Safer Dog Toys

I’m going to be just a little preachy today, then I promise I’ll stop for a while. From a conversation that came up on Twitter:

Many soft-plastic dog toys are still made from PVC. You might know PVC as the very stinky “new plastic” smelling plastic of shower curtain liners. In the calculus of material cost/benefit analysis, PVC is getting increasingly skeptical responses, and not just from old hippies. That’s mostly because PVC releases phthalates, depending on exactly how it is manufactured, which can disrupt a variety of your body’s natural processes. It’s a real enough concern that phthalates are widely banned in infant products, even in the slow-to-ban United States.

This is a big problem for your dog, who, like an infant, interacts with objects mostly by putting them in his or her mouth. Unfortunately, there are very few regulations for pet products. Even more unfortunately, the plastics industry thrives on innovation and, consequently, on paranoia about releasing formulas.

Toys that are most likely to be made of PVC are soft, thin plastic toys. Think rubber duckie. If a toy smells strongly of “plastic,” there’s a chance it’s PVC. (Silas spent most of his puppyhood deeply in love with a PVC ball, painted to look like a soccer ball, from PetSmart.) More pragmatically than leeching dangerous substances, this kind of dog toy easily breaks into dangerously swallowable pieces.

Suggesting alternatives is tricky. There’s an element of “the devil you know” in plastics. We all got into a tizzy about BPA a while back, but many “BPA-free” plastics are turning out to have similar problems. Some people have responded with attempts to go plastic free whenever they can, but it’s difficult to go entirely plastic-free with dog toys. Some dogs can’t be trusted with fabric toys, even squeaker- and stuffing-feee models. Also, the fabric industry is fraught with problems of its own. (Stuff like this is why people give up on environmental initiatives.)

So, I’ll offer up a list of plastic-like dog toys that are arguably safer:

While West Paw Designs doesn’t specifically list what material they use, they do claim that it is free of BPA and phthalate. They also list it as FDA compliant, but they don’t define that term. Even better, unlike many plastics, their Zogoflex material can be recycled into new Zogoflex, instead of being downgraded. Their toys are also fun. We have several.

Bionic’s bright orange compound “does not contain any harmful phthalates, hormones, lead, cadmium, mercury,…Bisphenoal A, asbestos or latex.” I can vouch that these are really durable. Silas adores the flimsy-looking Toss-n-tug, and it still looks brand new after many tugs and many tosses.

The good old classic Kong is reportedly made from natural rubber, which may raise other environmental flags but is safe for food products. The Kong product line is vast, though, and only the original toys are natural rubber. The others? Who knows.

Planet Dog/Orbee, is more coy. They claim that their plastic is “non-toxic,” which is an extremely loose term. Like West Paw, the toys can be recycled into similar products, which suggests that they at least don’t contain PVC.

Hard plastic Jolly Balls are made of HDPE (High-density Polyethylene), the same material as your milk jugs. The larger sizes are also too large for most dogs to actively put in their mouths. Their other toys seem to be less clear about the material composition.

This list isn’t exhaustive by any means; they’re just the brands I know and like.

As always, try to avoid buying new toys just because you can. No manufacturing process comes without a cost. You need your dog to have 435 toys; he’s probably happy with the same old one or two all the time.  This is always the hardest part for me, I know.

How about you–are you also a recovering dog shopper? Or are you powerless to resist? Is your dog’s favorite toy made in China from who knows what, like Silas’s beloved rubber hedgehog?

8 thoughts on “Safer Dog Toys

  1. I spent one afternoon dragging my poor hubby to store after store looking for dog toys that were not made in China, and didn’t have squeakers in them. I was discouraged to find that almost everything was made in China. We stick pretty much to West Paw (we probably have a dozen zogoflex toys), but they don’t make a squeakerless stuffy, so we just monitor the dogs very closely with them (Sheba lives to destroy every stuffed toy we get).
    I can’t tell you that we don’t have any toys made in China though, because we do. As with everything, I just try to do the best I can….manufacturers don’t make these things easy!


    1. I’m very lucky to have a couple of local stores that sell all the best USA made toys.

      It’s hard to find toys that have stuffing but don’t have squeakers. Sometimes I find “unstuffed” toys that don’t squeak. Silas has a couple of tiny Kong cloth toys with removable squeakers, which I promptly removed.

