Are Balls Safe for Dogs: What You Need to Know

Posted on Feb 19 2017 - 7:49pm by Susan Bewley

Do you let your dog play with tennis balls & other balls at home? Learn what you need to do at home to protect your dog(s) from one of their favorites toys here!

Are balls dangerous for dogs? Like most dog owners, we have given our dogs balls to play with since they were puppies, with Rylie especially being our ball addict right now. It is just so cute seeing both the girls chase happily after a ball in the yard or down the stairs or hallway, making it a very fun, interactive game in our household. That being said, while fetch is one of the most classic dog games, it doesn’t mean that balls, especially tennis balls, are the safest dog toys out there for our fur kids. After seeing a friend’s family pet nearly die from a ball-related incident, I thought it was time to discuss ball safety and what we can do as dog owners to make sure our pets are as safe as possible playing with one of their favorite toys!

Ball Size: Why It Matters

One of the things many people don’t even consider when it comes to balls is sizing. Sure, it is cute seeing our grown dogs playing with puppy-sized balls, but they can be extremely dangerous! An appropriately sized dog ball should be small enough for your dog to carry but large enough that they can’t completely fit it in their mouth – it should extend beyond their jaws a bit, and be obvious when they have it. For larger breeds like my Alaskan Malamutes, this can be tricky but not impossible. Dogs should be able to run and play with the ball, taking into account tripping or getting too excited. Nearly every toy manufacturer for dogs makes a variety of sizes for balls.

Are Tennis Balls Dangerous for dogs?

In all honesty, I would avoid tennis balls or at least watch your dog very carefully with these balls. Tennis balls are made to last the abuse of…well…tennis. That fuzzy, colorful outside of the ball can be abrasive, and do some damage to a dog’s teeth and mouth, never mind ingesting it. Along with these balls being more likely to be a choking hazard for larger breeds, their design also makes them EXTREMELY dangerous to dogs. Unlike balls that are designed for dogs, dogs are capable of compressing a tennis ball significantly with their powerful jaws. These compressed balls can then easily be swallowed and then pop back up in your dog’s throat, cutting off their air supply. While the simple and obvious answer would be to ban all tennis balls, they are usually the only balls safe for dog ball launchers. For this reason, we carefully watch the girls with the balls, make sure the balls are retrieved immediately, and never left out to be used as chew toys. We were lucky in that regard – even before we knew just HOW bad they could be, our first malamute taught us to keep them away except for play as she preferred to chew holes in them.

Safe Balls for Dogs

Reading all the scary things out there, it is easy to see why some dog owners say no ball – period. Honestly, I think this is overreacting, especially when there are safe balls on the market. Along with size, consider the material used to make the balls themselves. Balls should be made from food-safe plastic, rubber, or Rylie’s favorite – felted wool.

Some of our favorite balls include:

With the right type of balls and precautions, balls can be an excellent way to help your dog get exercise and have fun, with their owners or alone. As dog owners, we just need to be proactive to make sure balls are not dangerous for dogs!

My Dog Swallowed a Ball: Now What?

We all want to say this will never happen to us, but honestly, it can happen to anyone. Recently in one of the malamute dog groups I follow, a beautiful, 8 year old Alaskan Malamute was in emergency surgery for accidentally swallowing a ball. While the couple was enjoying a fun day at the beach, their baby found balls meant for much smaller dogs around the beach. In the excitement to show their owner, she accidentally swallowed the ball, where it was caught in her airway. After emergency CPR and over $10,000 in vet bills from emergency surgery (removing the ball, care, & her heart stopping during the process), they were able to save her life.

While it had a happy ending, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared in case this happens in your own home or during a walk. Like all emergencies, make sure to have your vet in your contacts, as well as an emergency vet if your veterinarian isn’t close. Your vet or a vet technician can help walk you through what to do in case of an emergency to help save your pet’s life on the way to their office. One of the things you may also want to consider is learning CPR for Dogs. You can find more information on this at PETMD. I am also considering taking an online CPR and first aid class online for cats and dogs. I also keep a pet first aid kit always at hand, especially in our SUV since you never know when an emergency can happen. While it may seem crazy, I would rather be prepared in case something horrible does happen!


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Susan Bewley is a professional writer who has been writing content online & in print format for over 10 years. As well, she is an alumni of the University of Louisville with a Masters Degree in Special Education. When not working as an online business consultant or ghost writing, she can be found writing on Budget Earth, on her own novel, or working with various entities in the pet industry.

25 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Michelle S February 20, 2017 at 9:56 am - Reply

    I never knew that it was important to have the correct size for your dog. We don’t have one but may in the near future. I love the picture of the puppy sleeping after the balls wore him out.

