Recent reports of single-hole-containing dog toys getting stuck on dog’s tongues causing breathing trouble or severe tongue damage have peppered social media lately. The danger comes when a dog simultaneously sticks his or her tongue into the hole in the toy (perhaps to get a treat) and bites down on the rubber toy deforming its shape. When the dog lets up on his bite, the toy tries to return to its original shape (springs back) and if the tongue “plugs the hole” a suction effect occurs causing the toy to become stuck on the dog’s tongue. If the suction is stronger than the dog’s ability to remove the toy with his or her front paws, life-threatening problems can occur. These include obstruction of breathing due to the toy in the mouth and massive swelling of the tongue.
A quick fix is to drill additional small holes all around the toy so that air can escape from any side of the toy should the dog’s tongue be in the main hole, but it is important to note that while this specific danger exists with single-hole toys, all dog toys have the potential to become dangerous. Because dogs are curious and energetic animals, they will no doubt find even more new and creative ways to “play” with their toys and accidentally cause themselves harm. Rope toys if ingested can cause life-threatening intestinal obstruction. Hard plastic toys that are supposed to be ‘indestructible’ can be broken by especially strong jaws and the splinters can cause intestinal damage. No manufacturer can account for the wide (and wonderful) variety of different ways dogs use their toys, thus it is important that owners supervise “toy time” with dogs that are especially persistent or aggressive with their toys. Owners who use a Kong or other “distraction treat” to occupy their dog’s time while they are away from home must carefully weigh the risks as mentioned above and elsewhere with the benefit of avoiding anxiety or stress for their dog before deciding to offer such toys to dogs while unsupervised.