August 26, 2020 Dentistry Dogs Internal Medicine

Dogs and Tennis Balls: It’s Not Always a Match

An x-ray of an intact tennis ball in the stomach of a Labrador retriever

Dogs and Tennis Balls: It’s Not Always a Match

The US Open tennis championship begins next week at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, just across the East River from the Animal Medical Center. The Open is the first major international tennis event in the COVID-19 era. It will not be quite the same event as in previous years, but the announcement of the event reminded me of a 2015 match between Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Auckland, New Zealand where dogs served as ballpersons. Subsequently, the US Open held ball dog tryouts. I don’t think ball dogs ever worked during an actual tournament, but they might be a useful addition to the tournament this year to facilitate social distancing during matches.

Despite dogs’ love of tennis balls, the pair is not always a match. There are some health hazards to be aware of that I’ll discuss below.

Tennis Balls as Choking Hazards

Many dead tennis balls rally and become dog toys. But old, worn tennis balls can easily break apart and be ingested by overly eager pups. Over the past few months, I have collected images of tennis ball foreign bodies in dogs, pictured here. You might say these dogs had a bad break when a lob, a volley or a backhand ball was swallowed instead of retrieved. AMC veterinarians remove the stuck ball or its pieces using endoscopy or surgery.

An x-ray of an intact tennis ball in the stomach of a Labrador retriever
Here is an intact tennis ball in the stomach of a Labrador retriever. The ball was removed endoscopically.
An x-ray of a partial tennis ball in a dog's stomach
This dog had part of a tennis ball lodged in its intestine, removed by AMC’s surgery team.
An endoscopic image of a tennis ball in the stomach of a dog
Here is an endoscopic view of part of a tennis ball inside a third dog.

If your dog is a tennis ball fanatic, supervise all play with tennis balls. Check the balls carefully to make sure no pieces are broken off and discard torn balls. At pet stores you can find tiny tennis balls for small dogs, but don’t let your big dog play with those balls because they could easily be swallowed.

Tennis Balls and Teeth

Tennis balls can also be particularly harmful to your dog’s teeth. The fuzz on a tennis ball, known as the “nap,” is very abrasive and can wear down tooth enamel over time. AMC’s board certified dentists recommend your dog play with fuzz-less tennis balls instead. The photo below shared by AMC’s Dentistry Service shows the teeth from a champion tennis ball chewer.

Side and top views of a dog's teeth that have been worn down by tennis ball fuzz

Canine Tennis Ball Grand Slam

Despite the health threats of tennis balls, Finley, a 6-year-old Golden Retriever from Canandaigua, NY has won the Grand Slam of dog tennis ball competitions by holding six tennis balls in his mouth unassisted. Here is a video of the match point and a bonus video of the trophy ceremony.

Tags: Choking, Choking Hazards, Dog Health, dog safety, dog toys, dogs, foreign bodies, Tennis ball fuzz, Tennis Balls, veterinary dentistry, veterinary internal medicine,

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