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Are Tennis Balls Bad For Dogs?

Tennis balls seem to be a popular dog toy and a classic game of fetch with one can be what your dog needs to stay in shape and healthy.

Tennis balls do have some health risks but can still be used safely.

If you’re worried that tennis balls are bad for your dogs teeth, or if they’re just toxic for dogs, then let us help you learn more about if tennis balls are really bad for dogs.

Risks of Tennis Balls Fof Dogs

There are certain risks when it comes to your dog playing with a tennis ball.

Choking Hazard

Dogs that have a powerful jaw can break the tennis ball in his or her mouth. This leads to a choking hazard since part of the ball can get lodged in the back of the throat and block the airway.

The ball itself is not the only choking hazard. Some dogs will shred the yellow-green fuzz that is on the ball.

When the dog eats this fuzz, it leads to a choking hazard, as well as intestinal problems that can lead to surgery. It may take a few days to even know that your dog has a blockage.

Signs of blockage include vomiting, dehydration, diarrhea or blood in the stool, fatigue, and abdominal pain.

A large dog may not even need to tear the ball apart to have a choking problem and can even swallow the ball intact.

An intact ball will definitely become stuck in the throat and create a medical emergency.

Dental Problems

The ball presents a problem for dental wear and tear. Even though the fuzz seems soft, the ball is designed to withstand a lot on the tennis court.

The ball is actually abrasive. It’s even more abrasive with the sand and dirt that accumulate.

When your dog chews on the tennis ball, the fuzz is similar to sandpaper and gradually wears down your dog’s teeth.

After years of wear and tear, it’s even possible that you may see tennis ball-shaped grooves along the inside surface of your dog’s teeth that correspond with the way your dog carries the ball in her or her mouth.

This leads to dental problems, such as difficulty chewing and exposed tooth pulp. It can also make the teeth more susceptible to breakage.

Not only is this bad for your dog, but dental problems can lead to expensive vet bills.

Mystery Materials

Tennis balls may be made anywhere. There is no standard material for a tennis ball and the components of a tennis ball aren’t made with food-grade materials.

They are designed for a game and not for chewing. There can be chemicals in different components of the tennis ball, ranging from the neon yellow fuzz to the glue that holds it all together.

There can be lead in a tennis ball, as well as other toxic materials. When your dog is chewing on the ball, you aren’t going to be sure what he or she is exposed to.

Keep in mind that tennis balls aren’t going to be tested for dog safety since they aren’t designed specifically to be a dog toy.

Creates Tunnel Vision

Many dogs are going to be hyper-focused on a tennis ball during playtime. While this can be true for any toy, it’s common with tennis balls.

If your dog is playing in an area that is well manicured then tunnel vision may not be a problem.

However, if your dog is playing in a place with rocks or some other obstacles then it’s possible your dog will trip and can suffer some injuries, such as a sprained ankle.

A dog playing with a tennis ball near a busy street can be in even more danger and it can have potentially fatal consequences.

Benefits of Tennis Balls for Dogs 

There are some benefits to dogs playing with tennis balls and a reason why many pet owners have been using tennis balls to entertain their dogs for decades.

It may be necessary to weigh pros and cons, just like with every decision you have to make for your pet.

Tennis balls can be an affordable toy, especially for playing fetch. They are also cheap to replace when lost or damaged, unlike other dog toys that can be quite costly.

Tennis balls have a good bounce that is appealing to your dog and part of what makes them so popular. It’s easy to throw a tennis ball a long distance, making it a great choice for a game of fetch.

You can make the tennis ball go even farther with a ball launcher, giving your dog a great workout to keep him or her active.

Even with the risks, they are unlikely to seriously injure your dog as long as you are paying attention. This is especially true if you accidentally hit your dog while throwing the ball.

Tennis balls are easy for your dog to find. They can be easy to see in dim light and the dog can find the ball by smell in smaller areas since the furry material collects scents from your hand.

Tennis balls also float so they are great to use around water, such as at the beach or the pool.

Playing With A Tennis Ball Safely With Your Dog

Even though there are risks, you don’t have to stop your dog from playing with tennis balls completely.

Instead, make sure that your dog has access to his or her favorite tennis balls during a supervised play session only. Don’t just leave them around the house for your dog to find and chew on all day.

This is going to be important for a dog that likes to chew on the tennis ball. You need to make sure that you are able to get the tennis ball away from your dog if it becomes dangerous.

Your dog should be able to follow the command of “drop it.” This is also useful if your dog is putting other dangerous things in his or her mouth.

Tennis balls can also be useful for a game to fetch. Don’t let your dog have more than one tennis ball at a time, even when supervised.

Dogs that have access to multiple ones can get the balls lodged in their throat, especially if the dog is trying to carry more than one in their mouth at a time.

Be sure to play with a tennis ball in a hazard-free place. Dog parks can be a good choice or you could establish a dedicated zone to play in your backyard.

You may be able to purchase tennis balls that are designed specifically for dogs. These balls are made with non-abrasive felt and extra durable rubber so they are safer for your pet.

These options are likely to be more expensive than your standard tennis ball.

Alternatives To Tennis Balls As Dog Toys

Sometimes dogs just can’t have access to tennis balls, especially if they just want to chew on it obsessively. Instead of a tennis ball, it can be a good idea to have an alternative toy.

A rubber ball that is designed for powerful chewers can be a good substitute and doesn’t come with a lot of risks.

Other alternatives can include soft cloth Frisbees, braided rope dog toys, or busy box feeder toys.

Soft stuffed toys can still be a choice for some dogs but you need to keep a close eye on your dog and the toy.

You should discard toys as soon as you notice the stuffing coming out or it ripping. Squeakers in many toys can be a choking hazard.

Rotate your dog’s toys, including tennis balls, regularly to keep your dog excited and interested and to keep the toys in good shape.

Final Word

Yes, tennis balls can be bad for your doggo, but you shouldn’t completely remove them from your pups daily life.

Tennis balls can be a good choice for dogs and part of a daily routine as long as you know about the risks and take steps that prevent accidents.

Whether or not you decide to allow your dog to play with tennis balls will depend on what you feel is best for your pet and there is no right or wrong answer.

image: Ossewa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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1 thought on “Are Tennis Balls Bad For Dogs?”

  1. Yes tennis balls are bad for dogs we had a fat lazy dachshund that loved to fetch tennis balls (she also liked to put large rocks in the unmowed grass) ? Anyway she weighed about 15 pounds. She got sick and couldn’t eat for a few days i picked her up and rubbed her stomach. I put her back down and she puked up at least a pound of tennis ball fuzz. She got better in a day or two but knot toys and tennis balls are bad for dogs especially small dogs!


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National Canine Research Association of America