Before you belittle your dog’s playthings, consider this: does it not keep him entertained, inspire him to play, enrich training, and all at once, curb problem behaviours and maintain good spirits? Any pet parent can attest to that—much like how a human baby requires toys to learn, a furkid also goes through the same process. Despite the media spotlight on how pet pampering has gone way overboard in recent years, toys are actually an essential part of a dog’s life.

When Rover settles down to play, he’s not only exercising his jaws and cleaning his teeth—he’s getting a mental workout too. Toys can take the edge off a bad day, like a stress ball you squeeze when you’re angry, whereas softer toys can satisfy milder instincts (or provide easy chewing for elderly canines); Frisbees, balls and tugs are great way to share the fun, while squeaky playthings cry out for attack.

Knowing your dog means selecting toys based on his chewing patterns, life stage and breed. But don’t go breezing through the aisles in your pet store just yet; after you know what kind of toys Rover needs (many dogs require more than one type), you’ll need to check that they are safe. But here’s the problem: while toys for children are tested to make sure they do not contain toxic chemicals and coatings, most knick-knacks for pets aren’t, which compounds the problem as our four-legged friends use their mouths to play.

Even though the American Pet Products Association (APPA) does check with its suppliers to ensure that products are tested for lead and other toxins, there are no national standards for allowable levels of these substances in pet toys. So how do we know if what we’re buying from the stores are safe? Thankfully, there are certain companies that develop and test pet toys to ensure that our furry friends get the most fun out of it, without being put at risk. Chemical hazards (which often cause less immediately apparent, but longer term harm) would come from things like heavy metals (like lead) and phthalates (typically added to plastic products to soften them) in toys.

Understanding which company is producing your pet toys and what their practices are will help reduce exposure to these hazards. What's even better is if the  pet toys you are buying are tested to children’s standards, as these chemical hazards are unlikely to be present. Having said that, however, even a toy deemed safe for a toddler may prove deadly for a small dog like a Chihuahua.

To reduce the hazards of choking and digestive problems, the experts tell us to look out for and avoid the following:

  • Stuffed toys with squeakers
  • Sponges and loofah products
  • Toys with small parts
  • Tennis balls
  • Toys that are inappropriately sized for your dog
  • Rope toys

Apart from choking and suffocating, cancer-causing agents and neurological poisons are some other things pet owners ought to keep their eyes on. Do monitor Rover’s playtime and discard any products that show wear and tear on a diligent basis.