Popular Dog Toy Companies To Think Twice About

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Written by Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

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Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT

Sustainability Expert

Leigh Matthews is a sustainability expert and long time vegan. Her work on solar policy has been published in Canada's National Observer.

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After months of research and emailing back and forth with company representatives, I’m still not satisfied over the safety of many big name brands for dog toys. While these aren’t necessarily ones to avoid, I’d definitely think twice about getting my dog toys from the following companies.

Nylabone

When she was young, I unwittingly gave my dog, Kali, an antler to gnaw on. She loved it, but I realized, too late, that it was filing down her teeth. Sorry, pup! To keep her occupied after I removed the antler, I purchased one of the most vegan-friendly looking Nylabones, figuring this would be safer.

No dice. If anything, the Nylabone seemed even harder than the antler and was decidedly less appealing to Kali. Seems my pup is quite discerning and may have already done her research, because Nylabones are another dog chew toy to avoid.

Nylabones are sterilized rawhide

Nylabones are a popular alternative to actual animal bones, but most of Nylabone’s ‘natural bones’ are made with sterilized rawhide. This means they may have been treated with formaldehyde or bleach.

Nylabones also contain:

  • Wheat starch
  • Potato starch
  • Soy flour
  • Artificial flavors
  • Other ingredients.

These typically come from China, where safety standards are lower than in the US.

This might tempt you to think that the synthetic Nylabones are a better option, but these are made with nylon and other synthetic polymers, i.e., plastics, and rubber, and artificial flavors.

Chances are that Nylabones contain phthalates, BPA, and other chemicals to soften or condition the plastic.

All in all, I’d suggest avoiding Nylabones. It’s unclear exactly what’s in them and what we do know isn’t exactly appealing.

Kong

After our Nylabone misadventures, I got Kali a ‘natural rubber’ chew toy. She quickly shredded the rubber, meaning I had to remove it for fear of choking or bowel obstruction. This nicely demonstrates that while you don’t want a toy that’s too hard (antlers), it’s also best to avoid soft toys.

Kong is a big name in pet products, in large part thanks to their eponymous Kong toy. These have been on the market since the 1970s, when founder Joe Markham first devised the Kong after seeing his German Shepherd dog enjoy playing with a discarded rubber car part with an odd shape.

The trouble is that while the company claims that the Kong is made with natural rubber, it offers no proof of this. Nor does Kong disclose the chemicals it uses to color its products or alter the firmness of the rubber.

I’ve contacted Kong with questions over material safety data sheets and any certifications (GOLS or even Oeko-Tex Standard 100 would be nice!) and never heard back.

Kong is highly secretive about its materials and processes, which doesn’t inspire confidence over product safety.

Avoid the Easy Treat Kong Spray. This is packed with artificial ingredients, dextrose, maltodextrin and other things that aren’t good for your dog.

Other things to know about Kong

Most Kong products are made in the USA, in a factory in Golden, Colorado. The exceptions include:

  • Air Kong
  • Kong Plush
  • Kong Wubba.

These are made in China and Kong claims the products undergo rigorous testing both in China and again in the US. Once again, however, there is no evidence of testing provided and no transparency over the use of materials or manufacturing processes.

Given the lack of transparency, I won’t be buying from Kong again until they fetch me some answers. (Even though one of Kali’s favorite flying toys is the Kong Flyer! Sorry, Kal!)

Watch out for greenwashing

A handful of companies make genuinely eco-friendly, non-toxic dog toys. The majority don’t meet Leaf Score standards though, with potentially hazard materials and processes and poor overall quality.

Despite that, many subpar companies shout loudly about their recycling programs and membership of the PSC but fail to tell consumers what’s actually in their products.

Recycled plastics

Just because a company uses recycled materials, doesn’t mean those dog toys are safe or eco-friendly.

Using recycled plastics may be better for the planet than producing entirely new plastics, but that isn’t guaranteed. The finished products aren’t necessarily free from toxic chemicals either. In fact, recycled plastic is very likely to contain at least some toxic chemicals, which may be why companies don’t like to disclose their composition.

In general, avoid products made with recycled plastics if the products are intended for repeated contact with the body or with the mouth. That means recycled plastic could be useful for plastic components in cars, planes, and so forth that we don’t touch much but that function best when made with plastic.

