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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Recently on one of my Facebook groups it was reported that a working k9 suffocated from a tennis ball getting lodged in his throat. The ball got stuck, the dog panicked and by the time the dog was passed out and taken to a vet he was dead. In 2013 a K9 died from a LaCrosse ball getting lodged in his throat.

This has also happened to dogs tugging and playing with a ball on a rope and the rope breaks or pulls loose (and why I always use a ball on a rope that has a rope that passes through the ball and ties back into itself).

Tennis balls are just the right size to choke a dog the size of Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds and larger. When the ball becomes lodged you have approximately 5 minutes to dislodge it or surgically open the dog's trachea (which most people have to have a vet do) so the dog can breathe.

Tennis balls also break up and the pieces are dangerous. So, when you think, "No issue, I have a little dog." No.. tennis balls easily chew up and break up. Swallowed pieces can cause blockages (I know of a world competition dog this happened too) and then bloat. If not caught very early and surgery performed to remove the blockage, bloat will kill a dog very very quickly.. and is another horrible death. Fortunately for that world level competition dog, it WAS caught early and the surgery performed (thousands of dollars BTW) and the dog recovered and returned to competition.

I am all for using a ball as a reward training my dog and for retrieves and as a toy. I never let the dog have it when not playing or engaged with me and it always has a rope attached. I have started using a larger ball as well.

Recently I purchased a ball made by the Chuck It people that is not solid at all. I am going to attach my paracord to that and see what the dog thinks of it (and see if it gets stuck on his/her teeth). This ball would allow air to pass through it if it ever became lodged in my dog's throat.
 

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I think this is an ideal versus reality type of situation. I agree that tennis balls can be dangerous. However, I think anything can be dangerous. Years ago someone posted here about their dog choking on a piece of kibble and dying. I heard of a puppy who swallowed a 1 inch by 1 inch cloth and died of a blockage. Many more have pooped out larger pieces of cloth and toys. An acquaintance of mine who does SAR with her GSDs lost a dog when it got it's head in an empty kibble bag and suffocated. I know dogs who have jumped fences on a tether and hung themselves. I know many more who are tethered and fine. I know of dogs who sliced their mouths or throats going after a tossed stick. I know many more who play with sticks every day with no consequences. I could go on...

Personally, I do not use tennis balls much because the fuzz traps dirt and debris, which wear down a dog's teeth. However, I do use them when playing fetch in bodies of water because they are inexpensive if lost. In our shelter, we freely give our dogs tennis balls, which we leave with them unsupervised. I think in over a decade not a single dog has died of choking or a blockage due to it (I would need to check to make sure since I have not been around for over a decade, but I am fairly certain). The scientific benefit of providing a shelter dog toy enrichment is greater than the anecdotal danger of tennis balls. And, being a shelter, it is financially sustainable because all toys are donated (ie we work within the limits of what we have) and we especially get large amounts of free, used tennis balls. Just one example of why these choices are made.

So in a way, I do agree with your points. But I think "Don't ever give your dogs tennis balls!!!" might be a little too dramatic.
 

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But to be fair, I virtually never use tennis balls. And I only ever leave appropriately sized chew items for my dogs when unattended. Plus, any engaging toy is saved for training purposes anyways. For random folks looking, here are some alternatives to tennis balls:

Nero ball


Everlasting fun ball


Jolly ball


Kong (not a ball, but great)
 
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