The health of your dog extends beyond his food and includes his toys. So many toys have toxic ingredients like plastic … or they’re chemically treated. But there’s an easier way to get your dog a safe toy … and that’s to do it yourself. So here’s how to make your own dog toys.
Like toddlers who have just as much fun playing with your pots and pans, your dog can have a great time playing with an old shoe or water bottle. Here are 7 toys you can make at home with easily available materials.
Make Your Own Dog Toys
When you make your own dog toys, you’ll also be putting things like old socks and t-shirts to work and save them from landfills.
Materials You Can Use For Dog Toys
Make your own dog toy out of socks that survived the laundry without their match. Or socks with a hole in the toe that you never get around to repairing. And water bottles have a great crunchy, crackly sound that dogs will love. You can use the following to make your own dog toy:
- Old socks
- Old t-shirts
- Kitchen towels
- Water or plastic soda bottles
- Old fleece shirts or blankets
- Sleeves from an old sweater or sweatshirt
- Cardboard boxes
- Paper bags
- Cardboard egg cartons
- Dog treats including dehydrated organs, raw almond pieces or raw pumpkin seeds … things that will rattle and are healthy to eat
Anything you can twist or knot or stuff with treats can become a dog toy. Now here are some DIY dog toys to keep your dog busy.
7 Dog Toys You Can Make
These are easy homemade dog toys your dog will love.
1. Water Bottle Sweater Toy
Make your own dog toy from an empty water bottle and a sleeve from an old sweatshirt or sweater. It needs to be thin enough to knot at one end. Add some treats to a water bottle so it rattles, and cap it. Drop into the sleeve and knot the other end. Your dog will have fun with this crunchy noisy toy.
Or you can make dog toys out of socks. Use a long sock. Center the bottle and tie several knots at each end.
Note: even though plastic water bottles aren’t environmentally friendly, if you have en empty one handy, this is a way to put it to good use.
2. Rope Toys
Small dogs will need rope with a diameter of a half-inch or so, and larger dogs will need a larger diameter. Use sisal or jute that are natural, twisted ropes that haven’t been chemically treated. Or you can use untreated cotton rope. Get a length of 12 to 18 inches, depending on the size of your dog. Tie a large knot in the middle of it and in a couple of other points if you have room. If it’s a thin diameter, tie double knots at the same point to give it some mass.
Or put your old denim jeans to work as a rope toy. Cut the legs apart. You may want to hem the edges to avoid loose threads that can get caught on your dog’s teeth. Use a long enough piece that you can fold several times, and then knot it in the middle. Done!
3. Braided T-Shirt Toy
So what is a good homemade toy for a puppy? Here’s one … especially if you use a t-shirt with your scent on it, to give your new family member familiar smells in his new home.
Here’s how to make dog toys out of shirts. Cut the t-shirt into strips. You want strips to be an inch wide and 2 feet long. Group them into three piles of 5-10 strips. Tie a knot in one end. Braid them together and tie a big knot in the other end.
4. Tennis Ball Treat Ball
Not all tennis balls are dog-friendly. You want to ensure your tennis ball is made with Grade A rubber, and does not contain harmful coatings or gases. If yours pass the test, then they’ll make great treat balls for your dog. Just cut a 2″ slit in the tennis ball. Then fill the ball with small dog treats.
Now you can combine 2 activities your dog will love … playing fetch and finding treats in his ball.
A variation, to give your dog some scent work, is to take several tennis balls. Put treats in one ball and let him figure out which one has the treats. Let him enjoy his reward … then reload, mix them up and let him search through them again.
5. Octopus T-Shirt Toy
Here’s how to make dog toys out of fabric. You’ll need a tennis ball and an old t-shirt or ther fabric cut into 2 strips that are 6×14 inches. Cross the strips and place the ball in the centre of them. Then use a dog-safe cord or light rope. Tie it tightly close to the ball. Next, cut each “tail” lengthwise into 3 strips. Using 3 strips at a time, tightly braid each section. Tie a tight knot at the end of each braided tail and you’re ready to play!
Using the same idea, you can use a water bottle and longer strips to create a noisy dog toy with braided tails.
6. Snuffle Mat
For this, you’ll need a sink drainage mat along with thin strips of fleece and t-shirt material in 6 and 8-inch lengths. Or you can use a piece of cardboard with holes in a grid pattern. Using the fabric, thread them pieces from the bottom to the top of the mat or cardboard. Alternate the fabrics and lengths for a mishmash of lengths. Knot them on the top. You’ll want to leave some space close to the mat. The next step is to pull strips of fabric through the loops on the top of the mat and knot them to make it full and dense.
Now the fun part… bury healthy treats among the strips so your dog has to snuffle through them to find them.