Final thoughts on dog chew toys

I recommend avoiding toys from any company that isn’t open about the materials and methods it uses to make its products, And if that company also claims to be non-toxic, eco-friendly, or pushing for better industry standards, call it out for hypocrisy.

While you chew on this info about the big brand names in dog chew toys, give your pup something safer to get their gnashers around with my top picks for eco-friendly, non-toxic chew toys for dogs.

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  1. West Paw Boz Balls are made with hemp. I have read that hemp can smell like a barnyard. Our dog has chewed those for a year and suddenly he has had a smell on his coat. Has West Paw started a new process of dying their balls? They also are promoted as producing endorphins which will naturally calm your dog. Our dog uses them to play with, carry around and retrieves them as a pacifier to comfort himself! He is addicted to them!

    • Hi Kathy,

      I had a quick look at West Paw Boz Balls and don’t see any mention of hemp. The company says these balls are made with Zogoflex, which is a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE). While it’s great that these are recyclable through the company’s infinite loop system, they are still a synthetic material and definitely not as natural as a wool ball or hemp ball. As for the endorphin claim by West Paw, this isn’t substantiated by any research. If it were true, it seems it would apply to all balls that dogs could happily chew.

      It’s great that your dog loves his ball!

      Thanks for getting in touch,

      Leigh

      • Hi Leigh, My name is Amy and I work in Marketing and PR for West Paw. I recently came across your article. Thank you for ensuring dogs are safe and not subjected to toxic chemicals in their chew toys.

        I’m writing to clear up some misinformation about West Paw’s Zogoflex products . . .

        West Paw sanitizes the recycled post-industrial plastic we receive back through our Join the Loop® infinite recycling program with Dr. Bronner’s soap. The post-industrial plastic we use is the same grade of plastic that makes up our toys.

        We have nothing to hide as the finished products have been tested against many safety standards, and there is no use of formaldehyde, bleach, or carcinogenic azo dyes in any of our products.

        As I mentioned above, we use eco-friendly Dr. Bronner’s soap to clean all returned Zogoflex dog toys so yes, we do keep other chemicals out of the sanitization process.

        And as Zogoflex is a TPE, Oeko-Tex only certifies textiles as you noted.

        West Paw Zogoflex toys are made in compliance with “USA-FDA manufacturing standards for human food packaging.” “FDA compliant means that a material meets all of the FDA’s guidelines for safe, direct contact with food. It’s essentially an official way of saying material is “food grade.” To be FDA compliant, a material must be able to withstand the environment it will be used in.”

        Lastly, the more customers who return their “dog-tired” Zogoflex dog toys to us, at our production facility in Bozeman, Montana, the less “virgin” material we will need to use in our Zogoglex dog toys. We are looking at ways to make this easier for consumers and retail stores to return the toys back to us so that we can continue to clean them with Dr. Bronner’s and then recycle them back into the toys dog’s love.

        Thank you for reading this. Amy

    • Hello Kathy, Thank you for your question. I work in the Marketing department at West Paw and I can confirm we do not use hemp in our balls or any other of our toys, and the process for making our Zogoflex dog balls is the same as it has always been. We are so happy your dog likes our toys and regarding your comment about endorphins, chewing on toys helps a dog feel good, and the reason is that chewing releases endorphins from a dog’s brain which are the “feel good” chemicals we all have in our bodies.

  2. I’ve given up on all synthetic type chews. My dogs did like nylabone but after I discovered a cracked tooth on my one dog and nylabone being the likely culprit I’ve stopped buying them. I never thought about that the chemicals used in the plastics too make the nylabone. I am trying to be more holistic and natural minded with my dog’s care and more eco-conscious with my household consumption. So reading this article gave me a lot to consider.

    Currently I give my dogs wolf fish skin as a chew which admittedly does not last very long. And I buy “no hide” chews made from salmon and rice glycerin. I’d love to find something without the rice glycerin (or without a starch) that lasts, but no luck yet. I have to stay away from all the natural bully sticks that use beef, bison, ox etc due to my one dog’s allergy. I have found some chews made with turkey tendon that last a few minutes. I’m thinking of maybe trying the pork pizzle for them. It’s my goal to one day find a natural protein based starchless chew that could last at least an hour.

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