We all know that dogs love chasing after tennis balls. Not only are tennis balls inexpensive to buy but they have plenty of bounce for a fun game of “fetch” and are easy to find when lost due to their bright yellow colour. Throwing a tennis ball for your beloved pup is a great way for him to exercise as well as a beautiful bonding experience between pet and owner.
Most dogs play with tennis balls their whole lives without any problems. However, dogs and tennis balls do not always make the perfect love match and owners should know the potential health hazards they can cause to their pet. A few years ago, a Golden Retriever called Gracie, who belonged to Oprah Winfrey, died after choking to death on a plastic ball. Here we look at the risks of tennis balls and how your pup can safely play with his favourite toy.
Dogs love to run after a tennis ball as it is an inherent instinct from their hunting past. When throwing a ball, its unpredictable movements imitate that of the desperate prey their ancestors would chase after and kill. Although today’s domestic dogs no longer have a high predatory drive, they still have a desire to run after, capture and consume their target! When the dog has the ball in its mouth, it shakes it quickly from side to side which is what a wild dog would do to break their prey’s neck and kill it. Playing fetch allows a dog to carry out its natural hunting skills without causing any harm.
Big dogs, because of their large mouths, are particularly at risk when playing with tennis balls. A tennis ball is two halves of rubber moulded and glued together and filled with air, covered in an abrasive fabric. Although they are designed for the wear and tear of a tennis match, they are not unbreakable. Therefore, a dog with large, powerful jaws can easily break a tennis ball in half within minutes, possibly swallowing some of or all of it. As a result, the ball may cause a blockage requiring surgery, which may have fatal consequences.
Alternately, although rare, a dog can swallow the ball accidentally while attempting to catch it in their mouth mid-air. If the ball becomes lodged in the dog’s throat, it is natural for him to try and swallow it. If the ball is stuck, it is extremely dangerous as the airways become blocked causing him to choke and most likely die. Owners should never allow their dog to carry two tennis balls or more in his mouth at one time as this can also lead to choking.
A dog should never chew on a tennis ball. The fabric that surrounds the ball is very abrasive, designed to withstand the hard play from tennis courts and rackets. By constantly chewing a tennis ball your dog risks wearing down the teeth enamel which is known as “blunting” leading to possible dental issues. Dirt and grit also accumulate onto the ball making the fabric coating even more abrasive with a sandpaper-like effect. Even after your dog has released the ball, the glue from the toy remains on the dog’s teeth.
Dogs can be compulsive chewers. Quite often, they chew out of boredom or if they are stressed. Chewing reduces stress and anxiety levels in dogs. If your pup chews a tennis ball and ingests the pieces, it could easily cause blockage as the fuzz on a tennis ball does not break down in the intestines or the stomach. Instead of a tennis ball, give your dog a safe chew toy to play with that won’t cause him harm.
If your dog has swallowed a tennis ball or parts of one, take him to the vet immediately as he is likely to have a blockage. Delaying the action could be fatal for your pet. Ring ahead and let the vet know what has happened so they are prepared for your arrival and can treat your dog straight away.
If your dog has a blockage, he may display any of the following symptoms:
When your dog arrives at the surgery, the vet will carry out a thorough physical examination and take x-rays to locate the position of the ball, before deciding whether to operate or let nature take its cause. If your dog has surgery, hospitalisation is required for a few days to have round-the-clock nursing, administering fluids and giving the necessary medication and antibiotics. Your vet will advise an after-care plan for your dog once he is allowed home. Not only is stomach obstruction surgery painful for your pet it is also extremely expensive.
About twenty years ago, tennis balls consisted of a toxic dye that was harmful to dogs. However, these days, as humans use the balls in sport, regulations are strict, so no dangerous toxins are allowed. Surprisingly enough, some pet toys contain harmful substances as there are no set standards provided by the government. Studies have discovered that many balls made especially for dogs contained traces of lead and other toxic chemicals. Owners should do their research and check the labels before purchasing pet toys to ensure they do not include any hazardous substances.
Your dog can safely play with a tennis ball providing you take the necessary precautions.
Remember, a playful dog is a happy dog!