FAQ: Are Rubber Dog Toys Safe for Dogs or Toxic?

by K Marie Alto September 01, 2021 8 min read

FAQ: Are Rubber Dog Toys Safe for Dogs or Toxic?

Toys are an essential part of the health and well-being of your canine companion. They provide comfort and entertainment, minimize problem behaviors, and even help with hygiene. Giving them something to play with isn't a luxury; it's downright required!

It's also no exaggeration to say that there are millions of different toys on the market. Go to any pet store or pet-focused website, and you'll see hundreds of options. How can you possibly know which toys are safe and which are dangerous? There's an overwhelming amount of variety, and many of these toys are potentially harmful.

Today, we've got rubber on the mind, so let's talk about rubber dog toys. Are they safe for your fur baby, or are you putting them in harm's way? Thankfully, we're here to help!

Are Rubber Dog Toys Dangerous?

You may have come across posts on Facebook or various blogs talking about the evils of rubber dog toys. They make it sound like every dog toy made of rubber is covered in toxins and will seriously harm your pup. While every rubber toy isn't necessarily harmful, there is some truth to the chemicals and toxins in certain types of rubber. 

Three Kinds of Rubber

There are actually three primary types of "rubber" that you might find! Some of them are dangerous, and others are not:

  • Natural rubber. Did you know that rubber originally came from a tree? The tree known as the rubber tree has a sap that can be refined into a thick, plastic-like substance we know as rubber. It's all-natural, though some people (and potentially dogs) may have allergies to it as it's plant material.
  • Synthetic rubber. Synthetic rubber is essentially a type of plastic. It's made out of petroleum, refined through various processes, and turned into a rubber-like material. Unfortunately, most rubber products today are synthetic rubber, not natural rubber.
  • Fake rubber. There are many toys out there with a rubber-like feel to them that aren't actually rubber at all. They're plastics pretending to be rubber and are often worse than natural rubber in a number of ways.

So, the truth is, natural rubber is not inherently dangerous unless your dog is somehow allergic to it, which is quite rare. It all depends on whether or not the toy is made out of chemicals that can be harmful, coated in toxic chemicals, or even packaged with chemicals that can be potentially harmful. 

Unfortunately, it can be tough to tell one from another unless you have a full in-home chemistry lab and can test them yourself, but we're pretty sure you don't! So, you're going to have to rely on what the manufacturer says. That's why we only stock products we trust and why we always recommend that you only buy from a brand that you trust to be safe for your pup.

What Are the Risks of a Bad Dog Toy?

Risks of a Bad Dog Toy

We've mentioned dangerous chemicals, but what are the actual risks you might encounter with dog toys?

  • PVC is a kind of plastic that is naturally very hard and can shatter. Since that's bad for toys, most PVC is treated with other chemicals to make it soft and pliable. Unfortunately, those chemicals are also dangerous to your dog and could be responsible for liver and kidney damage.
  • While it might sound like a noise you make to entertain a baby, phthalates are chemicals often added to plastics to soften them. They can leech out and enter your dog's body through the gums and go on to poison the liver or kidneys.
  • Bisphenol A is another chemical often found in plastics. Bisphenol A can leech out into your pup's mouth or through their skin. It can potentially cause changes to hormones and other parts of the body. Worse, the damage isn't often apparent until it's too late!
  • We all know about the dangers of lead, which is why it has been removed from virtually every domestic product. Unfortunately, lead contamination is still common, especially with toys produced overseas. Lead can cause organ damage, damage to the nervous system, muscle spasms, and more. 
  • Chromium is an essential nutrient for both humans and dogs, but it can be toxic in large amounts. Too much of it can even cause cancer!
  • Melamine is another kind of plastic, often used in harder or more rigid toys. It's safe to use for things like dishes and utensils for people, but it can be toxic if consumed, and your dog is much more likely to eat a bit of a dog toy than you are.
  • Typically used as a preservative, formaldehyde is occasionally found in rawhide and other "skin" products. It's not as much of a risk with most rubber toys, but there might be some cross-contamination if the two are produced in the same factory.

Those are generally the most significant risks, but there are other chemicals and dangers that you might find.

One commonality with a lot of these chemicals is that they're safe unless they're ingested. Since rubber toys are not intended to be ingested like say a dog treat, these chemicals are permitted to be included in the product.  But what happens to dog toys? Well, your fur baby is going to be chewing on them, of course! Bits of toys that chip or break off are commonly swallowed, and that's where problems arise. A person can know to stop chewing on something before it breaks, but most pups don't have that kind of awareness and will chew on a toy for hours.

Rubber dog toys can also break into chunks that can cause blockages in the throat or the gut, which can be life threatening.  That's why you should always keep an eye on the toys your dog is using and make sure to replace any that are starting to break apart.

Who Regulates Rubber Dog Toys?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 76 million dogs are kept as pets in America alone. With such a sizable population, you would think that there would be some regulating force keeping them safe. You know, like the Food and Drug Administration testing foods and drugs for people. Is there some kind of Feline and Dog Association? 