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7. Doggie Ball Pit
This is as much fun to watch as it is to make. You need a small kiddie pool or a washtub … and tons of balls. Fill the pool or tub with the balls … or in the fall use leaves the trees have dropped. In winter you can even do this with snow (just make sure it hasn’t been salted or treated with any other chemicals). Then drop in snacks and watch your dog root through for the treats.
Watching your dog have fun with homemade toys is rewarding. But there are other reasons for making your own dog toys.
Benefits Of Making Your Own Dog Toys
When you make your own dog toys you can:
- Keep costs to a minimum with materials from around the house
- Control the type of materials and ensure they are dog-friendly
- Cater to your dog and his play and chewing habits
- Reuse materials so they’re environmentally-friendly toys
Plus, you’ll be doing so much more to ensure your dog has safe toys. Here’s why it’s hard to know if the toys you buy are safe.
Are There Safety Standards For Dog Toys?
No, there aren’t. In fact, there are testing regulations that restrict children from having contact with some dog toys! So, regardless of whether your dog toys come from China or the USA, there are no safety standards.
Are Fire Retardant Toys Safe For Dogs?
No, they’re not. The synthetic stuffing in toys isn’t great to start with, and if it’s flame retardant, that’s a big problem (1). These chemicals are harsh, toxic substances that can affect the reproductive system of your dog. They can also damage the endocrine system and increase the risk of cancer. Your dog metabolizes these chemicals faster and will have a higher concentration than humans. And … they can swallow stuffing and parts of toys making them even more dangerous!
Toxins To Avoid In Dog Toys
The following toxins might be in some dog toys. While in small amounts, many are considered safe but there are no regulations limiting the amount that can be used so some exceed “safe” amounts. And you might not even know they’re in your dog’s toys!
- Phthalates – can cause liver and kidney damage
- BPA – bisphenol A is an endocrine-disrupting chemical and can alter your dog’s microbiome
- Lead – can cause damage to organs, the nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. Signs of lead poisoning: lack of appetite, diarrhea, constipation, salivation, blindness, lack of coordination or muscle spasms, anxiety, hysterical barking, jaw clenching (2).
- Chromium – used for dogs but high levels can be toxic
- Melamine – linked to kidney failure when found in pet foods
- Bromine – can cause digestive upset
- Formaldehyde – used as a preservative in dog chews and can cause respiratory or digestive problems
You also want to consider the amount of exposure and whether a toxin will leach into your dog through frequent use. Smaller or older dogs would be more susceptible to the presence of some chemicals than larger, healthier dogs.
Often it’s much easier to choose toys that manufacturers have labeled as being free of certain toxins like BPA or phthalates (3). Or make your own dog toy.
What To Avoid In Dog Toys
So if you’re buying toys for your dog, choose them the way you would choose his food. Here’s what to avoid:
- Artificial colors and dyes
- Strong smells including oily, petroleum-like smells and perfumes
- Toxins and questionable materials
- Plastics, vinyl and rubbers that look unnatural. eg: hot pink isn’t a natural color
- Polypropylene, nylon and plastic twine, used in colorful ropes and toys. The chemicals found in these and some plastic products are proven to contribute to some cancers. You don’t want your dog to inhale particles or swallow pieces that can lead to a blockage.
- Low price point, can mean low quality materials of questionable origin
Dangerous Things To Avoid
You should always supervise your dog when he has toys or bones. Here are 4 things that can lead to dangerous situations for your dog.
- Marrow Bones. They’re hard and a voracious chewer can get a slab fracture. They can also get stuck over a dog’s jaw.
- Rubber Balls. Balls with only one hole can create suction and get caught on a dog’s lip or tongue.
- Small Toys. These can be a choking hazard, or if swallowed, they can cause blockages.
- Rawhides. When eaten, they don’t digest but large chunks can swell and cause blockages requiring surgery to remove. Plus they are bleached with toxic chemicals making them a doubly unhealthy choice for your dog.
Playtime should be a fun and safe time for your dog. When you make your own dog toys for your dog you’ll be ensuring his health and happiness.
1. Sévère S, et al. Pollutants in pet dogs: a model for environmental links to breast cancer. Springerplus. 2015 Jan 22;4:27.
2. Feng, Tianjun, et al. Product Quality Risk Perceptions and Decisions: Contaminated Pet Food and Lead-Painted Toys. Risk Analysis. Volume 30, Issue 10, p. 1572-1589, July 2010.
3. Wooten KJ, Smith PN. Canine toys and training devices as sources of exposure to phthalates and bisphenol A: quantitation of chemicals in leachate and in vitro screening for endocrine activity.Chemosphere. 2013 Nov; 93(10):2245-53.