  2. Kelly February 20, 2017 at 7:53 pm - Reply

    I have a small dog and he has to really open up his mouth to get a ball in his mouth. Even worse is that he uses his front teeth to pull the fuzz off the ball and then eats the fuzz. I am so glad you discussed this. Thanks for all the ideas.

  3. Sohair February 20, 2017 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    I thought any ball would work.didn’t know size matters when choosing one ty

  4. Judy Thomas February 21, 2017 at 5:25 am - Reply

    This is great info and very important for any dog owner to know, thank you.

  5. Jerry Marquardt February 21, 2017 at 11:38 pm - Reply

    I thank you for the very important information here. I like to keep my pup safe too, so this is most helpful.

  6. Kimberly Flickinger February 22, 2017 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    This is excellent to know for dog owners. Info I did not even know about.

  7. Sarah L February 24, 2017 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    That’s a lot to think about balls for dogs. Thanks for the info.

  8. Joy Venters February 26, 2017 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    I do not have a dog anymore but I had not considered the hazards of choking on a ball. The article mentioned taking online courses of first aid for cats and dogs so that is what I intend to do since I currently have 3 feline guardians.

  9. Maryann D. March 1, 2017 at 3:35 pm - Reply

    This is really good information. My sister just got a puppy and I am sure she would appreciate the info about balls for dogs.

  10. Terry Poage March 3, 2017 at 12:40 pm - Reply

    I have a dog that tears up all Tennis Balls so that doesn’t work. Any stuffed ball we give her she tears those up too. Not a ball playing dog i guess.

  11. Lynne B March 4, 2017 at 1:27 am - Reply

    I’ve never give any thought to the size of balls that dogs play with. But it really makes sense. My senior dog has never liked any kind of toys so I don’t have to worry about her. My sister’s boxer is another story!

  12. Mia March 4, 2017 at 6:37 pm - Reply

    This is really something to think about for keeping our dogs safe.

  13. barrie March 4, 2017 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    We have a lab mix and are careful with balls that we give him. He’s really more a frisbee dog so he only has one large ball.

  14. Amber Ludwig March 5, 2017 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    So important!! Choking can really be so serious for dogs and puppies alike!!

  15. Ron Weinberg March 6, 2017 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Our dogs love to play catch.

  16. Kristi F March 6, 2017 at 11:03 am - Reply

    Definitely important info to be considered. My Rylee loves balls and likes to play with ChuckIt balls.

  17. Deborah D March 8, 2017 at 12:55 am - Reply

    I knew that the size of the ball mattered what I never gave a thought to was a dog ingesting the fuzzy part of the tennis ball. Thanks for bringing this to light.

  18. Calvin F. March 8, 2017 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Same with all pets too, cats especially. Be careful choosing cat toys. Thanks for the post.

  19. Deborah Caudill March 9, 2017 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    I really did not think about all the dangers a simple ball could cause to a dog. I only have cat, a rat and 2 mice right now. However, my son and I are often called on to walk and feed and care for friends and neighbors’ dogs. My son plays fetch with them all. I am certainly going to check on the size and brand of those balls and other smaller chew toys in the neighbors’ yards and will pass this article on to every person for whom we care for their dogs during their absence. Thanks for this potentially lifesaving information.

  20. Terri S March 10, 2017 at 8:09 pm - Reply

    This was a great posting! Very informative…a lot of great information. I’m guilty of the tennis ball thing. I honestly never gave it a thought that the fuzzy yellow outside could damage their teeth.

  21. Lisa M March 10, 2017 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you for including links to the places to find safe balls for our dogs to play with. Having the vet’s phone number in contacts is something I have done. All of this is very important.

  22. Margot C March 22, 2017 at 12:23 am - Reply

    My larger dog never gets near the balls because the small dog is such a bully that he won’t let him have any toys.

  23. Leslie C March 27, 2017 at 9:53 am - Reply

    The thought of anything happening to my puppy terrifies me, I try be a responsible pet owner but the fact is I live on a budget.
    If something happened what would I do, so I am very over-protective & watch over him diligently!

    • Susan Bewley March 27, 2017 at 2:01 pm - Reply

      Same! It is frightening just how many things can go wrong!

  24. Linda Szymoniak May 7, 2017 at 10:43 am - Reply

    It’s funny, but my dogs don’t play with balls. They used to, but since my deaf girl, Ran, passed two years ago, the others just don’t seem to care for the balls. That and they all used to play with the tuggie ropes outside, but without Ran, they aren’t interested. I do worry about what toys they play with. I know with balls, tennis balls are very popular, but I also know they aren’t always safe for dogs. I love all the great dog balls available these days. Maybe one day my pack will be interested in playing with them again.

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