Tennis balls are the quintessential modern dog toy. My dog can sniff them out of roadside ditches, and nothing gives her as much joy as chasing after them in a wide-open field. However, tennis balls are a special toy in our household, reserved for supervised playtime.
This is because, while they are undeniably one of the most beloved dog toys out there, tennis balls can pose health risks for dogs.
My dog loves chomping on tennis balls until they pop. Dogs with powerful jaws like hers can easily break tennis balls in their mouths. This can lead to serious choking hazards. Sometimes, one-half of the tennis ball can get lodged in the back of their throats, blocking the airway. If this seems far-fetched, you may have heard that Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Retriever, Gracie, choked to death on a plastic ball.
The ball itself is not the only choking risk. Some dogs enjoy shredding the yellow-green fuzz that surrounds the tennis ball. Eating this fuzz can lead to choking hazards and intestinal blockages that could require surgery.
That green fuzz might seem soft, but tennis balls are designed to withstand tennis courts and rackets. Dr. Thomas Chamberlain, a board-certified veterinary dental specialist, warns that the fuzz is actually quite abrasive, and accumulated dirt and sand increases the abrasive quality of the ball. As your dog chomps on a tennis ball, the fuzz acts like sandpaper, gradually wearing down her teeth in a process called “blunting.” This can eventually lead to dental problems such as exposed tooth pulp and difficulty chewing.
What Should You Do If Your Dog Eats a Tennis Ball?
The first thing to do when a dog eats a tennis ball is to check their mouth to see if they actually ingested the ball or if it’s caught in their mouth or throat.
If you can safely remove the ball by hand, do so and then call your veterinarian.
This problem is usually more common in large breed dogs because the size of their muzzle can easily fit a whole tennis ball without chewing it.
If you’re positive that your dog swallowed a tennis ball, contact your daytime animal clinic and make them aware of the situation.
If your pet ate the whole ball, it’s likely you will be asked to bring them over for an examination.
Bring another ball with you so your veterinarian can quickly identify the components, as some tennis balls can contain toxic materials.
When the accident happened outside of playtime, you may not be immediately aware that your dog ate a tennis ball.
If your dog toys are easily accessible at all times, your pet may have swallowed the ball while you were not looking.
In this case, look out for symptoms of discomfort such as:
Some dog owners do not bring their dogs to the veterinarian immediately because they’d rather wait for symptoms to get serious enough to request a medical examination.
However, if these symptoms last several days the health of your dog may decrease considerably and there are higher chances of complications, for example, the rupture of the intestines.
It’s also important to note that sometimes symptoms may disappear for a few hours or even a whole day, to then reappear when you think your dog has gotten better.
This could be very dangerous because when your dog starts feeling sick again their health may already be severely compromised.
If, for whatever reason, you are unable to bring your dog to the veterinarian immediately, do at least request a consultation over the phone.
Be aware that the appearance of any of the symptoms mentioned above could mean gastrointestinal obstruction, which may require surgery.
What To Do If Your Dog Eats Part Of a Tennis Ball?
When a dog that is a big chewer and a tennis ball meet, the tennis ball usually encounters a terrible demise.
Most dogs will not swallow the tennis ball but could eat enough to become sick.
While the situation may not be as serious if your dog ate part of a tennis ball, you should treat the accident as if your dog swallowed a whole ball.
One of the most common parts of a tennis ball that a dog may swallow is usually the yellow fuzz.
While it may seem innocuous, tennis ball fuzz doesn’t break down in your dog’s stomach and could cause blockage in the intestines.
To be safe, make sure to contact your veterinarian and ask for advice. Try to make an estimate of how much of the tennis ball your dog ate.
If it doesn’t look like an emergency, your vet may suggest to keep an eye on your dog and wait for them to pass the ball in the stools.
What Happens If a Dog Eats a Tennis Ball?
The main risk related to tennis balls is gastrointestinal obstruction.
It is not the only risk posed by this kind of balls, but it’s the most commonly seen in dogs and usually the one that bears the most unpredictable consequences.
A tennis ball could also be a terrible choking hazard, ruin your dog’s teeth or contain materials that are highly toxic for your dog.
That’s not to say your dog cannot play with tennis balls, but it will be fundamental to choose a safe ball and to always supervise their playtime.
Whether you have a big or a small breed dog, because of their size and texture tennis balls can be dangerous choking hazards.
Big dogs can easily squeeze the ball in their mouth and accidentally push it back down their throat. That’s why tennis balls are only safe for playtime if your dog is supervised.
If the ball gets stuck in your dog’s mouth and you can still see it, you can try retrieving it manually.
This procedure can be dangerous because your dog will be in a state of panic and may bite you unwillingly, so it would be better to have someone holding them still while you retrieve the ball.
If your dog is suffocating, you have little time to act, so the safest option is to try the Heimlich Maneuver on your pet.
You could also try reaching the nearest animal clinic if it looks like your dog’s throat isn’t completely obstructed, but it’s something you will need to assess for yourself.
Gastrointestinal obstruction is a fairly common condition in dogs because our four-legged friends are no strangers to dangerous ingestions.
When the tennis ball gets lodged in the stomach or the intestines, it could prevent liquids and food from passing through, causing weakness and dehydration in your dog.
Symptoms of GI obstruction are easily recognizable, they usually start with vomiting and diarrhea a few hours from the ingestion.
However, in the case of complete obstruction, your dog may be completely unable to pass the stools.
Ingesting the ball isn’t the only thing that can cause obstruction, if your dog ate the tennis ball fuzz, this apparently thin and fragile material could lodge into the intestines and cause discomfort for your pet.
Of course, the bigger the dog the bigger the amount of fuzz that it would take to cause a complete blockage. Nonetheless, in these cases, it is always better to make a preventive call to your veterinarian.
Another risk related to the ingestion of tennis ball fuzz is blunting. The fuzz of tennis balls is made to withstand the court ground and the tennis rackets, so it’s very abrasive.
When your dog plays with the ball, it may also gather dust and dirt on the surface, making it even more dangerous for the teeth.
A dog that chews regularly on tennis balls could be wearing down their teeth enamel, which leaves them exposed to bacteria.
However, this is a fairly rare issue that would require a dog to chew regularly on tennis balls for years.
Tennis balls are such a popular dog toy that it’s easy to find tennis balls labeled specifically for dogs, even in your local pet shop.
US regulations are very strict in regard to the components of tennis balls for humans, which cannot be made out of toxic materials.
However, there are no laws on the matter when it comes to tennis balls for dogs.
Unfortunately, this means that some dog toys may contain dangerous materials such as lead, which can be very toxic when ingested.
Lead poisoning is to be considered a medical emergency and your dog should be seen as soon as possible.
Symptoms of intoxication may include both gastrointestinal and neurological signs, such as:
This doesn’t mean you should stop using tennis balls, but be careful to check the components thoroughly before making your choice.
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