Your Pet Toys Are Probably Toxic—Here Are 5 Safe Alternatives

Pet toys and accessories are largely unregulated, which can put your furry friend at risk.

July 19, 2017
wool ball
Photograph courtesy of Amazon

Chances are, you spend plenty of time thinking about healthy food for your pet. But healthy toys?

Just like kibble and treats, not all squeakers and chew toys are created equal. Pet accessories are largely unregulated, which means that unless it says otherwise on the label, there’s a chance that there are some unsavory chemicals lurking in your furry friend’s conventional toys. 

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Like what? Plastic and vinyl toys often contain known endocrine disruptors like BPA, PVC, or phthalates, explains Dr. Julie Hansen DVM, Program Chair of the Veterinary Technology program at Argosy University, Twin Cities. Plush toys, on the other hand, are frequently treated with carcinogenic flame retardant chemicals like polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Even scarier? Some latex dog toys and catnip-filled toys imported from China have been shown to contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and chromium, according to tests conducted by ConsumerAffairs.com. And when your pet carries her toys around in her mouth or chews on them, there’s a good chance that she’s ingesting some of the toxic junk that’s inside the toy, Hansen says. 

Related: 6 Things Your Dog's Poop Can Tell You About Its Health

Chemicals aren’t the only thing that you need to think about, though. If your pet has a tendency to chomp through or otherwise destroy his toys—even nontoxic ones—he could be at risk for swallowing broken off pieces or stuffing. That could put him at risk for choking or bowel obstructions, says integrative veterinarian Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH, of Animal Acupuncture in New York. 

That’s just as true for everyday objects that your dog or cat thinks is a toy. Sticks or bones, for instance, can splinter into sharp fragments and pierce your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, Barrack says. And if your pet happens to tear off a piece of those old socks or sneakers, they’ll pose the same choking and bowel obstruction risk as a flimsy toy. (Here are 5 first-aid essentials every pet owner should know.)

Dos and Don’ts for Safer Toys

Despite the potential dangers lurking at the pet store (or in your closet, or your backyard), your pet doesn’t have to live a sad, toy-free existence. Just play by these basic rules:

Look for toys made with safe materials. Seek out certified nontoxic toys that are labeled BPA-, PVC-, or phthalate-free. Look for plush toys that are certified by Oeko-Tex, which screens for harmful substances in fabrics. 

Steer clear of tiny toys. Smaller toys are more likely to get swallowed, which could put your pet at risk for choking, Hansen says.

Be choosy about chew toys. Choose softer chew toys over harder ones, which are less likely to break apart, says Hansen. And don’t automatically assume that natural is better: Chew toys like deer or elk antlers are so hard that they could break your dog’s teeth, Hansen says, and rawhide can pose a choking and blockage risk. When in doubt, seek out toys that carry the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval. Not only are they designed to be chewed—they do double duty to help slow the development of tartar and plaque.  

Don’t let your pet play with things that aren’t toys. Your pet might delight in those old sneakers, dirty tennis balls, or squeaky bubble wrap. But they’re not meant for playtime. 

Always supervise playtime. Even the safest toys aren’t foolproof, so keep an eye on your pet whenever she plays.

Related: 5 Homemade Dog Treats That Are Healthier, Safer, And Cheaper Than Storebought

Still not sure about how to pick the right toy for your pet? Try one of these safe, nontoxic picks:  

treat dispensing pet toy
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
WestPaw Quizl Treat Toy

Made from recycled materials that are BPA- and phthalate-free, these durable, interactive treat dispensers keep your dog stimulated while he works for his favorite snacks.

Buy now: $13.95 at amazon.com 

nontoxic catnip toy
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Tipsy Nip Tickle Pickle

Your cat will go bonkers for this soft toy filled with 100% organic, Vermont-grown catnip—and zero synthetic fillers. And with a name like the Tipsy Nip Tickle Pickle, how can you resist?

Buy now: $12.99 at amazon.com

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nontoxic wool balls for pets
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
Pet Pizazz Wool Dog Balls

Skip the plastic fetch toys in favor of these colorful boiled wool balls. They’re machine-washable—and since they’re soft and lightweight, you can even toss them around inside.

Buy now: $12.95 for 3 at amazon.com

cat feather wand toy
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
The Natural Pet Company Feather Wand Cat Toy

If you’re looking for a catnip free toy for your feline, keep her stimulated with this feather wand made with real, undyed feathers. Just be sure to play with the toy together, since the strings could pose a choking hazard for unsupervised cats.

Buy now: $10.95 at amazon.com 

rope monkey dog toy
Photograph courtesy of Amazon
HuggleHounds Rope Knottie Sock Monkey

Tug of war games are even more fun when your pup’s rope toy is made from simple, durable materials like cotton and hemp. Plus, it’s squeaker free—which makes it less of a choking hazard.

Buy now: $11.99 at amazon.com