. For example, dog chews containing rawhide can possibly contain Salmonella or E. coli.
Besides that, they can cause digestion issues in some dogs. For these reasons, they are best avoided. Pig ears, cow knuckles and the like are best avoided, for the same reasons. Bully sticks for dogs are normally the best alternative if you're looking for a safe chew.
“Be careful with compressed chews. Edible treats such as rawhide chews can help with dental health. But some dogs, especially aggressive chewers, consume them too quickly or may swallow pieces whole.” – Dr. Amy Flowers, DVM (source)
5. Avoid rope toys for dogs
Another option which is not favored among medical professionals are rope dog toys.
Why? Because they can easily be torn apart by motivated dogs. When they wind up in the stomach and intestinal tract, surgery oftentimes follows. The risk of surgery or even death is simply not worth the small benefit of giving your dog amusement for a few hours.
Vet RECOMMENDED Dog Toys
1. Rawhide alternatives
As stated, dog rawhide chews are generally discouraged by vets for many reasons.
But, if you and your dog are both fans of them, there are plenty of good alternatives to rawhide chews. One of the most popular and best alternatives are bully sticks for dogs. They are decontaminated and contain additional plaque fighting ingredients.
2. Natural antler chews
Though processed, commercial bones for dogs are generally discouraged by vets.
A good option all-around for dogs who are NOT aggressive chewers is antler chews. Most antler chews for dogs are made from naturally shed deer antlers, so they are cruelty-free and environmentally friendly, and are one of the most popular chews for dogs.
They are also much harder than processed bones, so you can feel confident that small pieces won’t break off and cause injury. They are long-lasting, and are excellent for dogs who have severe and numerous allergies to other materials.
KONG has a proven track record of the best dog toys that are excellent long-term options.
Most KONG dog toys are tough, so they stand up to dogs with strong jaws, particularly these five best KONG toys. They are made to be stuffed with treats, wet food, and peanut butter. This means KONG toys can effectively keep your dog busy for hours, day after day.
4. Nylabone dog toys
Nylabone dog toys are just like real bones for dogs, but not so hard that they stand to break your dog’s teeth. They're durable and do not tend to break off into shards.
Nylabone dog chews are specifically made for pups who chew through most other toys. If your dog does manage to crack pieces off of a Nylabone though, you should take it away.
5. Greenies dog treats
Greenies are one of the best dental dog treats but they are so durable that they double up as dog toys, keeping pets occupied for long periods of time while cleaning their teeth.
Greenies dog treats were once frowned upon by the veterinary community for being known to cause intestinal obstructions. However, the company underwent reformulation of their products and are now much safer and easier for dogs to digest.
6. Puzzle toys for dogs
Puzzle dog toys, like the ones created by Nina Ottosson whom we've interviewed before, can keep dogs occupied for hours and provide them with enough mental stimulation to get tired out.
Check out the our review of Nina Ottoson's puzzle dog toys to see how they work.
By supplying your pet with puzzle toys, you can ensure that he won’t get bored and will refrain from participating in the usual destructive behaviors oftentimes exhibited by bored, under-stimulated dogs. Mental stimulation is extremely important for dogs.
READ NEXT: 15 Best Cheap Chew Toys for Dogs Under $10