By Dr. Jeannie Thomason


Dog Toys, they come in all colors, sized and textures, they squeak, they squish, they bounce, you can stuff them with treats or let your dog tear the stuffing out of them. Your dog’s chew on them, shake them, suck on them, and love tearing them to pieces (literally).

Sounds like fun right? However, did you know there is really no totally SAFE dog toy? Some toys if ingested even in small amounts can cause cancer and liver damage!

Safe Toys For Dog?  Really?

Vinyl and plastic dog toys contain a chemical compound that has been under investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) due to possible cancer risks to humans. The chemical in question is DINP (di-isononyl phthalate), used to make hard PVC plastic soft and pliable. In 1998 Health Canada issued an advisory warning about the dangers of mouthing soft plastic toys by small children, and some countries, such as Sweden, Germany, and Italy, have already phased out DINP for use in children’s toys. But, for some reason no one is talking about the effects DINP may have on our dog’s health.

Scientific research has shown that DINP can be toxic to lab animals, causing liver and kidney damage and at higher levels of exposure, increased cancer incidence. These findings prompted even further review of exposures to children due to mouthing soft plastic toys. These studies focused on small children who generally only mouth toys for brief periods during a small fraction of their lifespan. Dogs, in contrast, may chew and ingest soft vinyl toys for hours at a time throughout their entire lives.

According to, “almost all soft plastic toys contain PVC,” so avoid these types of toys if you’re concerned about the health risks mentioned above. Natural rubber or latex soft toys provide a non-toxic and environmentally friendly alternative.

Lead in Dog Toys
Questions about the safety of pet toys continue to haunt dog owner – Nancy Rogers. She has been trying to get answers since 2007, when she hired a laboratory to test the lead content in 24 of her Shelties’ toys. The tests revealed that one of her dogs’ tennis balls contained 335.7 parts per million (ppm) of lead, an amount that, at the time, fell far below the levels allowed in children’s toys. Today, however, that amount exceeds the 300 ppm federal standard for lead in children’s toys.

After they started recalling children’s toys made in China due to the levels of lead in them, hired a lab to test cat and dog toys from WalMart, and other agencies and private people did the same with toys from Petsmart, Petco, the dollar stores, etc. They found that many of the dog and cat toys made in China included lead, chromium, and cadmium – some in very high dosages.

No one is sure just what prolonged exposure to these can do to dogs, but the short-term symptoms are loss of appetite, diarrhea, and aggressive behavior.

Recent tests of hundreds of pet toys, tennis balls, beds, collars and leashes reveal that many contain what researchers call “alarming levels” of lead and other harmful chemicals. The tests were run in September 2009 by the Michigan-based Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental organization that analyzes toxins in children’s toys and other consumer goods; results are posted on the Ecology Center’s research-based website, While the site explains that the project’s screening technology “cannot identify the presence and concentration of every chemical of concern” (Bisphenol A, for example), some key findings are worth noting:

• From the more than 400 pet products tested, 45 percent had detectable levels of one or more hazardous toxins, including arsenic, chlorine and bromine. Studies have linked those chemicals to reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, liver toxicity and cancer.
• Of the tennis balls tested, 48 percent contained detectable levels of lead. Researchers discovered that tennis balls made specifically for pets were more likely to contain lead than “sports” tennis balls. The lettering on one “pet” tennis ball, for example, contained 2,696 ppm of lead and 262 ppm of arsenic, a known human carcinogen. None of the “sports” tennis balls tested contained any lead.
• While one-quarter of all the products had detectable levels of lead, 7 percent of all pet products had lead levels higher than the 300 ppm allowed in children’s toys. Nearly half of the pet collars tested had detectable levels of lead; 27 percent had lead levels that exceeded 300 ppm.

Jeff Gearhart, research director at the Ecology Center stated “Pets are involuntary canaries in the coal mine in terms of chemical exposure. Pets, like children, have higher exposure to chemical hazards, and our data show that pet products are far more likely to have hazardous chemicals than children’s toys.”
Thankfully, not all the dog toys tested, contained harmful chemicals. Researchers discovered more than a dozen “chemical-free” toys—including the Air Kong Squeaker, the Hartz Flexa-Foam Round About Elephant and the Nylabone Double Action Chew.

Chew Toys
Any dog owner knows how much our dogs love to gnaw and chew on things. This is a natural dog instinct. Our house wolves however, tend to chew on not so natural or nutritious items such as our slippers, carpet, furniture, walls, etc. To prevent the ultimate destruction of our homes, we dog owners run out and buy “chew toys” for the dogs. (A large percentage of what the average new pet owner buys is made of rawhide).

WHAT IS RAWHIDE? Rawhide is literally the outside of a cow – the skin. It provides dogs with a satisfying chewing experience and it’s cheap and easy to find. So why is it so dangerous?

These well-liked dog treats are purchased in large numbers, by well-meaning dog owners hoping to give their pets something special and “appropriate” to chew on. These toys are favorites for many dogs and are popular with owners because they keep their pets occupied for long periods of time.

