Playing with our pets is one of the joys of ownership. It’s a bonding experience that is fun for both parties, provides pets with exercise, and is a great way to take a break from the stresses of life and from the computer screen. There are some safety concerns to be aware of when it comes to pet play, however.
Take, for example, the laser pointer. The movement of the little dot stimulates the prey drive in dogs and cats, causing them to chase and pounce, much to our amusement. As long as the light does not get shined directly (or indirectly, say off a mirror) into their eyes, no physical harm comes from these toys. The damage they can do is psychological. Chasing and pouncing behaviors are borne of the hunting instinct; your pet is actively hunting the little dot and is expecting to ultimately catch his prey. Light, however, cannot be caught, which can eventually drive your pet crazy. The anxiety produced by never achieving their goal can manifest itself in restless behavior, excessive grooming, obsessive searching, and other ways.
There is a way to prevent this stress and to continue laser pointer play- give them a reward. Little treats scattered around the house can be exciting and satisfying to find when the laser lands on them. Likewise, a toy that can be bitten and shaken or kicked also provides a satisfying end to the “hunt.” Just be sure to end your laser pointer session with a rewarding and tangible experience and your pet should continue to be happy. If you observe signs of stress even after using this technique, do stop using the pointer.
There is another common toy that, while providing many hours of entertainment for man and his best friend alike, has the potential to cause disaster: The tennis ball. These fluorescent orbs are undoubtedly terrific for playing games of fetch- they can be hurled great distances, continue to bounce along after they’ve hit the ground, and there are even throwing aids designed to add distance and protect you from the slimy coating that your dog adds to the ball. The problem with tennis balls is not so much the fetching, but the chewing.
Tennis balls are compressible, especially when in the jaws of a large, powerful dog. If a squeezed down ball slips into the back of the dog’s throat, it pops back to its original size, which can obstruct the trachea and cause suffocation. Many dogs are also able to cut into the ball with their teeth, chew off little bits, and swallow them. The material that these balls are made from, when broken off in such a manner, is sharp enough to lacerate the digestive tract of a dog, causing an emergency veterinary situation. Even with immediate care, some dogs don’t survive such a trauma. The other danger is tooth wear. The fuzz that covers the balls has an abrasive quality and over time can wear down a dog’s teeth. Couple that fuzz with the little pebbles that get stuck to it during a fetch session and you’ve basically got a toy covered in sand paper. The solution? Supervision. If your dog is chewing on the tennis ball, trade it for a solid ball, large enough that your dog can’t swallow, manufactured to be treated roughly.
Stuffed toys can be fun to carry, toss, and snuggle with for many pets. If your buddy is gentle with them, these are usually okay, so long as they don’t have any loose pieces that can come off and be swallowed. Toys labeled as “safe for children under 3” have been tested by a third party to be free of such adornments and have the added bonus of being held to rigorous standards regarding the materials they are constructed with. This does not mean that they can’t be torn open by an animal (cats and dogs can be quite strong, plus they have the teeth and claws to augment their strength). Once torn open, the stuffing is fair game for being snacked upon and can cause choking or intestinal blockage. Again, supervision is the key. If your pet is a toy shredder or stuffing eater, opt for unstuffed cloth toys or ditch the soft things all together.
You don’t have to be a “paranoid pet parent” to ensure the safety of your best friend- just be alert and prudent. If a particular toy or game is of concern, substitute it for something else or talk with your veterinarian. It doesn’t hurt to occasionally check the internet for recalled items, either. Be safe and enjoy some quality time with your pet!