Santa Paws Has Come to Town… Did He Bring Safe Toys?

It’s that time of year again—time to shower our pets with new toys for the holiday season. And boy, do we ever. According to a recent study conducted in March of 2019 by The American Pet Products Association, Americans spent over $72 billion on pet-related products and services in 2018. That was up $3 billion from 2017. When broken down, $16 billion was spent on over the counter (OTC) products and supplies, including clothing and toys. And it’s projected to be even more in 2020. With the number of pet owners now working from home, combined with the ease of online shopping, the pet supply, and toy business is booming.

There are many shopping choices for our pets, but it’s important to know which toys, treats, and clothing are safe for them and which type to avoid. This is especially important information for first-time pet owners who may not understand the risks associated with inappropriate items.  Please share this link with your friends through your social media posts and let’s keep everybody’s pets safe this holiday season.


  • Bones and Certain Chews: Resist the temptation to give your dogs bones of any kind. Many well-meaning pet owners don’t understand the potential dangers associated with animal bones and rawhide chews, such as digestive irritation, obstructions, perforations, and dental issues, to mention a few. Many Veterinary Dentists recommend avoiding cow hooves, pig ears, hard or thick rawhides, and plastic or nylon bones. All of which can lead to broken or damaged teeth leading to infections and other serious health issues.
  • Dangerous or Inappropriate Dog Toys:  Know the proper sizing of toys for the dog’s size and breed.  Toys that are too small can be swallowed and become lodged in the throat or cause an obstruction requiring an emergency visit and potential surgery.  A small ball would not be the right choice for a Great Dane, but a large rope toy may be.  However, rope toys can be destroyed and easily become a bowel obstruction, and therefore, a medical emergency.  Small flexible balls may be an excellent option for smaller breed dogs, as long as they don’t chew them up.  The durability of toys is an important consideration. Most dogs and even cats will chew toys to pieces, ingesting bits along the way. Pets should always be supervised when new toys are given, especially those with squeakers or stuffing in them.  Toys with sewn on eyes, buttons, or ribbons should be avoided.  Toys should be discarded when they become damaged, which may leave them no longer safe for the pet.  Puppies will outgrow toys, so the right size now often needs to be replaced as the puppy matures. Soft toys should contain non-toxic filling or fillings like beans, nutshells, or polystyrene beads. They should also be machine washable.  Children’s stuffed toys might seem like a good idea, but it is recommended that you shop in the pet department when shopping for your dogs and cats.
  • Dangerous or Inappropriate Cat Toys: Everyone likes to watch kittens at play, but it’s important to know the dangers of certain “toys”.  While tempting, it’s not advisable to give kittens or cats string, yarn, rubber bands or other items that can be ingested. Because of their unique tongues, cats have a hard time spitting stringy things out. Too many cats are seen in emergency rooms with swallowed needle and thread or tinsel from the Christmas tree wrapped around their tongue.
  • Improper Clothing: Americans spend millions of dollars a year just on outfits for their pets.  Owners must take into account the same issues addressed with toys. Clothes should be safe for your pet.  However, they should be sized and worn correctly, and the pets should be supervised when wearing them.  Some of the issues seen with improper clothing are chafing rashes and sores, circulation constriction with tight elastic sleeves or bands and mobility issues.   Have some fun, but make sure you understand the risk and responsibilities associated with putting clothes on your pets.  Your pets will thank you for that!
  • Remember that your hand is not a toy.  Puppies and kittens should not be allowed to bite or swat at hands.  This only reinforces that behavior and starts some terrible and dangerous habits.


  • For Dogs and Puppies: Appropriately sized Kong®-type toys are a great choice. Many of these can be stuffed with food or treats to keep your pet busy and entertained.  Filling them with peanut butter or squeeze cheese and freezing it, will keep them entertained much longer.  Rope toys and appropriately sized balls or other indestructible items can be used to play tug -o-war or fetch, but pets must never be left unsupervised with rope toys because they can easily be destroyed and swallowed, causing a life-threatening obstruction.  Be careful of sticks that can be chewed and ingested.  Appropriate stuffed toys are popular with many dogs, and many will have a favorite. It’s nice to have a selection of toys to rotate or hide. A found toy is sometimes more exciting than one that is handed to them.
  • Treat or Food-dispensing Toys or Puzzles: These are great for dogs and cats.  It will keep them busy while providing a little exercise and mental stimulation. These can even be used to provide their meals.
  • For Cats and Kittens: Fishing pole type toys are fun and safe when used appropriately.  Please don’t leave your cat to play with pole toys unsupervised.  These typically have feathers or other items that can be dangerous if pulled off and ingested. Ping pong balls, practice golf balls or even wadded up paper balls or plastic bottle caps will keep the felines busy for hours.  Again, supervision is needed for anything that can potentially be chewed up or swallowed.

Please Pet Proof Your Home: Most medical emergencies related to the ingestion of inappropriate toys or other household items can be avoided with precautionary measures. Supervision and diligence will be the key to keeping pets happy and safe in your home.

Sandy Walsh, RVT, CVPM