ASK THE VET: Tennis balls grind down dogs’ teeth like sandpaper

Editors Note: Lee Pickett is on vacation. This column first appeared in April 2019.

Q: Baxter, my 5-year-old retriever mix, broke a tooth while gnawing on a bone. The veterinarian extracted the fractured tooth and remarked that Baxter's enamel was badly worn, probably from chewing on tennis balls. Can you suggest some safe chew toys?

A: The nylon fuzz on tennis balls damages enamel two ways: It's abrasive, even when clean, and it picks up dirt that acts like sandpaper on teeth.

For that reason, I gave our golden retriever ball-hound, Sam, smooth racquetball balls, but he chewed them to bits and swallowed the pieces. Fortunately, his tummy rejected them, so I didn't have to surgically remove them. But that was the end of his racquetball fun -- and a lesson for us all.

You learned an expensive lesson about rigid chew toys: Anything harder than teeth breaks teeth. The list includes natural and nylon bones, antlers, cow hooves, dried pig ears, hard plastic chew toys and even ice cubes.

Safe chew toys have some "give." Most dogs can safely chew firm, rubber toys, which are available in a variety of shapes. Kong black toys are good for power chewers, but if Baxter destroys one, you'll need to ask your veterinarian to order the nearly indestructible Kong blue toys.

Make the toy more fun by hiding a treat, some peanut butter or frozen canned dog food inside. In addition, offer Baxter a twisted rope toy and some dental chews.

Also, increase Baxter's physical activity to tire him out before he settles down with his chew toys.

Q: My friend has a liquid potpourri pot that scents her home with a welcoming fragrance. I want to get one too, but I'm concerned about my cat's safety. Please advise.

A: Your concern is warranted. Cats are more sensitive than most species to the essential oils found in reed diffusers, electric diffusers and simmer pots that hold liquid potpourri.

Most such products contain not just essential oils but also cationic detergents that are corrosive, particularly to the gums and tongue.

If your cat were to investigate your liquid potpourri by putting a paw in the pot and then licking her paw while grooming, toxic signs would be evident within four to 12 hours. They include burns and ulcers in the mouth, drooling, gagging, emesis, loss of appetite, coughing, breathing difficulties, hiding, lethargy and fever.

Essential oils can be used safely around pets if precautions are taken:

Allow pets the option of leaving the room since they are very sensitive to odor.

Don't use your diffuser or liquid potpourri pot in an enclosed space or for longer than 30 minutes at a time.

Position the diffuser so it doesn't spray oil on pets or their bedding or dishes.

Use diluted essential oils, which are less toxic than concentrates.

Remain in the room when your potpourri pot is in use, especially if it is warmed by a candle. Put your pot away when you're not using it.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]