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One of the joys of pet ownership is to observe how they play. Dogs and cats benefit from playing with toys that help them release pent-up energy as well as provide them with enrichment and opportunities to bond with their owners who are entertained by their antics. As responsible pet owners we need to be cautious and provide our furry family members with safe toys because many can be lethal or cause serious injuries that require veterinary intervention to save a beloved pet.

Dr. Laura Owens, an associate veterinarian at Airpark Animal Hospital, wanted to share the following message with readers: “I have too many experiences with unsafe toys that required emergency surgery to save pets’ lives such as removing cat ‘jingle’ balls out of numerous dogs because they were swallowed whole as well as catnip mice that were also ingested whole by dogs.” She stresses that people who have cats and dogs need to be aware that dogs will eat anything, even cat toys.

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Dog toys and chews to avoid

BONES. The Preventive Vet website lists the following problems that vets encounter with dogs that chew or eat bones:

· Broken teeth, which can be painful to dogs and predisposes the tooth to infection. This situation requires anesthesia and surgery to fix or remove the tooth.

· Obstructed airway, which is distressing for both the dog and owner because the dog has difficulty breathing. This condition requires quick action to remove the lodged bone. Sometimes removal attempts are unsuccessful and the owner is bitten by their distressed dog while trying to remove the lodged bone at home.

· Digestive irritation, which leads to pain and inflammation of the lining of the lining of the stomach (gastritis) and/or the intestines (enteritis). The dog may refuse to eat and may vomit and produce diarrhea frequently with blood in it.

· Digestive obstruction, which is a blockage of the stomach and/or the intestinal tract that produces abdominal pain, electrolyte imbalances, and dehydration if obstructed long enough, the blood flow to that area of the digestive tract can become compromised and the tissues can die off, resulting in spillage of gut contents into the abdominal cavity (peritonitis) with or without sepsis (decay). Anesthesia and endoscopy and/or surgery is typically required to remove the obstruction.

· Digestive tract perforation. Sharp points on broken bones can poke through the wall of the stomach and/or intestines as they pass through, resulting in peritonitis (described above). This is a very painful and debilitating condition requiring surgery and intensive care.

Veterinary dentists are not in favor of providing dogs with bones because they are harder than a dog’s teeth and advise dog owners to strictly avoid bones (cooked and uncooked), cow hooves, pig ears, hard and thick rawhides, plastic or nylon bones, Frisbees, and large ice cubes, as well as tennis balls because their rough surfaces damage the white tooth enamel that can expose tooth pulp and could lead to serious infection and damage to the dog’s heart.

For safer chew toys, use products approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council that promote dental health. Its website, www.vohc.org/accepted products.htm, provides a comprehensive list of accepted dental care products like dental diets, flat rawhide chews, and edible chew treats.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends the following measures be taken by owners:

· Dog-proof the home by removing string, ribbon, rubber bands, children’s toys, pantyhose, and other items that could be swallowed.

· Buy toys of the appropriate size for your dog because toys that are too small can be easily swallowed or become lodged in a dog’s throat.

· Supervise your dog’s play with squeaky toys because they could be ingested.

· Discard toys when they start to break into pieces or are torn.

· Check labels on stuffed toys to see that they are labeled as safe for children under 3 years of age and that they don’t contain dangerous fillings like nutshells and polystyrene beads. ”Safe” stuffing is not truly digestible and soft toys are not indestructible. Soft toys should be machine washable.

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Safe toys for dogs

· Hard rubber hollow toys like Kongs stuffed with a dog biscuit and canned dog food will keep dogs busy. The dogs in the care at the Humane Society of Carroll County’s Shelter receive these goodies to keep them occupied and provides them with mental enrichment. To make this food-treat toy last longer, store it in a freezer! Low-fat peanut butter is also a yummy Kong stuffer.

· Treat-dispensing toys like the “Buster Cube” will keep a dog busy as he pushes it with his nose and paws to release the treats inside such as his dry kibble. The dog benefits from getting his meal and also receives mental and some physical exercise.

· Puzzle toys for hiding healthy treats can be purchased or even created by clever owners. Treats can be hidden in or under cardboard boxes, or on low safe shelves. The dog has the opportunity to utilize his incredible sense of smell to locate the treats! Give this game a name like “Find the cookies,” or “Go sniff!” When the dog locates the treats, make a big fuss and reward him with a treat!

Cat toy cautions

We all enjoy observing how kittens play with toys. According to the vetstreet.com website, “Toys are healthy for developing kitten minds. Kittens that are deprived of toys may have difficulty learning to play with them as adults.”

With such a large variety of toys on the market designed to stimulate a cat’s intellect and senses, a kitten may prefer an object like a plastic cap he found around the house instead of a purchased expensive toy. The vetstreet.com website warns cat owners that “many items people think of as traditional kitten toys are also the most dangerous. String, ribbon, sewing thread, yarn and rubber bands are potentially deadly if swallowed. These items are easily swallowed because cats have tongues covered with rearward-facing barbs that make it hard for them to spit out string, yarn and similar things. Such long objects, if ingested, tend to travel lengthwise along the intestines. They can cause the intestine to scrunch up accordion-style, even turning in on itself like a sock. This is a life-threatening medical condition that usually requires surgery to correct.”

The Vet Street website recommends that kitten and cat owners take the following precautions with the toys, and objects and actions listed below:

· Fishing pole type toys (flexible stick with a line of string and a toy at the end) be placed out of reach when you are not there to supervise.

· Be careful about toys you give a kitten that might have strings, yarn, ribbons, feathers, or plastic eyes or ornaments on them. Many furry mouse toys may have plastic eyes and noses glued on them and could be chewed and swallowed. If you buy these, pull off the eyes and nose before giving the toy to your cat.

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· With plush toys, avoid fillings such as polystyrene beads, nutshells or beans.

· Don’t leave any remote–controlled battery mice devices where the cat could remove the battery.

· Kittens enjoy playing in paper bags, but be sure the bag is not where someone could step on it no knowing a kitten is inside. Also don’t let your kitten play with plastic bags because they tend to chew and swallow plastic.

· Balls and toys should not be small enough to be inhaled or swallowed. Ping pong or practice golf balls (have holes in them) are a good size and weight for kittens. Place the balls in a captive area like a bathtub for maximum fun or put one in an empty tissue box so the kitten can fish for it.

· Kittens under 6 months of age do not notice catnip so wait until your kitten is older to introduce that

· Your hand is not a toy! It may be enticing to wiggle your fingers to have your kitten lunge for them or engage in a mock fight with your hand against your kitten because this is a bad practice and rough handling encourages the kitten to attack and cause injuries and becomes a safety issue after the kitten’s teeth and claws grow.

Safe cat toys

Vet Street’s Dr. Tony Buffington recommends food puzzle toys for cats. Though some cat owners may resist this suggestion, he points out to his clients that dogs and cats, “are hunters by nature — an activity we deprive our pets of when we keep them confined. We can return this activity to them with food puzzles and, in my experience, most dogs and cats enjoy them when the puzzles are properly chosen and introduced."

Buffington suggests offering the food puzzle at mealtime when the pet is hungry and motivated to learn what it was and offer it when there is no distracting activity in the household. Preparing the food puzzles does not require more work than placing food in a bowl or you can get different kinds and rotate them regularly to stimulate the cat’s interest. Buffington recommends storing the food puzzles in a cool place in an airtight container, but if a perishable food is used, it should be stored in a refrigerator or freezer.

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