Those of us lucky enough to have pets motivated by toys and food know that bringing home something for the fur kids can be a joy for them and us. But sometimes the best intentions in offering toys for dogs and cats have unforeseen consequences. That could mean a visit to the vet or even CARE’s emergency room.

To paraphrase the “Cats” lyric by T.S. Eliot, “First, your memory I’ll jog/And say a cat is not a dog.” Their diets, treats and toys should be managed differently. Cat-sized toys are much too small for most dogs and present a hazard for ingestion and gastrointestinal obstruction. Consequently, if you have a household with cats and dogs, keep cat toys in a separate location inaccessible to dogs.

How To Keep Cats Happy

Our feline friends need enrichment. Vets regularly observe behavioral problems that stem from a lack of stimulation or too few outlets available to expend energy. These behaviors include destroying furniture, various forms of aggression, inappropriate voiding. Enriched environments let cats express natural behaviors such as scratching, chewing, and playing.

Try to offer variety in scratching surfaces. Cats often prefer vertical scratching posts as well as climbing towers, interactive toys and safely chewable items in various parts of the home. Toys considered safe for cats include flexible wands, prey-mimicking propelled toys, catnip-filled toys and light-beam pointer games. (Be careful about feathers or small bells, which can break off from wands and be swallowed,)

Behaviorists suggest rewarding cats with treats after play with laser pointers or light beams to prevent their frustration at not being able to “catch” the light. Treats recommended by the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) support dental health. You may also want to rotate toys offered to cats every few days to maintain their interest. Don’t worry if older cats want to play less often or less vigorously, but give them opportunities from time to time.

Keeping Dogs Happy

Dog owners know their pets ingest inappropriate items – including toys — far more often than cats. Vets frequently discover foreign objects obstructing the gastrointestinal tract; blockages typically lead to vomiting and loss of appetite and ultimately require surgical removal.

Vets tend to suggest firmer, rubber-based products as the safest choice in terms of durability and minimal likelihood of dental damage. Yet dogs may be able to destroy even these and ingest pieces too large to pass on their own. Regardless of any claims on the toy packaging, always monitor your pet while the dog chews on any non-food material.

Owners traditionally offer dogs bones as treats, but those come with risks: esophageal foreign bodies and risk of perforation, gastrointestinal upset if bones haven’t been properly cleaned, dental fractures and other issues. However, on the positive side, some new evidence supports the idea that short-term offering of cleaned or disinfected bones can help remove dental calculus and reduce gingival inflammation. Again, the VOHC is a good source to check for treats for your dog.

Take Care in Choosing Toys for Dogs and Cats

You’ll want to make a fully informed judgement when you offer playthings to your pets. If you have questions about the suitability or safety of a toy or treat, ask your primary care veterinarian for an opinion first.

That may seem time-consuming, but it could save you a trip to the emergency room. And if you have concerns for your pets after hours, don’t hesitate to call CARE. We are happy to help.

CARE operates as the animal equivalent of a medical center for human beings. It offers all-purpose treatments for pets through 24/7/365 emergency care and board-certified specialty care, which comes after a referral from your primary veterinarian. Take a visual tour of the practice at

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