Is your pet the easiest family member to buy for? While your furry friend will eagerly accept anything wrapped in shiny paper, don’t grab the first red and green rawhide you see, and cross the chew off your list. Despite bins upon bins of toys at the pet store, few choices are actually safe for most pets. Our Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic team looks at common pet gift choices, and decides which belong on Santa’s nice—and naughty—list. 

How to evaluate pet toys

While we can recommend gifts for your pet, toys that are safe for some pets may not be safe for others. One dog may be a power chewer who tears any toy apart, while another may gently chew their toys, or simply snuggle up with them. However, some general guidelines for choosing toys include: 

  • Size — Choose toys that are an appropriate size for your pet. While your Chihuahua dragging a dinosaur bone-sized rawhide may make for a cute photo op, they will not be able to get their mouth around the chew toy. On the other hand, your golden retriever can easily swallow a teeny-sized toy. 
  • Hardness — Hard toys with no give can fracture your pet’s teeth and cause painful dental problems. As a general rule, if you cannot dent a toy with your thumbnail, or if you hurt yourself when you hit your knee with it, the toy is too hard for your pet.
  • Small pieces — Small bells, strings, and squeakers can be swallowed, and become lodged in your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • Processing — Avoid toys that are processed with dyes, chemicals, and other unnatural ingredients, which can upset your pet’s GI tract. Rawhides produced outside the United States are often made cheaply, with little regard for pet-safe ingredients.

The naughty pet toy list

These toy choices land squarely on the naughty list, and you should pass on them when shopping for your furry family member’s perfect gift:

  • Rawhides — Many cheap rawhides, like the red and green versions that predominate grocery store shelves during the holiday season, are processed with chemicals that can sicken your pet. When chewed, rawhides disintegrate into a slimy mess that your pet can easily swallow. Large pieces can choke your pet, or cause a GI obstruction. 
  • Bones — Bones are entirely too hard for your pet’s teeth, and commonly cause tooth fractures. Cooked bones can easily splinter, leaving sharp pieces that can puncture your pet’s esophagus, stomach, or intestines. While raw bones don’t splinter as easily, they can contain dangerous bacteria, and cause your pet to choke. 
  • Antlers  — Many pet owners assume that since antlers are a natural option, and wild canines likely chew them, they are safe for their pet. However, antlers are made of bone, and are too hard for your pet’s teeth and delicate oral tissues. 
  • Hooves  — Another “natural” option, hooves are also too hard for your pet’s teeth, and often splinter into sharp pieces that can pierce your pet’s mouth or GI tract.
  • Nylabones  — Several nylabones versions are available, and although some are OK, those made for power chewers are likely too hard for your pet.
  • Tennis balls — Many pets love to chase tennis balls, but the ball’s fine fuzz can gather sand and dirt. If your pet chews on the ball, the abrasive grit can erode their tooth enamel. 
  • Stuffed animals — Stuffies are safe if your pet calmly snuggles them, but not if they shred them to pieces in search of the elusive squeaker. Once your pet locates the squeaker, they may swallow it, along with pieces of the shell and stuffing. 

The nice pet toy list

While the nice list may seem to include fewer toys—an accurate assessment—choosing safer options for your pet shows you truly care for their health and safety. You can feel good about stuffing your pet’s stocking with these options: 

  • Kong toys — Kong toys are a favorite among pet owners and veterinarians for good reason. The rubber has exactly the right amount of give, but is durable enough to withstand most chewers. The hollow interior can be stuffed with an endless selection of food treats, such as xylitol-free peanut butter, yogurt, or canned food, or any of the above mixed with pet-safe fruits and vegetables. 
  • Puzzle toys — Puzzle toys, such as the Westpaw Toppl, can be stuffed with treats that fall out while your pet plays. The mental and physical stimulation benefit your pet by helping to keep their body fit, and their mind sharp. 
  • Greenies — Greenies have been awarded the coveted Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal of approval, which means that they have been proven to deter dental disease in pets. All products on the VOHC’s approved list for dogs or cats are great gift options for your pet. 
  • LickiMats — You can spread any soft food, such as canned food or peanut butter, on the textured silicone mat, and encourage your pet to lick it off. Licking comforts pets, who may curl up for a nap after working to get every last smear of food.
  • Goughnuts — Some goughnuts toys are manufactured with a red safety indicator. When your pet chews through the outer layer, exposing the red indicator, you know you need to ship the toy back for a free replacement.
  • DIY toys — Instead of shopping for your pet’s gift, go green and up-cycle common household items to make fun dog or cat toys.

When shopping for your pet, choose carefully, to avoid gifting them with a painful tooth fracture or GI inflammation that lands them in Haskell Valley Veterinary Clinic for the holidays. If you have questions about safe holiday gifts for your pet, contact us. Happy howl-idays!