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16 Pet Products Vets Never Buy—And Neither Should You

Updated: Mar. 18, 2024

That chew toy may look like fun, or your dog may think antlers are delicious—but both could be hiding trouble for your pets. Here's what the pros say you should avoid.

Everyone wants their pets to live the best life possible, but this can be challenging considering our pets can’t tell us what they like and don’t like. There is a lot of information out there about products to buy for your animal, but how trustworthy are these sources? We asked veterinarians what they would never buy for their pet and asked them to give us a recommendation of what they would buy instead. These pet professionals did not disappoint. To score great deals on every item you pet needs, make sure to check out Amazon Prime Day, here’s everything you need to know about it.

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Curious Orange Kitten Plays with a Red Dot from a Laser Pointer Seika Chujo/Shutterstock

Laser pointers

A laser pointer and a rambunctious kitty or pup can provide hours of entertainment…for humans. The animal, on the other hand, is likely to just be really annoyed and possibly overwhelmed, says Jennifer Coates, DVM, a veterinarian on the Pet Life Today advisory board. “Chasing a point of light can be frustrating because they are never able to successfully catch their ‘prey,'” she explains. “If you must use a laser pointer, toss out a pet-safe stuffed animal at the end of the game that your dog or cat can kill.'” Be sure to also check out these other things you are probably doing that veterinarians wouldn’t.

What to buy instead: This indestructible stuffed animal with a pet-safe squeaker for maximum fun.

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Cute playful beagle puppy running next to its owner and pulling its leash with its teeth Olena Kurashova/Shutterstock

Retractable leashes

If you want to be horrified, just Google “retractable leash injuries” (but don’t say we didn’t warn you). Unfortunately, friction burns and cuts are common with this type of leash, and both pets and humans get hurt by them, Dr. Coates says. “You actually have very little control over a dog at the end of a retractable dog leash,” she explains. “So unless your dog responds perfectly to voice commands, opt for a short leash and a trip to the dog park for some off-leash fun.” Look out for these warning signs your dog is in pain.

What to buy instead: This short bungee leash, for extra freedom without the danger.

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A small striped kitten is playing with a blue clue of yarn MVolodymyr/Shutterstock

Balls of yarn

Cats and balls of yarn are a match made in cute heaven. But allowing your kitty to play with string, yarn, thread, floss, rope or other similar items is a major health hazard, warns Dr. Coates. “Cats may swallow thread-like toys when playing with them and if it becomes looped around the base of the tongue, their intestines can bunch up around the string, which may cut through the intestinal wall,” she says. Yikes! When shopping for your pet at Aldi, be sure to avoid these products.

What to buy instead: These felted wool cat toy balls, for a similar feel without the choking hazard.

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Dog with bone schubbel/Shutterstock

Cow hooves

Pet owners looking for an all-natural chew toy that’s not made of plastic may turn to nature’s “chewies,” like animal hooves. Unfortunately, these can cause their own set of problems, says Bucky Bearden, DVM, a veterinarian in Apopka, Florida. “When it comes to my own pet, I completely avoid treats that are too hard, like hooves, because they can fracture the large carnassial teeth,” he explains.

What to buy instead: These wood-based chewies, for a softer chew toy that won’t splinter.

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Dog Eating Delicious Snack kpakook/Shutterstock

Chicken jerky

Every pup loves dried, raw meat, but you won’t love the germs that can come with it, Dr. Bearden says. Contrary to popular belief, the process of turning meat into jerky doesn’t kill bugs like salmonella. Any pet owner who’s had the extreme displeasure of dealing with that awful intestinal illness (in themselves or their furry friends) knows the vomiting and diarrhea is not worth the risk. So unless the packaging specifically says the meat has been heat-treated, avoid it. Find out the 10 silent signs your “healthy” dog is actually sick.

What to buy instead: These chicken strips that are cooked and rated as safe for humans to eat as well as pups.

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Golden retriever dog puppy playing with toy while lying on den Photology1971/Shutterstock

Toys from China

Pet products made in China may be a good deal price-wise, but you should be aware that there are very few—if any—safety regulations or government oversight for pet food, toys, and treats made there, warns Dr. Bearden. There have been reports of pet items contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins, as well as toys having choking hazards. These are the best dog food brands that vets recommend. 

What to buy instead: These ultra-strong balls your dog will love that are made in America.

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A senior female german shorthaired pointer shows her giant bone

Giant dog bones

Giving your dog or cat a cooked bone is a recipe for cracked teeth and bleeding gums, says Gary Richter, MS, DVM, a veterinary health expert with Rover.com. “These are the bones that you often see in the pet store that are sitting out in a bin or on a shelf and they are very hard,” he says. “Rather, get an appropriately sized raw bone. These can be very helpful in keeping teeth clean and they are able to chew through them and digest them.” How do you know if a bone is cooked or raw? Raw bones must be kept refrigerated or frozen, so if it’s not cold, skip it, he says. These are the best puzzle toys for bored dogs.

What to buy instead: Raw bones from your local butcher; butchers are often willing to give them away or sell them very cheaply.

