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?