What are the pitfalls in choosing a toy for my dog?


In the United States the average household with a dog spends $109 per year on toys and accessories. With $48 million households owning dogs in the US that’s over $5 BILLION dollars per year!

Ask any veterinarian about “foreign body” or “obstructions” of the intestine that they have seen, and they’ll launch into the most amazing (and disgusting) tales of things they have removed, and even sadder, tales of removals done too late to save the dog. The average foreign body removal

According to Quote Purple, a site devoted to gathering insurance claim information, on average, removing a foreign object from a dog can cost anywhere between $1,600 to over $10,000 with surgery. Even without surgery, removing a foreign object can still cost owners between $300 to $1,200. While many of these things are related to things they got into, many are from toys.

What is the best toy size?

  • If it can fit through a paper towel tube it is too small for your small dog (up to 30#)
  • If it can fit through a jelly jar opening it is too small for you big dog (think bigger than a tennis ball is good)
  • And remember that if you have cats, your dog doesn’t know that the tiny little cat toys are not for them.

What is the best toy style?

No toy should be harder than something you can dent with your fingernail. If you cannot, it potentially can break teeth. Red flags can be “durable,” “for heavy chewers”. Not all toys labelled with these are bad, but use the fingernail rule.

  • Stuffie pitfall #1 – plush toys are a favorite at our house, but KNOW YOUR DOG. If you dog is a shredder, then plush toys need supervision when they are used. Big globs in pillow stuffing can clog the intestines too.
  • Stuffie pitfall #2 – many toys (particularly cheap toys from foreign countries) have all kinds of different “junk” material inside. Feel it all over – if you feel granules or uneven consistency of contents. Skip it.
  • Squeakers – dogs love squeakers, it appeals to their prey drive. If you have ever watched a dog kill a squeaker, you know how much satisfaction they get by squeaking that sucker until it’s dead! Now ask an ER vet how they feel about squeakers…and how many they have removed from very sick dogs. Think of a squeaker toy as a toy with a vet visit inside. KNOW YOUR DOG – if she is a toy destroyer, this is a supervision only toy!
  • Rope toys – If the weave of the rope is remotely loose, take a pass.
  • “Dental” toys – unless it is approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council, it’s not a dental toy, it’s just a toy. Make sure it passes the fingernail test.

What purpose do you want the toy to serve?

Active toys:

These are toys for playing with a human or other dog.

  • Wubba
  • Chuck it
  • Please remember that tennis balls scratch the enamel of your dog’s teeth, so use sparingly, if at all!

Brain toys/time toys:

Giving you time to get something done while the dog manages the toy. It should be something that does not have parts to remove and swallow and durable enough to not be destroyed. This means, your dog needs a trial run with every toy before she is left alone with it.

  • Food cube
  • Orbee
  • Frozen Kong with low cal fruit, banana, oats inside
  • Brain games to purchase
  • Brain games to DIY



“My cat doesn’t like to play or exercise…..Why don’t cats play with toys like dogs?”

In the United States the average household with a dog spends $109 per year on toys and accessories.   For cats it’s $89 per household and $31 million for a total of $3 billion (yes, with a B) dollars.  But so many times I hear from my clients “I try to play with him but gets bored so easily!”

Let’s break that down a bit.  

How does prey drive affect how a cat plays?

Let’s think about how a cat in the wild catches food.  They lie in wait.  They watch.  They creep.  They have one long fight to kill the prey and then they rest.  They likely won’t even eat the prey at the time, but drag it home to the family.  So now, let’s translate that to playing – they watch a moving thing (or bat it to make it move), they watch, they wait, they wiggle,  they pounce.  GOT IT!  Maybe he’ll do it once or twice but then he’s done.   No, they are not bored, they are not programmed for long play sessions – which means we need to be ready to engage for short spurts multiple times.  Toys that wriggle on their own can encourage longer periods of play like:

Why do cats scratch up my furniture?

Scratching is also marking behavior and less about sharpening their claws.  Cats play on their scratching surfaces when they feel they “own” them.  Cats have scent glands in their feet.  Have you ever seen their little sweaty prints on a glass table?  They are leaving pheromones behind.    So that is why they are scratching your chair instead of that *thing* you brought home from the store – because it SMELLS like you and they want to mark you as THEIRS.  (Also the reason that making biscuits on your lap is a huge compliment.)

So I’m just supposed to let him tear up my furniture?

No, but you do need to realize that they need to have something to scratch and mark up that is front a center in a room where you spend the most time.  Cat scratchers should look USED!  If you’re worried about company seeing it, then put it away when company comes.  That shredded mess is just the way they like it!

Cats also have surface preferences that vary between cats – some like vertical surfaces and others like horizontal surfaces.  Some like cardboard, some like carpet, some like wood so offer them all until you know what your kitty likes and then look for variety in that substrate.    It doesn’t have to be fancy.  Here are some options to start while you find out what your kitty likes.

Make the right scratching place desirable and the wrong scratching place undesirable

The places that you want to discourage, you can use tin foil or double sided sticky tape to make it a surface they don’t like.    Put cat nip, Feliway (cat pheromones) or their food near what you want to scratch.

Hiding places are essential to cat health and weight management

How can giving them a place to be still, also be helpful for exercise!?  Perching is a comfort for cats.  The more elevated hiding and sleeping places they have the better.  Particularly if they are low in your house hierarchy.  The cat under the bed is not in charge, he is hiding!   The cat in the tube at the top of the cat tree is content, surveying his kingdom and able to rest comfortably.  

But my cat sleeps all the time! 

