16 Pet Products Vets Never Buy

That dog or cat toy may look like fun, but it could be hiding trouble for your pet. Here's what the pros say you should avoid.

Happy smiling dog playing with tennis ball on spring fresh grass wearing anti flea and tick collarALEXEI_TM/GETTY IMAGES

Everyone wants their pets to live their best lives possible, but this can be challenging since they can’t tell us what they like and don’t. There’s a lot of information out there about products to buy for your pet, but how trustworthy are these sources?

We asked veterinarians what they would never buy for their pet, and recommendations for what they would buy instead. These pet professionals did not disappoint.

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Laser play
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Laser Pointers

A laser pointer and a rambunctious kitty or pup can provide hours of entertainment … for humans. The animal, on the other hand, is likely to just be really annoyed and possibly overwhelmed, says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian on the Pet Life Today advisory board.

“Chasing a point of light can be frustrating because they are never able to successfully catch their ‘prey,’ ” she says. “If you must use a laser pointer, toss out a pet-safe stuffed animal at the end of the game that your dog or cat can kill.”

What to buy instead: This indestructible stuffed animal with a pet-safe squeaker for maximum fun.

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Dog on Retractable Leash
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Retractable Leashes

If you want to be horrified, just Google “retractable leash injuries.” (Don’t say we didn’t warn you.) Unfortunately, friction burns and cuts are common with this type of leash, injuring pets and humans.

“You actually have very little control over a dog at the end of a retractable dog leash,” Coates says. “So unless your dog responds perfectly to voice commands, opt for a short leash and a trip to the dog park for some off-leash fun.”

What to buy instead: This short bungee leash for extra freedom without the danger.

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Playful kitten
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Balls of Yarn

Cats and balls of yarn are a match made in cute heaven. But allowing your kitty to play with string, yarn, thread, floss, rope or similar items is a major health hazard, Coates says.

“Cats may swallow thread-like toys when playing with them,” she says. “If it becomes looped around the base of the tongue, their intestines can bunch up around the string, which may cut through the intestinal wall.” If your dog loves to play outside, make sure you’re aware of these pet hazards in your yard.

What to buy instead: These felted wool cat toy balls, for a similar feel without the choking hazard.

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Dog Playing
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Cow Hooves

Pet owners looking for an all-natural, non-plastic chew toy may turn to nature’s “chewies,” like animal hooves. Unfortunately, these can cause their own set of problems, says Dr. Bucky Bearden, a veterinarian in Apopka, Florida.

“When it comes to my own pet, I completely avoid treats that are too hard, like hooves, because they can fracture the large carnassial teeth,” he says.

What to buy instead: These wood-based chewies, for a softer chew toy that won’t splinter.

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Dog treats made of Chicken Jerky which is very unhealthy to give to a dog.
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Chicken Jerky

Every pup loves dried, raw meat, but you won’t love the germs that can come with it, Bearden says. Contrary to popular belief, the process of turning meat into jerky doesn’t kill salmonella.

Any pet owner who’s had the extreme displeasure of dealing with that awful intestinal illness, in themselves or their furry friends, knows vomiting and diarrhea is not worth the risk. So unless the packaging specifically says the meat has been heat-treated, avoid it.

What to buy instead: These cooked chicken strips are rated as safe for humans as well as pups.

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Happy Dog Running with Ball Outdoors
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Toys from China

Pet products made in China may be affordable, but they’re manufactured with few safety regulations and without much government oversight, Bearden says. There have been reports of pet items contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins, as well as toys becoming choking hazards.

What to buy instead: These ultra-strong balls, made in America, that your dog will love.

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Dog with Chew Bone
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Giant Dog Bones

Giving your dog or cat a cooked bone is a recipe for cracked teeth and bleeding gums, says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinary health expert with Rover.com.

“These are the bones that you often see in the pet store that are sitting out in a bin or on a shelf and they are very hard,” he says. “Rather, get an appropriately sized raw bone. These can be very helpful in keeping teeth clean and they are able to chew through them and digest them.”

How do you know if a bone is cooked or raw? Raw bones must be kept refrigerated or frozen. So if it’s not cold, skip it, he says.

What to buy instead: Raw bones from your local butcher. Butchers are often willing to give them away or sell them cheaply.

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Labrador eating a treat on the grass
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Pig Ears

Do you love junk food? Well, so does your dog — and pig ears are the junk food of the dog world, Richter says. “This ‘treat’ is super high in fat and calories and yet they have almost no nutritional value,” he says.

