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Pet Gift Hazards to Avoid

Think about play styles and possible risks before giving gifts to your pet.
By Roxanne Hawn
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

Most dog and cat owners consider their canine and feline friends full-fledged members of the family. That means when birthdays, major holidays, or other celebrations roll around, dogs and cats get gifts too - and lots of them.

Whether you’re shopping for your own pet or for a friend’s, here is what you need to know about pet gift safety regulations and possible hazards.

Holiday Guide for Pet Owners

Most dog and cat owners consider their furry friends members of the family. So when the holidays roll around, pets are often included in the festivities, too. To make sure you and your pets enjoy a safe, happy season, WebMD has pulled together a healthy holiday guide just for pet lovers.

Pet Product Safety

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission focuses solely on products made for human use. Ed Rod, vice president of government affairs and general counsel for the American Pet Products Association, tells WebMD that pet product safety is instead market driven, where manufacturers and retailers focus on these issues:

  • Choking hazards and small parts
  • Strangulation hazards
  • Toxicity levels

Also, major retailers require that pet product makers use quality-control testing laboratories to certify product safety before allowing items on store shelves.

“Fortunately, with pet toys and pet accessories,” Rod says, “there is not a big history of adverse events.”

Buyer Be Smart

Individual differences in pet play styles and motivations require pet owners to examine pet products for safety issues and supervise play.

“No pet toy is indestructible. Some pets are much more destructive. In fact, the destruction is much of the fun for most dogs and some cats. It’s a little bit of buyer beware,” says ASPCA’s Katherine Miller, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist.

Miller advises families to:

  • Assume any pet product will be chewed up or torn apart, eventually
  • Check pet gifts often for wear
  • Remove any damaged items

Potential hazards include:

  • Sharp pieces or edges, such as torn plastic toys, internal parts, squeakers, splintered bones
  • Long strings, cords, ribbons, or unraveled fabrics
  • Small parts, stuffing, or other items that pets might swallow

Don’t just look at the product exterior. Figure out what’s inside that could become a hazard if exposed. “Imagine the pet pulls it apart,” Miller says, “what’s inside might be what’s most interesting.”

Dog Gift Watch List

In the emergency and critical care unit at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, Mass., veterinarians worry most about things dogs swallow that they shouldn’t.

“I think dogs, relatively early in their lives, declare themselves as eaters of stuff or not eaters of stuff,” says Tuft’s Elizabeth Rozanski, DVM, a board-certified specialist in emergency/critical care and internal medicine.

Rozanski once treated a Doberman Pinscher famous for eating the family’s socks. Someone gave the dog a child’s sock puppet. He ate the whole thing and required surgery.

“It was something that for most dogs wouldn’t have been a problem,” Rozanski says, “but our big rule of thumb is that if the dog is specifically silly about something like that, then watch out for those kinds of toys. Some dogs will eat and swallow anything, so I don’t think I have anything that I sit here and think it’s specifically an unsafe toy as much as unsafe for a specific dog.”

Keep an eye on toy or pet product size. Often, Rozanski says, dogs get into trouble with items too small for their use, even if just by a little bit. For example, the ER sometimes sees dogs that have gotten marrow bones stuck in their mouths. “That’s not life-threatening,” Rozanski says, “but if the bone is just the right size, it gets stuck behind their canine teeth.”

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