Toys and your dog's dental health

When considering your dog’s dental health, it is important to pay attention to the animal’s diet and to the dental treats you can give it to help clean its teeth, but attention must also be paid to choosing safe toys. While some toys can improve dental health, others can cause significant damage and should be avoided. 

Reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar

Chew toys made of rubber can foster dental health by massaging your dog’s gums. This helps to combat the build-up of plaque and tartar, which can have serious consequences such as periodontal disease. Periodontal disease is a progressive disease that starts when food particles and bacteria attach to the teeth and along the gums, forming a bacterial film called plaque. Initially the plaque is soft and can be dislodged when you brush your dog’s teeth or when the dog eats specially designed foods or chews certain toys. If plaque remains on the visible part of the tooth and the plaque below the gums is not removed regularly, the gums can become red and swollen, leading to the development of an infection. Plaque eventually hardens into tartar and bonds to the tooth enamel.

It should be pointed out that, while chew toys help reduce the accumulation of plaque and tartar, they can never replace tooth brushing and professional scaling, which are essential to your dog’s dental hygiene.

Choose appropriate toys

We all enjoy playing with our dogs, but it should be emphasized that their teeth are more fragile than we think. Some toys and games are actually dangerous and can lead to complications and pain. It is important avoid excessively rough play and to check your dog’s teeth regularly for damage.

Tennis balls 

Dogs tend to carry tennis balls in their mouths for a long time. The problem is that the surface of tennis balls is very abrasive, so that giving them tennis balls is a bit like giving them sandpaper to chew on. Over time, this will cause abrasion of the teeth. This may show as a pinkish and/or brownish discolouration of the tips of the teeth. If the abrasion is severe, dentine (the white bony tissue beneath the enamel) and even pulp (the innermost part of the tooth containing the nerve, blood vessels, and connective tissue and cells) may become exposed to bacteria in the mouth. The consequences of such damage can range from inflammation of the pulp to a severe dental abscess in the bone. It is therefore preferable to choose smooth, soft toys that are not likely to cause damage.


It is a mistake to think that rawhide bones will clean your dog’s teeth. They actually cause major fractures of the carnassial teeth (the cheek teeth used for shearing flesh and bone). The same goes for real bones, which are not only very hard but can also cause bacterial contamination from attached remnants of meat and fat. The danger with bones comes from the fact that a dog will crunch them into smaller pieces, which it then swallows and which can obstruct or perforate its intestines. Deer antlers are an increasingly popular alternative to bones, but they are too hard to be softened by chewing and are therefore just as risky. Additionally, they have not been proven to be effective in reducing the build-up of plaque and tartar.


With respect to rope toys, the problem lies in how we use them to play with our dogs. There are two playing styles: either the dog pulls on the rope and a person pulls at the other end, or two dogs will pull at either end. These forms of play can each cause dental subluxation (loosening of a tooth) or even avulsion (complete displacement of a tooth from its socket). Contrary to popular belief, rope toys do not act as dental floss. In fact, unlike humans, animals do not need to floss, or at least to convince the dentist that they do so religiously. When using a rope toy with our dog, we should avoid tugging too roughly, so as not to cause painful problems that will be expensive to correct.


Sticks are readily available outdoors and it is therefore hard to monitor our dogs’ access to these tempting objects. Owners tend to believe that sticks are harmless since they are not nearly as hard as bones, but they can still cause fractures of the carnassial teeth. When a dog’s tooth is fractured and the pulp is exposed, it requires immediate treatment, not only because it is acutely painful, but also because delaying treatment can cause further complications.

Another type of accident involving sticks occurs when a piece of wood becomes lodged in the dog’s palate, putting pressure on its teeth and on the surrounding tissues. When this fragment is removed quickly, it generally causes minor damage. However, it may take time for an owner to discover the problem, at which point the wound may have become infected and require veterinary care.


Just like sticks, rocks are found everywhere in the environment. Some dogs have an unfortunate habit of carrying rocks in their mouth, a practice that can wear down their teeth. If your dog carries rocks with his carnassial teeth, there is a high risk that he will fracture a tooth. Also, if you play fetch with a rock, your dog may catch it with the front of its mouth and risk fracturing its canines.

The rule when it comes to toys and dental health is that you should choose toys that no harder than your dog’s teeth and that can’t be broken into sharp pieces, which can cause intestinal obstruction if swallowed. In the case of balls, choose softer balls with a non-abrasive surface, such as rubber balls. The same rule applies to bones: avoid natural bones in favour of rubber or plastic ones that will not cause fractures of your dog’s teeth. If you often engage in rope tugging games with your dog, be careful not to play too roughly, and never pull, lift or swing your dog when it is gripping a rope toy. As for sticks, pay attention: small pieces of soft sticks can become lodged in the dog’s palate, and hard sticks can cause fractures. Lastly, stuffed toys are a great option.

Knowing the risks associated with each type of toy will help you make better choices for the dental health of your four-legged companion. If you have doubts or questions, your veterinary team can make appropriate recommendations to help you provide proper dental care to your dog and allow him to have fun without jeopardizing his teeth.

Have more questions?

Please do not hesitate to contact the Passionimo veterinary clinic near you.