By Karen Fazio

Playing with our pets is fun – and quite necessary for the healthy psychological development of our furry friends. For dogs and cats, pet toys often play a major role in playtime and their development, as they provide mental stimulation, learning opportunities, and a chance for pets to interact and bond with their humans.

Play helps to reduce stress and provides constructive outlets for naturally occurring behaviors, such as chewing, chasing, stealing, and nurturing. The addition of toys to the human-animal play experience provides opportunities to observe each other’s body language, learn the other’s likes and dislikes, and offers a means to build trust.

Nothing quite compares to the excitement of an interactive play experience, and in the absence of appropriate toys, pets will surely find alternative sources of amusement – usually at your expense. But what should pet owners know before making their pet toy purchases?

Safety first

Appropriate toys are a great way to get the most out of any play experience. Start by choosing items that are appropriate for your pet’s age, breed, and size. For example, a 2-inch ball might be suitable for a toy dog breed or a kitten, but will present a choking hazard to larger animals.

Safe pet toy choices include food puzzles, rope toys (although you will want to look for quality, as these can present a choking and/or gastrointestinal obstruction hazard), treat dispensers, chews, and catnip-filled mice, among others.

In my experience, it’s always safest to choose items made in the USA, since some countries use materials or fillings that have been banned in the United States for health and safety reasons.

Pet toys should serve a purpose

Choose pet toys that fulfill your pet’s desires to chew and tug, scratch, experiment with independence, chase, forage, seek comfort, carry, or destroy.

A well-rounded toy supply might include vet-approved bones, a tug-of-war rope, scratching posts, a treat dispenser, food puzzles, an unwashed article of clothing, and a stuffed plush toy.

Keep toys exciting and new

Much like children, pets lose interest in toys that are left lying around the house after they’ve been played with.

To keep toys exciting rotate the toy supply. This can be accomplished by keeping toys out of sight (in a closet or storage bin) after they have been played with and are no longer in use. When a toy is taken out of storage for play it will always seem new and exciting to the pet.

Human toys

Human-grade toys can be a delightful alternative to the pet-specific variety, but be certain the product is safe for infants and doesn’t have small parts that present a choking or obstruction hazard. Also, avoid electronics or items containing batteries, beads, or sand.

Where to purchase pet toys

It’s a best practice to purchase toys from a veterinarian, or nationally recognized pet supply store. Avoid dollar stores, however, since many items they sell are cheaply made or come from questionable sources.

If you have any questions about pet toys or how your pet can benefit from play, feel free to contact us.