Are Tennis Balls Safe for Dogs? – American Kennel Club

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If your dog just ate a tennis ball, you are likely worried about your pup. Foreign bodies can cause issues with many dogs, depending on what was eaten and how much. Veterinarian Joanna Woodnutt walks through your next steps, and when to be concerned.

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt Last Updated: April 20, 2021 | 8 min read

Frequently Asked Questions about Tennis Balls for Dogs

We have answered some of the questions you may have on this topic below.

Is it bad for my dog to chew on their tennis ball?

Yes, it is. Besides posing a choking risk, tennis balls also play a part in the wear and tear of your dog’s teeth.

The green fuzz that covers the ball acts as sandpaper as your dog chews on the ball and this can lead to serious dental issues.

Can my dog be allergic to tennis balls?

Yes, they can. Tennis balls are designed to contain some chemicals which can cause burns or allergic reactions.

You want to ensure that your dog does not ingest any of the shredded pieces from a tennis ball if they tear it apart.

Why does my dog like tennis balls so much?

As we have previously mentioned, dogs are naturally playful creatures. As such, it should not come as a surprise that your dog likes to chase a tennis ball around.

Instinctively, the moment they spot the ball, they want to play.

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Frequently Asked Question

Question: What tennis balls are safe for dogs?

Answer: There are many extra duty and regular duty tennis ball which is absolutely safe for doggies. Typically tennis balls are very very safe dogs.

Question: Do dogs like tennis balls?

Answer: Dogs love tennis balls because it’s included in building predatory instincts. Tennis Balls behave and feel compare to the other balls. When chewed it miking it mimic prey.

Question: Why are dogs fond of tennis balls?

Answer: Characteristically, dogs are playful. So, it is not surprising that dogs love to chase a tennis ball.

Tennis balls help dogs to stay active and refreshed. Instinctively, they want to play just after they spot a tennis ball.

Question: Can my dog be allergic to a tennis ball?

Answer: Yes, it can happen but with poor and inferior quality tennis balls.

Poor quality tennis balls use toxic chemicals to manufacture and can create allergies or burns. It is your responsibility to make sure your dog is not swallowing a piece of a tennis ball if the ball gets torn.

Question: What are dog tennis balls made of?

Answer: Non-abrasive felt, extra-thick rubber core, non-toxic dyes are used to manufacture dog tennis balls. A dog’s oral health can be permanently affected if the ball is made of abrasive and toxic materials.

Question: What do you do if your dog eats a tennis ball?

Answer: Your dog can eat a tennis ball anytime if they are not properly trained, and you remain inattentive during a play. Immediately visit a vet for treatment when it happens. Also, supervise your dog before playing. Don’t let your dog chew or catch more than one ball at a time. Make sure your dog will drop the tennis ball instantly if asked.

ABOUT

All of the advice and content on this website is written from my own personal perspective of owning and caring for dogs over the last few years. This website is not intended to replace the professional advice of vets. Please always consult with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog.

Just Like Prey

When you toss a tennis ball, its erratic, unpredictable movements mimic those of panicked prey. The dog will therefore chase the tennis ball, catch it and then he may shake it with a fast side-to-side movement meant to"kill it." 

This side-to-side movement is a nifty neck-breaking behavior meant to kill a small prey animal, explains Jean Donaldson in the book "Oh Behave! Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker." Some dogs even go further on to remove the fuzzy layer of "skin" and break the ball into pieces, "disemboweling" it of its contents, and dissecting it with a satisfied face. 

While all this may sound gory, consider that usually dogs don’t confuse toys such as a tennis ball with live animals or people, explains dog trainer Victoria Stillwell. They know the difference.

Predatory drive is a far cry from aggression. Indeed, the instinct to chase prey objects is greatly different from other forms of aggression, such as aggression triggered by competition for resources or self-protection, explains dog trainer Pat Miller. 

However, just because predatory behavior is instinctive doesn’t mean we should accept its inappropriate manifestations. It's our job as owners to ensure our dog's predatory instinct doesn't get them in trouble and to provide our dogs with appropriate outlets for their predatory behavior rather than suppressing it. One great outlet includes chasing and fetching balls.

Carefully monitor your dog to ensure he doesn't use the tennis ball as a chew toy

My Dog Ate a Tennis Ball, What Should I Do?

It is imperative that you phone your vet immediate
It is imperative that you phone your vet immediately after you find that your canine companion ingested part of or a whole ball.

If your pup ate parts of their favorite tennis ball, there may not be any harm caused. This all depends on what was swallowed. Even still, there are a few steps you’ll want to take. Follow the steps below to ensure Fido has his best chance of having no impact as a result of their chewing habits.