Just like you shouldn’t eat a package of Oreos before dinner, you shouldn’t let your dog fill up on pig ears.

What to buy instead: A chicken-based, fully digestible bone.

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French bulldog with rawhide bone on brown pillow indoor.
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Rawhide Bones

Rawhide bones and dog toys have been staples in many households for decades, but Richter says they’re falling out of favor with vets.

“The occasional small piece of rawhide can be fine for dogs, but the large rawhide ‘bones’ and sticks are nothing but empty calories,” he says. Plus, he says, compressed rawhide products are hard and difficult to digest, giving many animals an upset tummy.

What to buy instead: These rawhide-free “bones” made with sweet potatoes.

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Retriver with a ball.
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Tennis Balls

Playing fetch with a bright, fuzzy tennis ball may be one of you and your dog’s favorite pastimes. That’s great, but make sure to take the toy away once the game is over, Richter says.

“Dogs love to chew on a good ball, but the fuzz on tennis balls acts like sandpaper on their teeth over time,” he says. “An exuberant ball chewer can literally rub their teeth down to the gums on a tennis ball.”

What to buy instead: This fur-free silicone ball.

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Vet giving vaccine to a puppy.
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Too Many Vaccines

There’s a sweet spot for vaccinating your animals, and Richter says more is not always better.

“Many pets are over-vaccinated and may suffer health issues because of it,” he says.

“Some vaccines are necessary to prevent disease, but once an animal is protected, there is no need to keep vaccinating them. Pet owners should know that just because their pet is ‘due’ for a vaccine on the calendar doesn’t mean they really need it.”

What to buy instead: These vitamin treats boost your pet’s immune system.

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Happy Dog Licking Ice Cream Cone
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Cat “Cookies” and Pup “Cream”

Cookies, ice cream and treats aren’t great for your health. The pet versions aren’t doing your furry friends any favors, either.

“If there is one single thing that is doing the most harm to the pet population, it is feeding them highly processed foods for a lifetime,” Richter says. “Instead of buying things like biscuits, jerky or canned meats, try treats like fresh vegetables or freeze-dried or dehydrated pieces of meat.”

What to buy instead: These one-ingredient yak milk cheese sticks.

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Guilty dog and a destroyed teddy bear at home
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Stuffed Animals

Think a toy stuffed bear is the perfect gift for your pet? It’s all fun and games until your dog swallows a plastic eye or a chunk of stuffing and needs emergency surgery, says Dr. Rachel Barrack, a vet and founder of Animal Acupuncture.

“Any toy with small parts can be a choking hazard and/or cause intestinal obstruction,” she says. “Do not leave your pet with soft toys unattended if they tend to destroy them and rip them into little pieces.”

What to buy instead: A stuffing-free “stuffed” toy.

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Dog chewing on an antler
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Deer Antlers

Deer antlers and other horns have become popular dog toys in recent years due to their all-natural ingredients, and they usually last a lot longer than most chew toys. But that toughness is exactly the problem, says Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, a vet in the United Kingdom.

“They can cause teeth to fracture, which is very painful and requires a general anesthetic to fix — requiring either removal of the broken tooth altogether or a root canal treatment,” she says. Instead, she recommends regularly brushing your pet’s teeth and giving them softer, digestible chews as a treat.

What to buy instead: These rubber toothbrushes keep your pet’s teeth healthy.

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Obedient dog and long-line training leash on green grass background
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Extra-long Leashes

You may think giving your dog extra room on the leash is the best of both worlds; he gets to run almost free and you’re still technically obeying leash laws and keeping your pup in sight. Bad idea, Woodnutt says.

“Extra long leads inhibit training as they cause confusion,” she says. “Sometimes the lead is clipped on to mean ‘heel’ and other times it is clipped on but the dog is allowed to roam.” Best to use a short leash on all walks ,and head to an off-leash dog park for more freedom to run.

What to buy instead: This soft, double-handled leash lets you adjust the length for maximum control and comfort.

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Happy smiling dog playing with tennis ball on spring fresh grass wearing anti flea and tick collar
Jack Russell Terrier retrieves ball

Dog Balls With a Single Hole

Bouncy balls are popular with dogs and their owners, but the wrong kind can lead to tragic consequences, Woodnutt says. There have been cases where rubber balls with a single hole can stick on the dog’s tongue.

Plus, she says, larger dogs can swallow golf balls and other small bouncy ones that may cause obstructions, requiring expensive surgeries to remove.

What to buy instead: A rope ball or toy that works equally well for playing fetch.

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Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest