Hi Dr. B.,
My dog Buddy is addicted to fetch. He cannot resist the sight of a tennis ball. But I have heard that tennis balls can damage his teeth. Is this true? And if it is, what can I do? There is no way I can deny my friend his daily dose of fetch!
San Francisco, CA
Tennis balls seem perfect for fetch. They are durable and unlikely to break into fragments that can be swallowed. They are inexpensive. They fit into Chuckits.
Most dogs do fine their whole lives playing fetch with tennis balls. But, like all things in life, tennis balls have risks.
Some dogs swallow tennis balls whole, leading to intestinal obstruction. And, although tennis balls are generally durable, they occasionally come unravelled. Some dogs have a knack for breaking apart tennis balls and swallowing the pieces–leading to intestinal obstruction.
The most common risk I have seen with tennis balls, however, is to the teeth. Tennis balls are highly abrasive. Dogs that chew or grind excessively on tennis balls may suffer severe dental wear. The wear most often occurs on the canine teeth (fangs) and the teeth directly behind them. I have known several dogs who had teeth worn into a groove that was the exact shape of a tennis ball.
If Buddy isn’t prone to excessive chewing while he plays fetch, then it’s fine to use a tennis ball. However, if you start to notice any wear on his teeth, then I would recommend switching to a less abrasive rubber ball. Such balls, available at pet stores, are made specifically for dogs. They also fit into Chuckits.
One warning about the rubber balls: although they are easier on the teeth, they also are less durable than tennis balls. When they deflate, dogs may swallow them and suffer intestinal obstructions.
Like I said, nothing in life is without risks.
Photo: Sierra shows off the non-abrasive type of ball.