Pet Connection Q&A: Dogs, tennis balls require vigilance

04/09/2013 12:00 AM

04/08/2013 4:42 PM

I wish you would warn people about tennis balls. Yes, dogs love them, but they're not meant for dogs. I don't think they're safe, and I won't let my dogs have them. Can you spread the word?

– Via Facebook

A world without tennis balls? Perish the thought! It's a good possibility that more tennis balls are used to exercise dogs than to play tennis. While most dogs "make do" with used balls that have lost tennis court bounce, other pets enjoy any number of nonregulation tennis balls made especially for dogs, including balls of different sizes and colors, and even some with flavorings.

But yes, tennis balls do present a hazard that requires they be used only in supervised conditions. The problem is that dogs have strong jaws capable of compressing a tennis ball. If that compressed ball pops open in the back of the throat, it can cut off a dog's air supply. Over the years, I've gotten letters from countless readers who've lost dogs this way.

You don't have to throw away all your tennis balls, but you do need to use them in a way that reduces the risk of choking. Tennis balls should always be put out of reach after a game of fetch, and no dog should ever be allowed to use them as chew toys.

In supervised play, insist that dogs fetch, return and immediately release the ball – no games of keep-away while the dog works the ball in its mouth. And keep only one ball in play at a time to minimize the risk of having your dog picking up more than one and getting the first ball lodged in the throat.

Keep the game of fetch fast and lively to keep the focus on the chase and the next throw.

Nothing in life is without risk, but there's no need to deny your dogs the joy and needed exercise that a tennis ball can provide.

– Gina Spadafori

The buzz

The ancient Greeks and Romans believed dog saliva was an antidote for poisoning. Later, St. Roch was often pictured with a dog licking a sore, reflecting the belief that the patron saint of plague victims knew something about a cure and that his dog's saliva made him healthy. Modern medicine, no surprise, doesn't look kindly on such theories. Soap and water, a dab of topical antiseptic and a Band-Aid are much better treatments for any cut. Because no matter what you've heard, a dog's mouth really isn't cleaner than a human's.

Great Danes and other large, deep-chested dogs are at a higher risk for a sudden and potentially deadly health problem commonly called "bloat" (known to veterinarians as gastric dilatation-volvulus, or GDV), according to a Purdue University study.

When a dog bloats, its stomach expands and eventually twists, requiring surgical intervention.

Knowing the signs of bloat – unsuccessful attempts to vomit; general discomfort, anxiety and restlessness; "hunched-up" appearance; enlarged, tight abdomen – improves a dog's shot at surviving.

– Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com or visit www.facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

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