      If the squeaker is close to the surface, you can poke it a few times with a sewing needle and it won’t squeak anymore. That’s good if you have a dog who’s being egged on by the squeaking sound to tear up the toy. For dogs who will eat the squeaker (or the stuffing or the exterior fabric, for that matter), you’re right that vigilance is the only choice.


  2. This is Ruby’s favorite toy:
    She loves to get the squirrel out of the stump and the squirrel by itself is her go-to fetching choice. I would like to try the West Paw, but as you point out, we certainly don’t *need* anything more. I keep her more delicate toys locked in her crate, so we have the novelty rotation going on. Since I’ve been trying out a lot of the subscription boxes, there has been an influx of toys of all kinds. Some get pitched or donated right away, but there have been some real winners.

    I also recently discovered CycleDog: Their products are made from recycled bike tubes and they have cute Kong-like treat dispensing toys as well as collars, leashes & poo-bags.


    1. Sorry your comment got sent to moderation. No idea what’s happening there.

      The rubber Hide-A-Squirrel is a new one on me. We had the plush one for a while, and may still have a squirrel or two around. Silas adored his, right up until he got obsessed with pulling the “stump” apart from the inside out. I wonder what material the “rubber” one is made from? I bought the rubber cube you hide a tennis ball in, back when the behaviorist told me to give him a puzzle toy every day, but it’s too easy for Silas.

      I’ve seen the Cycledog collars and leashes in REI. They seem well-made. I toyed with buying Silas one, but he’s sensitive to metals on his neck and they didn’t say exactly what their clasp was made from.

      What you say about the subscription boxes is one of the reasons I haven’t looked harder at finding one we could use. I’m too picky, and I don’t want to “buy” things just to find something else to do with them.


      1. The rubber squirrels seem indestructible. The stump is softer – that kind of gummy, sticky rubber, and Ruby is on her second stump, though she now has two squirrels. The squeaker breaks right away, which is honestly fine with me. It’s hilarious watching her jam her face into the tree stump – it suits her terrier sensibilities.

        PetBox is the one you can choose the items yourself, but I think it’s only a bargain with a coupon code. I just ordered one using ‘INSTA50’ and for $19.50 got two bully sticks, a tennis ball tug, some chia treats for skin and coat I have been wanting to try, and a box of Honest Kitchen Ice Pups. Since the 16-count Ice Pups retail at $13.99 I felt this was a good buy!

        I admit to being a pet product junkie, and I also love getting surprises in the mail. Ruby really gets into it, too, when they arrive. Sometimes I get really neat things that I haven’t seen elsewhere, like that Alite leash with the built-in bag dispenser that is my favorite now. I’ve got Hero Dog Box through August but after that I think we’ll take a break. I have a ridiculous treat stockpile and need to put more donations together. Being more conscious about the retailers, country of manufacture and materials will be a good exercise in self-discipline for me.


  3. Most of Moses’ and Alma’s toys are fabric (stuffed) or rubber – we stick almost exclusively to the Kong brand. Even if they don’t detail what all their toys are made of, at the very least we know they’re NOT made in China, but made in the US. No plastic toys in our house that I can think of. However, if I’m being honest, that’s not necessarily due to the important reasons you note here, but mostly because we buy for quality and longevity.
    And now that I’m thinking about it, we definitely have a few of those Tuffy Toys, that have plastic in them. Their toy descriptions include “industrial grade luggage material” and several “plastic coatings”. Regardless of where it’s made, certainly not something I’d want them ingesting (though, to the toys’ credit, that has yet to happen – they are indeed tough).

    One common toy I get a bit preachy about and that you WON’T find in our house: tennis balls. Normal tennis balls are covered in fibre glass and are terrible for dogs’ teeth. The felt ones that are dog-specific are obviously fine.


    1. Silas does have a tennis ball or two, but we use them rarely and exclusively for fetch. I had always heard that it was the dirt they pick up that was bad for their teeth–the fiberglass thing is good to know.

      Silas’s purple hedgehog toy is made in China, but since then I’ve gotten into better habits. (Including buying fewer toys, and getting rid of the worst cheap plastic.) I believe that everything I posted in this list is made in North America, but I didn’t check the Jolly Balls.

      Silas is at the moderate level on the “able to play with stuffed toys” scale. He thinks every toy is made for fetch and tug, so we’re alright until he pops the seams tugging. I have to buy a lot fewer toys if I stick to things like his Kong Wubba or the Westpaw toys.


  4. Interesting. This is something that I had never considered when thinking of the safety/suitability of toys for my dogs. Thank you for the thought fodder.


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