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August 15, 2009

Toy Safety – have you thought about it?

By: Jamie Klinger-Krebs

How much thought do you put in to the safety of your dog’s toys? Sometimes what we don’t know about those objects our dogs so much desire can hurt us … and them.

Nick and Sandy Basich of Fort Atkinson know all too well the dangers that can exhume from seemingly ordinary play things. The couple gave their German shepherd, Jake, a regular rubber ball to play with when he was a young dog. He loved to fetch, play and chew on the ball like many dogs do. But one day during a bit of over-zealous play, Jake accidentally swallowed the ball, lodging it dangerously in his throat. With their dog chocking and unable to breath, the couple rushed him to the Jefferson Veterinary Clinic. Upon his arrival Dr. Jeffrey Hamman knew the situation was dire. Jake wasn’t breathing and was urinating on the table, a sure sign he was close to death. Then with some quick maneuvering Hamman was able to dislodge the ball and resuscitate Jake, who made a full recovery. The Basichs were forever changed by what happened to their dog and became much more conscientious about the toys they allowed him to play with after that day.

Though the situation like the Basichs encountered was an accident, there are other horror stories of dogs being injured by toys. An article posted on snopes.com references a product called the “pimple ball” manufactured by Four Paws that also poses a serious threat to dogs. The writer describes a serious injury to his dog’s tongue. While chewing on the ball the object created a vacuum, sucking the dog’s tongue in through the holes and causing it to swell. In this writer’s situation, the dog’s tongue was so severely damaged that it had to be amputated. After the incident, the writer decided to do some research on this product and soon realized there are virtually no regulations on the safety of dog toys.

According to research conducted by the American Pet Product Association, there are no federal or state laws that apply to the manufacture or sale of pet toys in the United States. Because pet toys are considered “consumer goods” the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) states that the agency does not have the resources to mandate and regulate pet products. Because there are no laws regulating pet toys, the requirements used to manufacture and distribute them fall along the same guidelines as children’s toys.

In an article on ConsumerReports.com, Dr. Henry J. Fishman, M.D. states that no one truly knows what toxins are in pet toys or what the long-term effects of those toxins may be. Though the same guidelines for pet toy testing fall in line with testing on children’s toys, Fishman says this is unacceptable. Toxins may affect cats and dogs differently than humans, he explains, especially over long time periods. And, since animals don't have hands, they spend more time putting things in their mouths than we do.

Until more regulations become available in the pet toy market, Fishman suggests talking to your veterinarian about the safety of your dog’s toys, read labels and buy American made products. Buying “organic” toys such as rawhides are also safer than toys made of plastic.

Another tip in recognizing the safety of your dog’s toys is being more conscious of where you buy the products from. Stores like Wal-Mart do not regulate or test the pet products it sells. Chains such as PetSmart, however, do test the safety of their products.

“At PetSmart we do conduct safety and quality tests on the products we sell,” says Jennifer Simmons, a communications specialist with PetSmart. “We work with our vendors to make sure our products adhere to defined test protocols. Some examples of tests we conduct include labeling, performance, packaging and analytical tests.”

In the case of the pimple ball mentioned earlier, the writer did inform the store from which he purchased the ball who immediately removed the product from its shelves. Simmons says PetSmart also is very conscientious of consumer concerns. “If a customer reports an injury or illness as a result of a product purchased in our store, we encourage customers to call our Customer Service line who then works directly with our Technical Services/Quality Assurance team to make sure all inquiries are investigated and resolved in a timely manner,” she says.

Though accidents are bound to happen from time-to-time with our pets and toys, knowing what you’re giving your dog may help protect him later. With no formal regulations concerning lead paint or toxic content or the overall safety of pet toys, it’s up to owners to decide what is safe and what’s not. Though a toy may look cute, it could be harmful so keep safety in mind the next time you shop for that perfect play thing.

Jamie Klinger-Krebs is a freelance writer who writes a regular monthly column “Pet Talk” on www.gmtoday.com.

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