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Are tennis balls dangerous to dogs?

Are tennis balls okay for training and play or do they post a hazard?

play-training gundog puppies

Tennis balls can be used carefully for gundog puppy training

Q: My dog trainer has advised me to use tennis balls to train my Labrador to hunt and retrieve but I’ve heard there are risks from balls. Are tennis balls dangerous to dogs? What are your thoughts on this issue?

Tennis ball risks

When dogs play with balls there is the risk that a ball could become lodged at the back of the dog’s throat when they try to catch it. Dependant on the relative size, the ball can be remarkably difficult to remove and can represent a life-threatening emergency because the ball can obstruct the airway.

Such incidents may require the dog to be restrained under general anaesthesia so that the object can be grasped and withdrawn. But this poses further risks. That’s because when conscious the dog is able to gag, pushing the ball forward momentarily, clearing the airway and enabling it to gulp in air. However, as soon as it is anaesthetised the gagging reflex is lost and unless the ball can be withdrawn quickly, the dog will start to suffocate. It can sometimes be extremely difficult to get a firm grip of the ball to enable it to be pulled out through the jaws and for this reason many vets advise against allowing dogs to play with balls.

This shouldn’t necessarily put you off using tennis balls to train dogs to hunt and retrieve. The risk is of allowing the dog to play with balls. Never encourage dogs to jump to catch balls. Simply be aware of the hazard and use balls sensibly. An accident with tennis balls used properly for training purposes is rarely, if ever, a problem.

Takeaways from reading this

  • Don’t encourage dogs to jump to catch balls
  • Tennis balls can be used sensibly to train gundogs to hunt and retriever
  • Don’t let dogs play with tennis balls
  • Used properly for training purposes it’s rare that tennis balls are dangerous to dogs