6 Dogs Toys to Avoid (and 6 to Try Instead)

Updated: Dec. 14, 2023

It's true: Some of your favorite go-to dog toys aren't good for dogs after all. We'll tell you why and give you some great alternatives.

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Woman playing with a dog
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Dogs love to play, so it makes sense that their owners tend to collect dog toys. According to a survey by online financial marketplace LendEDU, of the $158 your average dog owner shells out per month on their furry friend, 13 percent (or approximately $20) goes toward toys.

Every dollar spent can feel like a gamble. Will your dog like it? And is it really safe for your dog? Read on for six toy categories you would do well to skip, plus six alternatives that are worth the expense.

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Tennis ball
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Toy to Avoid: Tennis Ball

It’s a classic option, but not a super safe one: The American Kennel Club says tennis balls are bad for dogs.

Dogs with strong jaws can easily break the tennis ball, and potentially choke on the rubber that breaks off. On top of that, the felt abrades a dog’s teeth like sandpaper and can wear them down, leading to dental problems like exposed tooth pulp and difficulty chewing. Look for more durable dog toys instead.

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For Fetchers: West Paw Jive Ball With Zogoflex

It’s just what you and your dog look for in a ball — great for tossing and catching on land or water, with or without a ball-thrower.

The West Paw Jive Ball‘s lop-sided shape gives it an unpredictable bounce that keeps dogs guessing. Best of all, it’s extra durable and dog-safe. It’s made from a proprietary blend of Food and Drug Administration-compliant, latex-free plastic that’s dishwasher-safe, too.

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Dog with a big stick
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Toy to Avoid: Sticks

Chewing on real sticks is dangerous for dogs. Wood splinters easily when chewed and the shards can cut into the dog’s mouth, causing bleeding or infection. And if your dog swallows those pieces, they can turn into intestinal blockages. P.S. If your dog is a toy shredder, you’ll like the BarkBox Super Chewer subscription.

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For Stick-Lovers: Benebone Maplestick

Enter the Benebone Maplestick/Bacon Dog Chew Toy. Made with a super-tough nylon and real, natural maple wood, it’s a safer, longer-lasting version of the real thing. The real maple-wood flavor keeps pups occupied for hours, and the Y-shaped ends make it easier to grab and hold.

“One of our dogs has a mouth like a steel trap and will demolish most chews in a few bites, but the Benebone will last!” says one Amazon reviewer. Here are a few tips for staining maple wood.

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Dog with a ripped stuffed toy
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Toy to Avoid: Synthetic Stuffing

The Humane Society recommends reading a toy’s label to spot dangerous fillings, citing nutshells and polystyrene beads as two to avoid.

Keep in mind, however, that even “safe” stuffings aren’t truly digestible and can get stuck in a dog’s teeth or throat. And sure, some dogs can safely pass polyester filling. But should it get stuck internally, it can stop the digestive process, leading to expensive surgery. If left untreated, complete intestinal blockages can result in death.

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For Cuddlers: ZippyPaws Skinny Peltz

Skinny Peltz contain no stuffing so there’s no concern or mess if your dog chews through the fabric. They’re great for dogs of all sizes, whether they prefer fetching or snuggling it.

“My toy poodle puppy loves these. They were recommended by the breeder because they have no stuffing she could choke on,” says one Amazon reviewer. “She loves to play fetch and tug of war with them.”

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Dog playing with a child
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Toy to Avoid: Kids’ Toys

Dogs are exponentially tougher on their toys than children, something the makers of kid toys don’t account for. Not only are they often easy for dogs to dismantle, they contain stuffing, beads or plastic parts that can cut gums or cause blockages if ingested.

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For Chewers: Kong Classic Treat-Dispensing Dog Toy

There’s a reason veterinarians and trainers recommend the Kong Dog Toy. It provides physical and mental stimulation by encouraging healthy play and satisfying instinctual needs, especially for dogs determined to chew.

Stuff the durable shell with any combo of kibble and dog-friendly foods, like peanut butter. Figuring out how to get at every last bit should keep your dog busy for hours, especially if you freeze it first. The Kong is easy to clean, too — just pop it in the dishwasher.

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Dog with a squeaky toy
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Toy to Avoid: Cheap Squeaky Toys

Many dogs instinctively hunt and destroy the source of the squeaking in squeaky toys. That plastic squeaker floats around loosely in many inexpensive toys, creating a real choking hazard if your dog succeeds in its quest.

Monitor your dog when playing with these toys. Stick with toys that tout a durable squeaker, or choose a more durable toy altogether.

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For the Aggressively Curious: Planet Dog Squeak Ball

Planet Dog Squeak Ball‘s patent-pending squeaker is securely molded into the center of the ball, designed to thwart even the most aggressive chewer. It’s made in the U.S. out of a non-toxic and phthalate-free material that’s been infused with a little peppermint oil.

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Dog with a rope
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Toy to Avoid: Rope Toys

If your dog habitual destroys toys, they’ll likely end up swallowing the fallout. And while dogs can pass most foreign objects, rope is different.

If a long strand gets stuck in the stomach with the other half in the intestines, it can cinch the digestive system like a drawstring and cause life-threatening problems. Even if your dog only eats small pieces of rope at a time, the strands can slowly create an obstruction, like hairs collecting in a shower drain.

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For Tuggers: GoughNuts Dog Pull Toy

All but indestructible, GoughNuts are an excellent toy for any dog who loves to tug, especially big, aggressive chewers. Their figure-eight design allows you to grip one ring while your pup bites down on the other, keeping your hands safe from that powerful bite! It comes in a nine-inch and 11-inch sizes to fit all kinds of tuggers.

“I have a 70-pound pitbull and a 14.5 pound Italian Greyhound/MinPin. They both love this thing!” writes one Amazon reviewer. “They are both pretty big on chewing things in half and there isn’t a single mark in this thing after a few months.”

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