However, there are definite risks associated with these treats touted as being made of digestible animal products. However, there is nothing “treat worthy” about them and very little of the ingredients in reality are digestible – they are processed and usually cooked at high temperatures which render them much more difficult for our carnivore pets to digest. They often cause vomiting, diarrhea and more often than the manufactures would like you to know – they can cause obstruction from pieces sitting undigested in the GI tract. In the case of the obstruction, surgery will most likely be necessary to remove the rawhide.

Rawhide chews can lodge in the throat and cause choking, or a large piece not totally softened by saliva and crushed flat enough may be swallowed, scraping and irritating the throat and esophagus on the way down.

Rawhide is regularly ingested even though the manufacturer states that the item is not to be ingested or claims that it is a chew toy, and then it is not classified as a feed item, and hence falls under no regulatory control. With no control, the manufacturer is free to use any ingredients or materials despite safety or health concerns. Due to the lack of controls, many inexpensive rawhides are imported from the Asian continent, most notably China and Thailand. In many of these countries, the hides are processed with mercury vapor, chromium salts, lead solutions, arsenic compounds and formaldehyde!

An additional danger that is less widely known is the practice, in some countries, of using an arsenic-based preservative in the processing of rawhide toys. Since rawhide used for dog chews is not regulated in any way; especially foreign hides should be avoided. However, even those made in the U.S. have other detrimental ingredient such as antibiotics, lead, or insecticides that could adversely affect the health of your dog.
[Oct 19, 2011] “Tests on imported pet products made from animal hides by UK health authorities revealed many carried the salmonella bug, a common cause of gastro-intestinal infections in humans. They found that one in three batches imported from Thailand and one in eight from China contained salmonellosis that had survived processing and manufacturing”.

Nyla Bones
The original Nyla Bones’ are a very popular and can actually be a “safer” alternative to rawhide toys.
I do not recommend the edible ones or the soft Gumabones as they are too easily chewed off in to large pieces.
Again, the original Nylabones are made from pure virgin nylon, which makes them stronger and more durable than Gumabone. In fact, the Nylabone Galileo Bone is the World’s Strongest Toy Dog Bone!

Nylabones are: unique therapeutic devices designed to satisfy the chewing instinct of aggressive chewing dogs; safer than other dog chews; they will not splinter or break off in chunks but must be worn down or be chewed off in very small fibers that are easily passed through the digestive system.

Recreational Bones
Fresh, RAW marrow or knuckle bone from your local butcher. (NOT the smoked, cured, cooked ones in the pet stores) are another “safer” alternative to rawhides or other so called edible bones. These healthy treats can provide hours of gnawing pleasure, clean the teeth and contain minerals, vitamins, etc. in the marrow.
*IMPORTANT* NEVER give your dogs cooked bones! Cooking changes the structure of the bone and will make it brittle and if ingested, non-digestible!

If your dog is a senior and has been fed processed pet food most of its life there is a chance that it could chip or break a tooth on a raw bone – however, that same change exists in giving it any hard toy, Nylabone, etc.
Always make sure the bone is sized appropriately – it should be too big to be easily swallowed and as with any toy, supervise your dog while it gnaws on them.

Fuzzy Toys
Okay so you can’t give your dogs most plastic toys because of phthalates, PCBs, dioxins and lead and rawhide chews are no longer an option – what about plush toys?

The Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry reports that stuffed toys also carry DDT and flame retardants as well as toxic dyes to make them nicely colored and attractive.

The chemicals used to produce dyes today are often highly toxic, carcinogenic, or in some cases even explosive. The chemical Anililine, the basis for a popular group of dyes known as Azo dyes (specifically group III A1 and A2) are considered deadly poisons (giving off carcinogenic amines) and dangerous to work with, also being highly flammable. In addition, other harmful chemicals used in the dying process include:

1) dioxin – a carcinogen and possible hormone disrupter;
2) Toxic heavy metals such as chrome, copper, and zinc – known carcinogens; and
3) Formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.

What IS Safe To Give My Dog To Play With?
Let’s face it; there is no 100% safe toy for our dogs. The key is to purchase toys made of materials originating from nature – non-toxic, organically grown, dyed with natural coloring and always supervise your dog’s play time with toys. I don’t believe that dogs should ever be left alone with toys that can be destroyed easily. If your dog is exercised properly before you ever leave him/her alone, chances are that they dog will simply sleep most of the time you are gone. A tired dog is a content and happy dog. The best toys are toys that YOU can play with to interact with your dog.

Play WITH the dog and the toy. Stimulate your dog’s mind as well as making play a part of his/her daily exercise regime.

Many toys state they are not intended for strong or powerful chewers, other state they are not intended for chewing at all. Make sure you are getting an appropriate toy for the activity level and chewing ability of your own dog.

For a list of dog toy companies that produce “non-toxic” toys, email me and I will send you a list. : -)

The Whole Dog is proud to carry Simply Fido Organic Pet Toys and will be adding others soon.


PVC in Toys USCPSC –
The Risk of Chronic Toxicity Associated with Exposure to Diisononyl Phthalate (DINP) in Children’s Products 1998
Synthetic Dyes A Look At The Good Bad and The Ugly –

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