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picture of a great dane puppy who is chewing at a pig's ear Christian Mueller/Shutterstock

Pig ears

Do you love junk food? Well, so does your dog—and pig ears are the junk food of the dog world, Dr. Richter says. “This ‘treat’ is super high in fat and calories and yet they have almost no nutritional value,” he explains. Just like you shouldn’t give yourself a package of Oreos before dinner, you shouldn’t let your dog fill up on pigs’ ears.

What to buy instead: A chicken-based, fully digestible bone.

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Dog Labrador retriever chew rawhide bone MaxShutter/Shutterstock

Rawhide bones

Rawhide bones and dog toys have been staples in many households for decades, but they are definitely falling out of favor with vets, Dr. Richter says. “The occasional small piece of rawhide can be fine for dogs, but the large rawhide ‘bones’ and sticks are nothing but empty calories,” he says. Plus, compressed rawhide products are very hard and difficult to digest, giving many animals an upset tummy, he adds. Here are some indestructible toys even the toughest Fido can’t break.

What to buy instead: These rawhide-free “bones” made with sweet potato.

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English Bulldog with Tennis Ball Stephen Bures/Shutterstock

Tennis balls

Playing fetch with a bright, fuzzy ball may be one of you and your dog’s favorite pastimes. That’s great, but make sure to take the toy away once the game is over, Dr. Richter says. “Dogs love to chew on a good ball, but the fuzz on tennis balls acts like sandpaper on their teeth over time,” he says. “An exuberant ball chewer can literally rub their teeth down to the gums on a tennis ball.” These are the 19 things your dog actually wants from you.

What to buy instead: This fur-free silicone ball.

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Pet pug getting a vaccination Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Too many vaccines

There’s a sweet spot when it comes to vaccinating your animals and more is not always better, Dr. Richter says. “Many pets are over-vaccinated and may suffer health issues because of it,” he explains. “Some vaccines are necessary to prevent disease, but once an animal is protected, there is no need to keep vaccinating them. Pet owners should know that just because their pet is ‘due’ for a vaccine on the calendar doesn’t mean they really need it.”

What to buy instead: These vitamin treats to help keep your pet’s immune system high.

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dog eats Ice-cream in a waffle horn malamooshi/Shutterstock

Cat “cookies” and pup “cream”

Cookies, ice cream, and treats aren’t great for your health—and the pet versions aren’t doing your furry friends any favors either. “If there is one single thing that is doing the most harm to the pet population, it is feeding them highly processed foods for a lifetime,” Dr. Richter says. “Instead of buying things like biscuits, jerky, or canned meats, try treats like fresh vegetables or freeze-dried or dehydrated pieces of meat.”

What to buy instead: These one-ingredient yak milk cheese sticks.

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Naughty dog home alone - yellow labrador retriever destroyed the plush toy and made a mess in the apartment Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

Stuffed animals

Think that buying your “bear” a toy stuffed bear is the perfect gift? It’s all fun and games until your dog swallows a plastic eye or a chunk of stuffing and needs emergency surgery, says Rachel Barrack, DVM, a vet and founder of Animal Acupuncture. “Any toy with small parts can be a choking hazard and/or cause intestinal obstruction,” she explains. “Do not leave your pet with soft toys unattended if they tend to destroy them and rip them into little pieces.” Check out these 13 helpful facts you never knew about your pup.

What to buy instead: A stuffing-free “stuffed” toy.

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A dog and it's antler A brown and white dog lying on it's bed chewing on a deer antler. Bill Pell/Shutterstock

Deer antlers

Deer antlers and other horns have become popular dog toys in recent years due to its all-natural ingredients and it usually lasts a lot longer than most chew toys. But the thing that makes it so appealing—its toughness—is exactly the problem, says Joanna Woodnutt, DVM, a vet in the United Kingdom. “They can cause teeth to fracture, which is very painful and requires a general anesthetic to fix—requiring either removal of the broken tooth altogether or a root canal treatment,” she explains. Instead, she recommends regularly brushing your pet’s teeth and giving them softer, digestible chews as a treat. Check out which dog food brands vets feed their own pets.

What to buy instead: These rubber toothbrushes to keep your pets’ teeth healthy.

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Beagle dog on blue leash standing in park in rainy day. Anna Molcharenko/Shutterstock

Extra-long leashes

You may think that giving your dog extra room on the leash is the best of both worlds—he gets to run almost free and you are still (technically) obeying leash laws and keeping your pup insight. Bad idea, Dr. Woodnutt says. “Extra long leads inhibit training as they cause confusion; sometimes the lead is clipped on to mean ‘heel’ and other times it is clipped on but the dog is allowed to roam,” she explains. Best to use a short leash on all walks and head to an off-leash dog park for more freedom to run.

What to buy instead: This soft, double-handled leash that allows you to instantly make it shorter or longer, for maximum control and comfort.

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Cute fluffy dog waiting to play with toy at walk alexei_tm/Shutterstock

Dog balls with a single hole

Bouncy balls are popular with both dogs and their owners but the wrong kind can lead to tragic consequences, Dr. Woodnutt says. There have been cases where rubber balls with a single hole can get stuck on the dog’s tongue. In addition, golf balls and small bouncy balls can be swallowed by larger dogs, resulting in expensive operations to remove them from the guts when they cause obstructions, she says. Next, don’t miss these 50 other secrets veterinarians aren’t telling you.

What to buy instead: A rope ball or toy that works equally well for playing fetch.