Your dog's toys spend a lot of time in their mouths, and in the yard, at the park, in puddles, on their beds, and many other places where dirt and grime can be picked up. Most of us never think about cleaning their toys, but this article will make you start. Learn how to clean your dog toys and keep yourself and your dog safer.
Let’s face it, your dog’s mouth is pretty gross. It’s full of bacteria, dirt, and whatever else they picked up on their adventures. The bacteria in their mouths don’t necessarily pose an imminent danger to us, or them, but just think about how many of their toys are just accumulating bacteria, drool, food particles, and more.
We don’t often think about the cleanliness of our pet’s toys until we pick them up and realize how disgusting they look, smell, and feel. By this point, most of us would rather just throw that toy out and buy a new one, rather than try to clean that ratty looking thing.
That practice is definitely not cost effective, and you may not realize the risk that this decrepit, germ-filled toy may pose to you, your family, and even your pet if left to fester long enough. There is a better way though.
Get into the habit of routinely cleaning your dog's toys, help keep them and yourself safer, and give your dog's toys a longer shelf life.
How Dangerous are Dirty Dog Toys?
The good news is that the actual risk to your pet from chewing on a filthy dog toy is not super high. Dog’s are capable of handling a lot more bacteria than we are, so the risks to them are minimal and often cosmetic.
Have you ever heard of puppy acne? Contrary to how it may seem, puppy acne is rarely a result of hormonal changes or imbalances during their growth stages. In fact, it’s most commonly seen in dogs that chew on dirty toys, drink from unwashed dog bowls, and generally stick their muzzles in places with a lot of bacteria.
Dirt, oils, and bacteria can settle into the pores and hair follicles on their face, most often their chin area, which can cause irritation. This irritation looks like small red bumps, sometimes even pustules. Yuck!
Sanitizing your toys and bowls, and cleaning the affected areas can lead to a quick reduction of ‘puppy acne.’ So long as toys and bowls are maintained, this condition is unlikely to return.
Learn more about preventing and treating your dog's pizza face in Dog Acne: 5 Tips for Healthy Dog Skin.
The real risk of dirty dog toys is to us. A little bit of dirt isn’t going to be a high-risk factor, but bacteria that has built up and festered on your dog's toys can be a little scarier.
You may not realize how often we come in contact with our dog’s toys or the surfaces that their toys have touched, not to mention the bacteria that is being carried and spread by your dog’s saliva and mouth.
Dirty toys can also break down faster too. Depending on the material, the toy may start to weaken and be easier to break off pieces, posing a choking, ingesting, or puncture hazard. Regular cleaning helps you thoroughly examine the toys to determine if it is starting to come apart, or if pieces are at risk of being chewed off.
Tips for Cleaning Your Dog’s Toys
Take a look at your pups toy box. Are there any toys that are looking kind of nasty? Would you be willing to pick up a toy with your bare hands and then touch your hand to your face? Probably not, Right?
Here is a quick and simple tip for cleaning your dog’s toys:
Use a Natural Sanitizing Agent
Soaps and commercial detergents may do a good job of cleaning a variety of materials and surfaces, but they can also leave behind a residue of the chemicals in the formula. Considering this is something that goes in your pet’s mouth, you will want to avoid using cleaning products that are unsafe for your pet to ingest.
Bleach, peroxide, Lysol-type products are all on the no-no list.
Our top recommendation is to use vinegar. It is a natural disinfectant, is safe to ingest, and is gentle enough not to damage the materials. Rubber, silicone, and nylon toys can be soaked in a 5% vinegar and warm water solution for 10-15 minutes, and then gently scrubbed with a clean sponge or brush to remove built-up dirt.
Make sure to thoroughly rinse the toys and dry them before returning them to your pet’s toy bin. Moisture helps bacteria breed, so some toys may need to be left to dry for a few hours.
For plush toys, you can toss a ¼ cup of vinegar into your washing machine, in place of detergent, and run the toys on a gentle cycle. Lay the toys flat or hang to dry, or use the tumble cycle of the dryer to speed up the process.
Damaged and torn plush toys will further deteriorate in the washing machine and should be hand washed to preserve them. Fill the sink, or a bucket with warm water, and add an ounce of vinegar. Gently scrub the toy to loosen dirt, and rinse thoroughly to get rid of the sharp vinegar smell.
Outdoor Toys Probably Need More Care
Having a set of outdoor toys, and a set of indoor toys is quite common. If we think about the logic behind this, it’s because we don’t want the outdoor toys to end up on our couch, our beds, or even the carpet.
We already know that our dog’s outdoor toys are stinky, and that’s why many of them have been banished to Backyardia, but keeping the toys outside doesn’t keep the germs out of the house.
Try to get into the habit of cleaning these toys more often. Even cleaning one toy per week can significantly reduce the amount of bacteria sneaking its way back into your home.
Because these toys get a little extra dirty, you may need to soak them a bit longer or scrub them a bit rougher to get them clean. For heavily soiled and settled grime, double the amount of vinegar in your soak.
Rotate your Dog’s Toys
To make cleaning easier, try a rotation system for your dog's toys. This way you can have a set of toys that are in play, a set that is on deck, and a set being cleaned. Then you can make sure that you aren’t leaving your dog without anything to do while each set of toys are being washed and dried.
Toy rotation can aid in extending the life of the toys, and prevent your dog from getting bored with them. Rotating toys once or twice a month will bring back that new toy excitement, and keep your dog mentally active as he has to relearn how to play with that toy.
It will also prevent your dog from being too attached to any one toy. When you do need to lay a toy to rest, your dog won't be quite as distressed if they value all of their toys equally.
Be Excited When You Return The Toy
Washing the toy also means removing the smells that your pet left on it. For some dogs, washing their go-to toy can be equivalent to you washing your lucky socks. Your dog may feel that the toys “mojo” is gone and may not show interest in the toy anymore.
How you reintroduce the toy can have a significant effect on your dog’s enthusiasm towards it.
Don’t just toss the toy on the floor. Instead, try to make an immediate game out of it. If you are excited, it will help your dog get excited too. They are more likely to accept the toy if they see that you like it.
Clean Your Toy Bin
How do you store your dog’s toys? In a toy bin? A basket? However you store your pup’s toys, know that the bacteria concentration in that storage container is pretty high.
You can clean those toys until the cows come home, but by putting them back in that disgusting container, they will continue to spread germs throughout your house.
Cleaning your dog’s toys routinely can be beneficial for everyone in your house. Toys don’t need to be 100% sanitized at all times, and a little bit of bacteria is likely not going to cause any harm, but having a system of reducing bacteria can make a bigger difference than you think.
Lastly, learn when to let go. It can be heartbreaking to throw away your dogs favourite toy, but some toys are just beyond saving. If it can't be cleaned or repair, then retire it to the dog toy hall of fame. Plus, that means a trip to pet store to restock!
Do you clean your dog’s toys? Let us know your tips and tricks for keeping your dog’s toys clean in the comments below.