Who Regulates Rubber Toys

Unfortunately, there isn't! There's no central authority testing and ensuring the safety of pet products. Not one!

  • The Food and Drug Administration works primarily with human products and doesn't do much for pet products.
  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission also primarily works with human products. They'll occasionally issue a warning or recall for hazardous pet products, but it's few and far between. Usually, it's in cases where a human might also be handling a pet toy.
  • The American Pet Products Association sounds like it would be the go-to organization, but they're not a regulatory body. In other words, they don't have the power to issue regulations or controls. All they can do is perform some tests and issue warnings.

In other words, there's no one out there with authority to tell toymakers to avoid dangerous chemicals. 

Why would a dog toy maker create a product that's dangerous to dogs? Unfortunately, it's usually just a matter of money. It's cheaper to use harmful plastic than to source safe plastic, so a factory in let's say China is more likely to go with the more affordable choice. 

Sadly, there's just no governing organization out there making sure that your dog toys are safe. You have to do the best you can in a dangerous world.

How Can You Tell if a Rubber Toy is Dangerous?

If there's no central database of safe toys and no governing body saying which toys are dangerous, how can you figure it out on your own? Well, you have a few options.

Dangers of Rubber Toys

 Check for product recalls or warnings. The first thing you can do is check to see if there are active or archived recalls or warnings about the toy or the manufacturer. The FDA will occasionally issue a recall or warning for particularly dangerous toys, which you can find here. You can also check with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to see if there are any active recalls. The American Pet Products Association may have some information as well. In the event you have some older toys laying around, EcoCenter has a sizable archive of products made before 2009, but unfortunately it won’t be very helpful for newer toys. 

 Check for reviews of the product or manufacturer. Any time you're shopping for a dog toy, whether it's rubber or not, you should take a look at reviews online. Look for reviews of the toy specifically and then look for reviews of the company. Make sure that there are no complaints and no signs of issues with a toxic toy. You'd be surprised at how many big-name brands have toys full of toxic chemicals!

 Look for warnings or guarantees on the product packaging. No toy will have a big "warning, full of toxic chemicals" label on it. You're looking for the opposite. Try to limit yourself to toys that explicitly say that they have no PVC, no BPAs, no lead, no chromium, and so on. A toy that doesn't say this isn't necessarily toxic, but it's better to be safe than sorry, right?

 Get a testing kit. There are some testing kits available, usually at hardware stores. For example, you can buy a kit that tests for the presence of lead. It's primarily designed to test paint chips in an old house or check the water in areas with lead pipes. However, it can still potentially detect lead on a rubber dog toy. Unfortunately, these are impractical to buy for every toy you want to test.

 Send the toy out for testing. A handful of different agencies will test a product you send them for dangerous or toxic chemicals. Unfortunately, this is quite expensive. You're looking at spending hundreds of dollars per toy to get it tested, and you may not get the toy itself back! It would be better if a central regulatory body doing the testing for us all.

 Avoid rubber toys entirely. If rubber and plastic toys are so full of problems, why even get one? Why not limit yourself solely to natural, biobased products?

What Toys Should You Get Instead?

What Toys Should You Get

Our biggest recommendation is to simply avoid rubber and plastic toys entirely. Sure, they might be safe, but there's also a possibility that they are not. Can you tell? Without spending a ton of money on testing, you're going to be guessing and trusting a toy manufacturer. Unfortunately, dog toys are not held to the same regulatory standards, and harmful chemicals in chewable toys are commonly sold and eaten.

Instead, we recommend getting toys that are made out of natural biobased materials, such as cotton. Our dog ropes, for example, are certified by the USDA as including 100% biobased materials. No plastic threads, no rubber, no chemicals, no colorants, no BPAs, no lead; you don't have to worry about anything. Your pup can chew on it for hours without worrying about them ingesting chemicals or accidentally swallowing pieces of rubber.

USDA Certified

Make sure you're also following good habits when playing with your dog. Don't let them chew and play unsupervised. If they start to tear apart their toys, it's time to take them away and get a replacement. Avoid giving your pup anything too small because they can swallow and choke on the pieces. 

And, of course, make sure you keep an eye on your dog's habits. Any unusual developments, whether it's excessive barking, limping, sluggish reactions, vomiting, seizures, or other unnatural reactions, are cause for concern. 

Remember, there's no "safe" level of toxic chemicals. Even a tiny amount can be dangerous for a dog, particularly small or young dogs. Their bodies are much smaller than ours, and a small amount of chemicals to us may be a significant amount for them. It's better to stay on the safe side and buy dog toys made out of all-natural materials.

We all want our fur babies to stay safe, happy, and healthy. Toys are an important part of that. You can't avoid toys entirely; your dog needs enrichment and activity, after all. The best thing you can do is make sure your dog is getting the best, healthiest toys they can.

Do you have a favorite toy or healthy tip you would like to recommend? Do you know of a toy that caused problems for your pup that you want to warn others about? Either way, please let us know in the comments section below! Tell us about your dog and their favorite toys; we love to hear your stories.

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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