Toy Time

By Cindy Cafferty

January 16, 2009 5 min read

TOY TIME

The perfect plaything should be safe and entertaining

Cindy Cafferty

Creators News Service

Every parent knows that the right toy can make a world of difference, and few can resist the yelps of glee and purrs of delight brought on by the perfect plaything.

These are no ordinary toys though, you're no ordinary parent, and finding the appropriate item for your four-legged family member is no trifling matter.

"The right toys help with behavioral problems. They curb [existing] behavior and can stave off potential future behavioral problems, particularly in puppies," said Michelle Friedman, a PetSmart spokesperson. "Usually when bad behavior happens, it's because a pet is bored."

Pet toys aren't mere indulgences, but are pivotal to the development of your furry friend and play a role in keeping your pet safe.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, most dogs will play with anything they can "get their paws on." Cats are also enticed by trouble-causing items, including electrical or telephone cords, food items and furniture. Toys provide safe and fun distractions, allow owners to monitor pet playtime and are pet necessities.

With all the choices out there though, how does a pet parent differentiate between a toy and the right toy? A few tips from Friedman and the HSUS make deliverance from doggy dilemmas a breeze and catty behavior a thing of the past.

SAFETY

* Friedman and the HSUS caution against trinkets that can become lodged in a dog's throat. In this instance size matters -- a ball or toy appropriate for a small dog could be a danger to larger animals.

* Remove extraneous ribbons, strings or small accessories on dog toys that could be choking hazards. Many cat toys employ dangling items, and cats often coexist with dogs in a household. Keep track of toys and stash away doggie dangers when leaving the house. Throw away broken or crumbling toys, as these are potential choking hazards for cats and dogs alike.

* Consult with a vet on whether rawhide toys are appropriate for your particular pet and, if so, which ones are safe.

* Check labels for child safety. Stuffed toys have internal materials that can be ingested by an animal, particularly dogs. The HSUS recommends soft toys that are "labeled as safe for children under three and don't contain any dangerous fillings." Soft toys should be sturdy and machine washable.

* Monitor your pets' playtime and be aware of what toys or items are accessible when you leave the house. Squeak toys, for example, are fine and fun for pets when monitored, but may entice a dog to find the source of the squeaking and destroy it, posing a potential choking hazard.

RECOMMENDED TOYS

According to Friedman, interactive toys "help strengthen the bond between pets and parents, and keep your pet entertained and out of trouble."

* For dogs, Friedman recommended Nylabone teething sticks and chew balls and Kong pull toys, rubber toys, dental toys and treat toys. Treat toys also make great distraction toys, particularly if they contain peanut butter.

* Cats love dangler toys and laser pointers -- both considered interactive toys -- and do well with multi-purpose toys, which also contain "scratchers" on them.

As with any parent, pet parents should be aware their "child's" needs, pet peeves and peculiarities prior to plucking a toy off the shelf. A pet by any other name, it turns out, is not the same.

"We recommend sticking with toys designed specifically for species or breeds, and taking into account the life stage of the pet," said Friedman.

Still, a perfectly suitable toy may not be your pet's choice pick, which could leave you picking a potential disaster.

"Pets are a lot like our children," explained Friedman. "There's not a one-solve approach. Puppies can be especially challenging for pet parents. They're a lot like babies: Lots of energy, short attention spans, individual personalities and teething."

Friedman suggested shopping for a pet the same way you'd shop for a child. "Parents know their pet best, and there is no 'one size fits all,' even in specific breeds."

Friedman emphasized the importance of finding age and breed specific toys first and then trying out differing, individual toys from the appropriate category to see which ones interest your pets the most.

Further toy suggestions can be found at www.petsmart.com and hsus.org.

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