Step #1: Remove The Ball & Any Pieces

Make sure you remove any remaining bits of the ball, or any further balls, well away from your dog. This is to ensure that no other foreign objects get swallowed while you have your back turned! If it is safe to do so, try and get any other bits of material or ball out of their mouth.

Step #2: Figure Out How Much Was Eaten

Try and work out roughly what was eaten and when. This is important, especially depending on the size of your pet. Small dogs that have eaten quite a bit of rubber may be more at risk of obstruction, simply because their intestines are smaller than a larger dog.

Step #3: Call Your Veterinarian

Make contact with your local veterinary clinic straight away for further advice. They will ask about what has happened, any background information you have, and any symptoms of distress that may be showing. Based on this they will be able to provide tailored professional advice for you and your pup.

Step #4: Follow Your Vet’s Instructions

Follow the instructions of the veterinary clinic. They will usually recommend a visit and a check over but the advice may be given over the phone in some circumstances. It is best to take their advice seriously as it will be in the best interests of you and your canine companion.

Dental Wear and Tear

Choking hazards aside, tennis balls pose another risk: dental wear and tear.

That green fuzz might seem soft, but tennis balls are designed to withstand tennis courts and rackets. Dr. Thomas Chamberlain, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist, warns that the fuzz is actually quite abrasive, and accumulated dirt and sand increases the abrasive quality of the ball. As your dog chomps on a tennis ball, the fuzz acts like sandpaper, gradually wearing down her teeth in a process called “blunting.” This can eventually lead to dental problems such as exposed tooth pulp and difficulty chewing.

Cons:

Choking Hazard

This one is a real threat to power chewers as tennis balls are not chew-proof. This means that small pieces can easily break off, get lodged at the back of their throat, and have deadly consequences. Our dogs’ powerful jaws are even capable of compressing tennis balls, and if a ball pops open at the back of their throat, it could potentially cut off their air supply. They may even ingest pieces which could lead to digestive issues and intestinal blockages that ultimately need surgery.

Dental Issues

Dental Issues

The external “fuzz” that our dogs seem to like so much is actually pretty abrasive, almost like sandpaper to your pooch’s teeth. This “blunting” effect is magnified as the ball gets dirtier over time and the more they chew on it, the more it wears down your dog’s enamel making them susceptible to cavities and infections.

They Could Be Toxic

According to an independent lab’s lead content tests, a single tennis ball could contain 335.7 parts of lead per million. That exceeds the amount of lead allowed in children’s toys, so yes, tennis balls could be toxic to our dogs. This is not surprising as most are made in huge factory assembly lines and don’t have to comply with any pet health standards.

What’s the Bottom Line – Can I Give My Dog a Tennis Ball or Not?

Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide whether a tennis ball is right for your pet. So, just think through the issue carefully and try to act in your pet’s best interest. Be sure to run the idea by your vet and get his or her input on the subject too.

Tennis balls certainly improve the quality of life some dogs enjoy, so they shouldn’t be automatically discounted because they present some risks. No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate all of the potential dangers your dog will face. It’s often wise to simply limit the risks presented and pick your battles, so to speak.

If you want to let your dog play with a tennis ball while reducing the risks they present, try to embrace the following practices:

 Only use the tennis ball to play fetch. Don’t just leave a tennis ball lying around the house for your dog to gnaw on all day.

 Never allow your dog to play with a tennis ball without supervision.

 Only play with a tennis ball in enclosed, hazard-free places. Dog parks are usually a good choice, or you may be able to establish a dedicated play zone in your backyard.

 Discard any ball that begins to fall apart. Typically, dogs will pull on a portion of the cover until they free a small flap. Once they do this, the ball’s days are numbered.

You may want to consider purchasing special tennis balls that are specifically made for dogs. Some varieties are even made from extra-durable rubber and non-abrasive felt to help make them safer for your pooch.

As you can see, tennis balls do present a few risks for dogs, but, if you embrace a few common-sense safety practices, you can likely allow your dog to play with one in moderation.

What are your thoughts on the whole tennis ball debate? Do you let your pup play with tennis balls? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Personally, I’ve always been a fan of tennis balls for dogs. My Rottie occasionally likes to chase one at the park, as has just about every other dog I’ve ever owned.

In particular, I had a chocolate lab for a decade and a half who was simply obsessed with her tennis ball. She carried one with her everywhere she’d go, and at least two or three times a day, I’d look down and see her waiting with an impatient expression while staring at the ball she’d placed on my lap without me noticing.

I let her try out several other toys over the years, but she always preferred a good old fashion tennis ball.

She’d occasionally tear one apart, but she had no interest in eating the resulting pieces. Honestly, I don’t know if the felt caused any damage to her teeth, but the vet never mentioned anything, and she never suffered from any serious dental problems.

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