Are Your Dog’s Toys Safe?

By  Sheila Pell, The Bark

They make the world go round. They make it bounce, roll and soar. They’re objects that inspire play, enrich training, ease boredom and curb problem behaviors. Toys, according to the experts (and every dog worth his molars), are a must-have.

Despite the constant media comments about how we pamper our pets, toys are no mere luxury. Experts say that dogs need them, and need more than one kind. That doesn’t mean more bells and whistles, just different types. Toys can take the edge off a bad day, like a stress ball you squeeze when you’re mad. Softer toys a dog can “baby” satisfy gentler instincts. Frisbees, balls and tugs are ways to share the fun, while squeaky playthings cry out for attack.

The question is, which toys? With a global pet economy, the options – and problems – keep growing. On the pet aisles, shoppers are greeted with all the persuasive power of an infomercial. Bright, funky objects, packaged to the nines, demand closer inspection but not too close. The readable text is mostly advertising, not information. “The packaging for these products is incredible and totally deceiving,” says Pattie Boden, owner of the Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va. Boden, who is picky about sourcing safe, natural toys to stock her shelves, says that a 25-year career in advertising has made her a skeptic.

Unfortunately for dogs and owners, manufacturing of pet toys relies on the honor system; for less scrupulous companies, it’s trial by error. In some cases, even errors (discovered through consumer complaints) are ignored. Choose carelessly and our dogs may pay the hidden cost. Among the most familiar hazards are choking and stomach obstruction. Pieces as well as particles may be ingested, and since our pups use their mouths to play, toxic materials and coatings also pose a risk. Yet the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate dog toys, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission only regulates pet toys that can be proven to put consumers (people, not dogs) at risk.

What makes a toy special to a dog may escape human logic, but knowing your dog can help you make wiser choices.

From hyper puppyhood to senior moments, knowing your dog also means selecting toys based on his life stage. A dog who’s teething doesn’t play like an old soul whose teeth are worn. A rambunctious adolescent craves different toys than a placid adult dog.

Before buying, use your senses. Strong chemical smells indicate residual chemicals. Brightly dyed fabrics may contain toxic ingredients and leach dye when wet. (Fabric dyes aren’t tested for consumption.) Avoid toys treated with fire retardants or stain guard, as they may contain formaldehyde and other chemicals. Study labels and visit manufacturers’ websites for additional information. Conscientious companies are transparent about their processes.

Safe fun: two words that often collide in a dog’s world, where mysterious edges and flimsy seams can make the most alluring objects. As long as the toy industry is an unsupervised playground, it’s up to loving owners to keep their eyes on the ball and ring and squeaker.

Next: 5 smart dog toy choices

Smart Choices
Here are a few companies that make toys worth a woof.

Go Dog
Realistic plush toys that will thrill most dogs, but aren’t suitable for aggressive chewers. A new proprietary process (Chew Guard technology) has been added to some stuffed products, enabling them to withstand more rigorous play. The toys, made in China, are double-stitched, reinforced and machine washable. Their label, “New Material Only” means the product is not made from reprocessed fabric, vinyl or plastics.

Kong Company

Kong is based in Colorado, and all of its rubber products are made in the US. The original Kong is a treat-holding, nearly indestructible object with a tantalizingly odd bounce. The Kong Flyer, a soft rubber disc, is top-notch Frisbee equipment. The squeaky toys don’t hold up to power squeakers a bummer for dogs who thrill to the squeal but the silenced squeaker remains safely inside the toy. Think durable fun for power chewers (and hope for upgraded squeakers). Their website offers a breed search to help shoppers to determine the right size toy.

Nina Ottosson Zoo Active
These unique wooden puzzles operate on the principle that dogs actually enjoy working for their grub. Power chewers may also discover that brute force isn’t as effective as using noggin and nose. This Swedish company’s interactive games are available in the U.S. from

Planet Dog

A “values-based” Maine company that offers a full spectrum of fetching, nontoxic, recyclable U.S.-made toys. Shop by life stage: Everything a pooch could want is here, from stuffed Alphabet Blocks to Slobber Wicks for seniors. The Orbee-Tuff toys, from the TUG, with its mighty “flip-grip” technology, to spongy pastel-hued baby bones, come in a range of strengths; chew on the website’s “Chew-O-Meter” to determine the right ones for your dog.

West Paw Design

This Montana-based company focuses on environmentally friendly production. Its Zogoflex is a tough yet flexible proprietary material that utilizes 10 percent post-industrial waste. While that green claim may sound as appetizing as eat your greens, the toys are recyclable (if returned to the company). Zogoflex is advertised as nontoxic, FDA-compliant and free of any known sources of lead, cadmium, mercury, latex, natural rubber, phthalates, hormones, Bisphenol A, or asbestos. The dishwasher-safe Tux has an inner lip for hiding treats, adding another layer of fun and challenge.

The Bark is the award-winning magazine of modern dog culture—it speaks to the committed dog enthusiast—and is the indispensable guide to life with dogs, showing readers how to live smartly and rewardingly with their canine companions. Bark is the recognized expert on the social/cultural world of dogs in America, and what they mean to us. Click here for your FREE issue.


Hannah A
Hannah A2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Hannah A
Hannah A2 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Lesa D
Past Member about a year ago

thank you Megan...

Emily J
Emily J1 years ago

Thanks for sharing this article! Keep pressuring the pet companies to sell only safe, nontoxic dog toys! It is shocking that pet toys are not regulated in the same way as human toys so that people could buy something harmful without knowing.

Sarah M.
Sarah M7 years ago

i worry about a glow-in-the-dark care bear that was given to me for my dog. what makes it glow?

KARLOLINA G7 years ago

Stuffed dog toys are a favourite, and they can be good for some dogs, but not all dogs. Some dogs will carry around their stuffed toy and protect it, while other dogs will chew the stuffing out of it. The dogs that chew up the stuffed toy are at risk because they may swallow the stuffing and become very ill.

I also would like to warn pet owners not to purchase pet toys made if China especially, as there will be lead in the toys as well as the dyes used.

Gypsy Willow
Jamie W7 years ago

Awesome, i'll have to look into these brands, i'm always worried about the materials in the toys, i have a dog who is an agressive chewer and i have a lot of trouble keeping toys around for long, he would play or chew nearly 24/7 if he could, but man does he have some nice teeth!

Danielle Herie
Danielle Herie8 years ago

thank you

Colleen Prinssen
Colleen P8 years ago

hey! at least the toys aren't made out of barbaric animal parts! horrah for plastics! plastics for all!
not like horrible, safe for dogs woolie parts, or anything of a byproduct from slaughter.

dogs need deathless toys

Kelley D.
Kelley Denz9 years ago

I love to give my dogs a Kong to play with. I fill it with 100% organic peanut butter and freeze it. It makes for a great chew toy and cools them off at the same time.

You can read my Kong Dog Toys Review if you are interested in other ideas for your Kong.