What is the safest ball for your dog?
Sometimes the simple things are the least obvious and caring for dogs is no exception. Recently, I wrote a couple of articles on injury prevention for dogs, one of which is entitled "Why you should never use a retractable leash for your dog" and the other, "Why dogs are at high risk of injuries playing frisbee fetch."
Today, my plan is to continue with this theme and talk about tennis-balls and ball play in general. Many people do not see any difference between tennis balls and other balls, but there are definitely some important differences.
Why you should never use tennis balls for play
Tennis balls. One would not think much about these fuzzy, soft, brightly coloured balls. To an unaware person they may seem perfect for dog play. Many people do not know that tennis ball fibre is highly abrasive. Most dogs that play with tennis balls wear their teeth down by middle age and some have virtually no teeth left when they become seniors.
To prevent this from happening, you can use another type of ball made of food-safe plastic, rubber or felted wool.
What you need to know about rubber balls
They are definitely safer, but there are a few possible problems with rubber balls too. The main challenge is to choose one that is made of food-safe and non-toxic materials. Most dog toys these days are made in China and most people understand that the general safety rating of Chinese products is low. The tainted food scandals of the past only suggest that when it comes to dog toys, the manufacturer has no obligations to make them with more expensive food-safe materials. The big question is, can we trust Chinese-made toys in general? I don't.
Is it okay that most balls obstruct your dog's airway?
There is another important fact that I would like you to know. Carrying a ball, especially when exercising, can drastically reduce their cooling capacity because dogs do not sweat and have a rather primitive air cooling system. If your dog is a ball player, it is crucial to choose a ball that doesn't obstruct their airway.
There are not many balls with holes for dogs on the market. There may be one or two companies making them out of rubber, but they are not food-safe certified. My search for the right ball for Skai led me to baby toys, especially O'Ball. This food-safe and baby-safe ball is all holes. The plastic is sturdy and it will allow your dog to breathe freely when running and carrying a ball.
The only challenge I see is if your dog is a toy ripper. Skai has never destroyed a single O'Ball, but a few intense canine visitors have. Never let your dog play with O'Ball without your direct supervision as swallowing a piece could cause a serious problem.
If your dog swallows an indigestive object, here is a blog to read.
TMJ in dogs?
The last thing I would like to mention is that I see dogs that carry and retrieve balls having tight and inflamed temporal-mandibular muscles—the jaw. The larger the ball is in proportion to your dog's mouth, the more carrying a ball repeatedly can cause chronic muscle inflammation.
It is well known that inflammation and muscle tightness reduces the energy flow to a particular area, which may cause other problems. Interestingly, I have seen a higher than average number of oral tumours in dogs that retrieve balls. While I am not completely certain if there is any correlation, it would make sense. There are two potentially carcinogenic factors when it comes to balls: the use of non-food-safe toxic plastic and fillers and energy congestion due to tight muscles. While this is not common knowledge in conventional medicine, holistic and, especially, Chinese medicine acknowledges energy flow restriction as one of the contributing factors in cancer.
Should you stop playing ball with your dog?
Of course not! Playing is one of the key ingredients of longevity. Be mindful, do not overdo play, and stay tuned for another article - how to pace your dog's ball chasing to prevent health problems and injuries.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM