Are Dog Rope Toys Safe? How to Spot and Avoid Dangerous Ropes

by K Marie Alto November 18, 2021 9 min read

Are Dog Rope Toys Safe? How to Spot and Avoid Dangerous Ropes

Dogs like to chew on things. It's just a fact of life. Puppies chew when they're teething to relieve gum pain and aches in the jaw. Older dogs chew to keep their teeth clean, their jaw muscles strong, and their brains active. It's all part of being a dog! After all, when you don't have hands, you have to interact with the world using the tools you have.

As much as you might not want your books, electronics, or homework chewed on, chewing is a natural behavior. It shouldn't be discouraged, but rather, trained. Teach your fur baby that they're allowed to chew on certain things, and give them good, interesting toys to chew on.

One such toy that you commonly see on every pet store shelf is a dog rope toy. Who doesn't love a good tug-of-war with their pooch? Whether they're chewing on their rope in peace or engaged in playful games of control with their favorite pet parent, rope toys are among the most common dog toys every dog gets to enjoy.

There's just one big concerning question. Are they safe? Unfortunately, the tragic history of some rope toys points to a more serious reality than many people realize.  

Rope Toy Safety

Are rope dog toys safe? The truth of the matter is yes and no. As with many dog toys, and really just about any household item, it will all depend on your dog’s personality and attitude towards objects around them as well as the construction and materials used in their toys. The former, while manageable, may not be changed easily, the latter is completely within your control.

Rope Toy Safety

In terms of the behavior and personality of your fur baby, always consider:

  • Is your pooch an aggressive chewer or a nibbler? Some dogs take care and spend more time licking their toys than they do chewing them. Others just aren't satisfied until their toy is broken up into a thousand pieces.  
  • Does your dog like to destroy, or consume? Some dogs tear apart toys and leave the parts scattered everywhere. Others do the same, but swallow a good portion of the toy, regardless of whether or not it's actually edible.

Some dogs aren't very damaging at all, while others seemingly aren't happy unless they've destroyed at least two toys every day. It's all part of their personality! Working around that personality is a key part of training your dog's chewing habits.

Dogs that don't destroy their toys are going to have a safe time with rope toys. Dogs that tear apart their toys are in more danger, but it's the dogs that swallow what they tear apart who are in the most danger. If your fur baby frequently swallows a bit of everything they meet, pay special attention to how they treat rope toys, and consider foregoing them in favor of something safer for their habits. It's worth noting that no dog toy is indestructible, although some will withstand rough chewing longer than others.

The Dangers of Rope Dog Toys

Rope dog toys can be dangerous in three different ways.

The toy is too small and can be swallowed, obstructing the throat.

The first danger is that the toy is too small for your dog. If a rope is too small, your pooch could swallow it whole. In the best-case scenario, this can cause digestive issues and obstruct the bowels, which can even necessitate surgery. In the worst cases, it can obstruct your canine companion's airways and choke them to death. A tiny ball meant for small breeds should not be provided to a Labrador. Always ensure you’re purchasing the right size toy for your size pup.

Toy Too Small

Because doggos come in all sizes, we developed three different dog ropes: two-knot, three-knot, and four-knot. There's one for your dog, no matter their size.  

The toy is made of synthetic or toxic materials.

This should not come as a shock to any pet parent but unfortunately, the world of pet supplies is fraught with danger, as suppliers around the world put cheap manufacturing costs over the safety of our pet pals. It's not exclusive to any one geographic area, and you can't always trust what you get, even from a big box store or a storefront like Amazon. Marketplaces especially have major issues with counterfeits mixed in with real toys.

If the rope toy you buy is made of dangerous materials, it might not even matter what style of chewer your dog is. Chewing a toy will always get bits and flakes or small strands of string coming off the toy, and those can be enough to poison any animal.  If you have dogs and cats in your household, your cat may be at risk too.

Synthetic Rope Toy

There are several warning signs to watch for if you suspect your dog may have ingested something toxic. Watch for:

  • Digestive issues, including vomiting, diarrhea, salivating, nausea, or loss of appetite.
  • Internal bleeding, indicated by pale gums, coughing or vomiting blood, weakness, or collapsing.
  • Organ failure, characterized by abnormal urination, yellow gums, tarry stool, or low blood sugar.

Usually, these come on quickly and are a result of acute poisoning – such as your pooch eating a whole plant that is poisonous to them – so the onset of symptoms from a toxic toy can take longer to show up. Stay vigilant fellow pet parents!

The toy falls apart, and your dog swallows long strings.

The third, most common, and most dangerous (and deadly) way a rope toy can be unsafe is through what vets call "linear foreign bodies." Ropes are made of long strands twisted and woven together.

Rope Falling Apart

What happens if those strands come loose and your dog swallows them?

"If your dog slurps down a long piece of spaghetti-like rope, one end may travel as far as the upper intestines, while the other end remains caught in the stomach. As your dog's digestive system attempts to move the object through the body, the strand tightens, and the intestines cinch like a drawstring on sweatpants." – Village Vet.

Unfortunately, long strands like rope can get caught in the digestive system and tangle up in the intestines. This can perforate intestines, twist them up, and cause all sorts of damage. Strings are responsible for the tragic deaths of many pets every year, as in the news story we linked above. Obviously, you don't want to let that happen!

The anatomy of the bio-rope dog rope toy by toe beans

We've warned pet parents about the dangers of so called “indestructible” toys in the past, read more on our blog post how to select a safe dog rope toy.