Indeed, even wild cats like lions, spend about 18 hours a day sleeping and 3 hours grooming.  This is healthy cat behavior.  Content housecats should do this too.  But if something in the household interrupts that, we see different forms of rest.  “Loaf” resting – all 4 feet tucked under them – is not true resting.  This is dozing while watching the surroundings.   Lying in the middle of the bed sprawled out and sacked out is resting.

Some DIY ideas:

Wand toy:

Cardboard cat scratcher:

Cardboard tree stump:



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Designed for the most demanding use, the Chuckit!® Ultra Ball® is not your dog’s ordinary ball. Simply put, this is the best ball for the game of fetch. Developed to have high bounce, high buoyancy, high visibility and high durability. The Chuckit! Ultra Ball promises to outplay the ordinary. Can be used in the water and is designed specifically for the game of fetch. Features an extra-thick rubber core and quality material that floats. The bright color gives increased visibility and helps to prevent the ball from getting lost. Compatible with Chuckit! Launchers. Available in Small, Medium, Large, X-large and XX-large in a one or two-pack. Product Note: For supervised play only. Know your dog and choose the appropriate size and type of toy to prevent choking or other harm. Inspect this toy regularly; if the toy is damaged or if parts become separated, remove toy and parts as injury may result. Not a child’s toy.
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Baskerville Muzzles provide you with reassurance in a wide variety of situations – and for those around you, seeing a muzzled dog shows responsible pet parenting.

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If your pooch is an extrovert who gets a little too excited on walks, take control of the leash with the PetSafe® Gentle Leader® Headcollar. Created by a veterinary behaviorist over 30 years ago, this headcollar immediately, gently and safely helps you control unwanted leash behaviors like pulling, lunging, barking and jumping. A comfortable neoprene padded nose loop and collar puts pressure on the back of the neck instead of your dog’s throat, which prevents choking and coughing. Easily fit the headcollar on your furry friend in just a few minutes using the adjustable nose loop and neck strap with quick-snap. Our perfect-fit guarantee ensures the headcollar fits petite pups, giant pooches and all canine sizes in between. And, if your dog decides to turn the headcollar into a chew toy, we have a 1-year chew damage replacement policy for a minimal fee.
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A lack of physical activity can lead to weight gain, poor health and even aggression. Toys that mimic the thrill of the hunt encourage even inactive cats to chase, pounce and leap, transforming playtime into exercise time. Whisper quiet electronic motion toy spins and rolls with erratic starts and stops, whirling felt leaves and a fluffy tuft.

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Scratch Tunnel with Corrugate offers a variety of play features in a compact, budget-conscious design. Cats love the angled scratch surface and the open tunnel design with toy is the perfect spot for peek-a-boo games, plus doubles as a cozy hide-out to curl up and nap.
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The KONG Wubba™ is a fun, interactive tug and toss toy that is great for interactive or solo play. It’s long floppy tails are ideal for shaking and tugging instincts as well as games of fetch. A durable reinforced nylon exterior combines with unique ball shapes for play sessions that last longer. Dogs love to squeak the Wubba™ and add to the fun by shaking the flapping tails back and forth making every game different from the next.
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KONG Classic Flyer is made for fetching. It is made of durable KONG Classic rubber which allows for a forgiving catch, plus the material delivers a dynamic rebound just in case your dog misses the initial toss. Let your dog’s love of fetch take flight with a safer disc that delivers tons of healthy activity

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The multiple award-winning Orbee-Tuff® Snoop challenges the brain in fun and stimulating ways. Snoop is translucent and squishy with a deep crevice that conceals the treasure. Filled with treats, dogs will pounce, nudge, nose, and nibble to release the hidden reward. This interactive puzzle toy offers hours of long-lasting, brain-stimulating entertainment for dogs of any size. For extra credit, insert any 2.5″ Orbee-Tuff toy (also stuffed with treats) for a double puzzle.
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Slow your fast-eating dog down with the JW® Skid Stop® Slow Feed Bowl. Rapid eating may cause…bloat, discomfort, and other digestive problems. The unique design of the JW Skid Stop Slow Feed Bowl features large interior indentations which prevent your dog from eating too quickly. Rubbery base keeps the bowl in place for your beloved pup. Pet parents love this dishwasher-safe, heavy-duty plastic that resists rust and bacteria.
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Made of tough, durable plastic, the Buster Food Cube provides valuable mental stimulation and exercise. Your dog is rewarded when treats fall out … and you can vary how easily they are released with a simple twist.

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Why do dogs feel like eating has to be a race? We have no idea, but we solved the problem anyway. Featuring meal-lengthening ridges and mazes, Fun Feeders™ keep pups engaged for up to 10x longer at chow time, which improves digestion while helping furry friends eat at a fun, healthy pace. Available in 5 unique colors and designs, the Fun Feeder™ also features a slip-resistant base to prevent sliding and food spillage. Fun Feeders™ are top rack dishwasher safe, BPA, PVC & phthalate free, and available in tiny (3/4 cup), mini (2 cups), and regular (4 cups) sizes. Go beyond the bowl.

About Healing Arts Animal Care

Healing Arts Animal Care in Beaverton, Oregon provides veterinary acupuncture, pet rehabilitation therapy, physical therapy and athletic conditioning and Animal Massage Therapy for the dogs and cats of the Portland, Oregon Metro Area including Hillsboro, Lake Oswego, and Tualatin. We strive to create a team among you, your pet, your veterinarian and ourselves to create a whole package of care for your pet including wheelchairs for dogs. Pets come through our door knowing that we’re going to have fun here and this isn’t “another trip to the vet.” Through manual therapies, acupuncture, laser, ultrasound, underwater treadmill and creating a tailored individual home exercises, we strive to bring your injured pet back to speed, keep your elderly pet as an active member of the family, return your obese pet back to a functional friend and keep your athletic pet at the peak of his performance.