- Insider asked veterinarians about the best and worst ways to play with a pet.
- Allowing pets to play with certain household objects can lead to injury or death.
- Letting your dog tug on their toys can encourage aggression.
- Keeping your pet hydrated and taking regular breaks makes playtime safer.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories .
Playing with pets is an important part of keeping them healthy, active, and happy.
Unfortunately, some common playtime habits can actually lead to behavioural problems or injury.
Read on for the most common mistakes people make when playing with their pets, according to veterinarians.
Don’t let your dog carry their own toy back from the park.
“Your dog releases most of its heat through panting since it doesn’t have sweat glands. Carrying an item in the mouth actually partially blocks the heat released from the mouth, which can result in overheating,” said Lee.
You can avoid this problem by simply carrying your dog’s toy for them or letting them rest and cool off before they pick up their toys.
Allowing your pet to play with inappropriate toys is dangerous.
“Pets can choke or suffocate when playing with non-toy items, or they may swallow the items which then become lodged in the digestive tract,” said Kirk. “Only give your pet toys designed specifically for that animal.”
Human toys or household items like tennis balls, water bottles, shopping bags, and cardboard boxes can all be hazardous, or even fatal, if ingested.
On a similar note, using the wrong-sized ball for playtime can be a choking hazard.
Small balls make for simple and portable pet toys, but they can also lead to tragic choking accidents.
“As an emergency veterinarian, I see dogs suffocate from small rubbery balls being lodged in the airway while playing,” said Lee. “When in doubt, use a larger, softer tennis ball.”
Cat owners should also be sure to keep small balls and marbles away from their pets. You should also remove any buttons or plastic eyes from toys, as these may loosen and become choking hazards.
Playing tug-of-war with your dog can encourage aggression.
“Playing tug-of-war teaches your dog to be aggressive and to hold on to any object in their mouth,” said Farrell. “If the dog ever tugs on a person with their mouth, it will cause extreme tissue damage.”
If your dog wants to pull on a toy that you’re holding, discourage the behaviour by letting go of the toy.
To better avoid behavioural problems, you may not want to play rough with your dog.
Playing rough or wrestling with your dog may actually encourage dangerous behavioural problems.
“Don’t roughhouse with your dog because it makes them more likely to bite. You’re training your dog to be aggressive if you play this way,” said Farrell.
If your dog begins to play aggressively, Farrell told Insider, pause the play session until they calm down. You can also redirect them to another game or toy.
Not taking breaks can lead to exhaustion or injury.
Just like people, pets often need a break from even the most fun activities. Pushing your pet to play for long periods of time can lead to exhaustion.
“When your pet becomes tired, they are more likely to physically hurt themselves and also feel soreness in the following days, just like humans who overexert themselves,” said Kirk.
It’s important to watch for signs that your pet may need a break. Dogs may sit down to catch their breath and cats often turn and walk away from the play session.
Don’t tease your dog by withholding toys.
Though it can be cute to watch your dog scramble after a toy that’s always just out of reach, it’s important to allow them to actually play with the item eventually.
“Do not frustrate your dog by playing dog-in-the-middle. Let your dog have a chance to play with the ball or toy rather than passing it back and forth between people,” said Farrell.
Playing with your pet on a humid day can lead to heatstroke.
When the humidity rises, even relatively low summer temperatures can be too hot for outdoor playtime.
“Most people know not to exercise their dog on a 90-degree [Fahrenheit] day, but playing outside when it’s 80 degrees with 80% humidity can also lead to heatstroke,” said Lee.
As a general rule, Lee explained, if the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity in percentage points total more than 160, you shouldn’t play with your pet outside.
Not playing enough is a common pet-care mistake.
Just like staying active is important for humans, scheduling regular play sessions with your pet can help keep them at a healthy weight.
“Playing with your pet helps keep them trim, which translates to a longer life and less strain on their hips, joints, heart, lungs, and trachea,” said Lee.
Lee said that dogs should be given at least two 15-minute walks per day. Larger breeds may need more or longer walks. Cats should also be played with regularly to help maintain their physical and mental health.
Don’t use your hands instead of pet toys.
“Tapping and teasing your pet with your hands might be fun, but your pet could view this as a positive reinforcement for biting at fingers, hands, and feet,” said Burch.
Training your pet to snap at fingers and hands can lead to serious injury and costly legal problems if your pet ever plays this way with someone else.
Scolding your pet during playtime can lead to behavioural problems.
Burch advised that a pet that performs inappropriate actions during playtime, such as biting or barking excessively, should be corrected.
But scolding your pet the wrong way during a play session could backfire.
“You shouldn’t yell, scream, or strike your pet; these actions could lead to behavioural issues,” said Burch. “Instead, owners should focus on the good and make sure that they use praise and positive reinforcement with treats or continued play.”
Using the same toy all of the time can get boring for your pet.
Pets who never get to play with new and exciting toys might turn to chewing on a rug or piece of furniture as a break from the monotony.
“As new toys age or become worn out, your pet will begin to use them less and less, which can result in boredom and looking for other entertainment,” said Burch. “New toys will pique the curiosity of your pet, encouraging more play.”
A good way to prevent this type of toy burnout is to buy multiple toys but only give your pet one at a time, rotating them weekly.
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