This is why dogs that tend to be more destructive – especially the ones that swallow part of what they break down – should avoid rope toys altogether. This is the biggest risk of a rope toy across the board.

Small, short strands are safer than longer strings. They still aren't great – they can tangle up and cause a blockage in your dog's intestines – but they're a lot safer than longer strands.

How to Avoid the Dangers of Rope Dog Toys

Rope dog toys don't have to be dangerous. Again, a lot of it depends on your dog's personality, but there are other actions you can take to ensure that your canine companion has the safest possible play time.

Understand your furry friend's "chewsonality."

Furry Friend's Chewsonality

"Chewsonality," or chewing personality, is a term coined by Preventive Vet to describe the way your pooch chews on their toys. They describe three kinds of chewers:

  • Nibblers: these canines are gentle and savor their toys, nibbling on them and very rarely damaging them.  
  • Destroyers: these pooches are very destructive and love nothing more than tearing apart any toy they come across, and then some. They're only happy when the remains of the toy are scattered to the four winds.
  • Inhalers/Gulpers: these furry friends are like destroyers, but love chowing down on their toys as well. If a toy mysteriously explodes and a few pieces are missing, you may have a gulper on your hands.

Of these three, the nibblers are the safest when it comes to rope, plush, and fabric toys. They're unlikely to destroy the toy, and if they do, they're unlikely to eat any of it.

Conversely, inhalers or gulpers (also known as heavy chewers) are the most in danger from plush and rope toys. They'll eat whatever they can pull apart, and that leads to swallowing fibers that can cause obstruction and damage, as described above.

None of our rope toys are for heavy chewers. Indeed, you may be better off with heavy rubber or silicone chews for your heavy chewers because they're much harder. No matter how big those puppy eyes are when you refuse to give them a rope, you need to resist for both your sakes. Tough rubber toys can be made with toxic chemicals, though, so be sure to choose carefully and do your homework.

Make sure you're supervising play time with ropes.

Play Time With Ropes

Even the gentlest dogs can get caught up in the moment and tear up a toy. Some just keep picking at a rope or a knot with single-minded precision. This is why, no matter what your canine's chewsonality is, you need to supervise play time with a rope or string toy. Keep the toy locked away or stored out of reach – really out of reach, not just on a high shelf where they can still see and try to reach. Only play with the rope toy when you can supervise every moment of the session and then put it away when you're done.

Discard rope toys when they start to fray.

Discard Rope Toys

The danger of a rope toy comes from the strands of rope coming loose and being swallowed. Therefore, you want to make sure your rope toys don't fray or come loose. Keep an eye on your rope toys after every play session and, if they're starting to fray or break – especially in the middle of the rope – get rid of it and replace it with a new one.

Only purchase rope toys made of natural fibers.

Strands made from “mixed cotton” or “cotton blends” in many cases translates to “some cotton mixed with or blended with plastics and resins.”  The truth is these synthetic strands are common in dog rope toys marketed as “indestructible.”

Natural fibers are generally much safer than synthetics because, well, they're natural. Your furry friend isn't any better able to digest cotton than they are plastic, but those fibers break down more easily and can pass through with the potential of fewer issues.

Plus, natural fibers are better for the environment when you have to discard a used toy. They're biodegradable and all-natural, after all. It's for reasons such as these that we only use natural fibers in our dog rope toys.

Toe Beans Rope

You could opt for a purely synthetic toy instead, but you have other problems if you do. You also have to worry about them snapping suddenly rather than degrading over time. Plus, synthetics are much more likely to be infused with some kind of toxic chemical or be toxic themselves. That's why we generally recommend that you keep synthetic ropes out of the house and choose a safe dog rope.

Limit the activities you use a rope toy to play.

Limit Rope Activities

In addition to supervising when your dog has a rope toy, make sure you're limiting the kinds of activities they can do with it.  

  • Fetch is good. Your dog will grab and carry the toy, but won't have time to chew it apart.
  • Tug of war is fine. If the toy is at the end of its rope (pun intended), this can lead to fraying, but your dog still doesn't have the chance to chew it.
  • Solo chewing is bad. Letting your dog nibble and pick at a rope toy is the most likely time for them to tear it apart and eat some of the strands.

If your dog refuses to retrieve the rope and instead just chews it in place, then it's just not the right kind of toy for them.  

The Overall Safety of Rope Dog Toys

Rope dog toys can be dangerous, but they can also be safe when used properly. We wouldn't sell them if we thought they were too dangerous for your canine companion! Just make sure to follow the guidelines above. If your dog is a heavy chewer or likes to eat what they chew apart, don't give them a rope toy. However, if they much prefer playing fetch and licking their toys, a rope made from natural fibers is pretty safe. You still want to supervise their play time, but you don't need to be quite as concerned.

Overall Safety Rope Toys

What it all comes down to is that different kinds of toys have different purposes. If you need a toy for your furry friend to chew, there are plenty of options out there that are durable enough to not present an immediate risk. If you want some enriching fetch or tug of war games, a rope toy is perfectly fine for many dogs. It's all about the context. Do what is best for your furry friend, and they'll reward you with a long and happy life.

Now we'll turn to you, the dog-owning readers. What are your thoughts after reading about today's topic? Were you aware of the potential dangers of rope toys? What kind of toys are you using for your furry friend? Be sure to leave all your thoughts and comments down below in the comments section! 

K Marie Alto
K Marie Alto

K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 19K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).


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