Should Labradors Chase Balls? A Guide for Playing Fetch Safely

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When we first welcomed our Lab, Molly, into our home, she had seemingly endless energy. We would play fetch with her for hours, and she would bring it back for another round every time. Eventually, I began to worry that these endless hours of fetch may be too much for her. Should Labradors chase balls all day?

Labradors should chase balls, but not for too long. Leaning forward to get the ball can put excess stress on their front legs, jolting motions can hurt their joints, and there’s a chance a piece of the ball could get stuck in their throat. However, playing catch a few times a day won’t cause harm.

While chasing a ball could cause problems down the road, there are safe ways to play fetch with your Lab, and healthy alternatives. We’ll also talk about why they enjoy retrieving everything so much and why a ball is often their ideal choice.

Yellow Lab puppy playing with ball in yard.

Is It Okay for Labradors to Chase Balls?

You might’ve read or heard about the dangers associated with throwing a ball for your dog to retrieve. Labradors love playing fetch because it matches everything that keeps them entertained and healthy. However, there are several concerns pet owners have about this age-old game.

Here’s what you should know before playing fetch with your Lab:

  • Chasing a ball provides your dog with excellent exercise. Your Lab should exercise every day to promote a healthy lifestyle. It’s good for their heart, lungs, brain, digestive system, and mental health. Throwing a ball will check off many boxes required to keep your Labrador in good shape.
  • Leaning forward and jolting around can strain their muscles and joints. According to Thousand Hills Pet Resort, constantly pushing their weight towards the front can stress their legs and lead to micro-fractures if overdone. It can also lead to early joint dysplasia, an illness Labradors are prone to when they’re older.
  • Rolling the ball can limit or prevent jumping and twisting motions. When playing with a ball indoors, dogs will jump and run as quickly as possible to catch a ball. Rolling the ball will keep their feet grounded, stopping them from jumping awkwardly or slamming into the ground. Also, rolling the ball to them rather than past them prevents the twisting motions.

Chasing a ball will get their body moving and heart pumping, both of which are necessary for several health reasons.

If you’re looking for an awesome toy for launching balls, check out the Nerf Dog Tennis Ball Blaster. This thing launches balls a decent distance for backyard play, and allows you to pick up the slobbery balls directly into the gun itself so that you don’t have to touch them!

How Long Should You Play Ball With Your Dog?

You should play ball with your dog for 15 to 30 minutes a day. Remember to roll the ball rather than throwing it when indoor small spaces to keep their joints and muscles from twisting too quickly. Also, mixing their exercise with walking, running, and other activities is an excellent way to keep them adapted to several movements.

Dogs Need At Least 30 Minutes of Exercise Daily

Reader’s Digest suggests giving your dog about 30 minutes of exercise daily. Chasing a ball can be a simple exercise, but there’s a lot more they could do. Puppies typically need more physical activity than adult Labs.

Mix Fetch With Other Activities

If you don’t know which exercise to try with your dog, review our post about running with a Lab. Labradors can go with you on daily jogs, benefiting both of your health. Other options include agility runs, tug-of-war, and doggy treadmills.

Why Do Labradors Love Chasing a Ball?

You might be curious why your Labradors chase balls the second it leaves your hand. They’re mesmerized and refuse to look elsewhere until you throw it. Could this be part of their instincts, or do they think you have live prey for them to chase? Truthfully, it’s a combination of both.

Labradors chase balls and retrieve them both on land and out of the water.

Labs are smart enough to know a ball isn’t alive, but their desire to chase it is closely intertwined with their history. 

  1. Retrieving is in a Labrador’s DNA. We’ve covered why dogs love chasing rabbits, especially if they haven’t been socialized yet. Labradors have been bred to chase animals like hunting dogs, sending them to retrieve downed prey or chase them down. They love retrieving!
  2. Fetch is an easy game to remember and triggers their natural instincts to chase and retrieve things. When they see a ball fly through the air (or roll on the ground as we suggested earlier in the post), they’re ready to have a blast. Much like humans, dogs love playing games. It’s not always about catching prey; they might be in it for the fun of it!
  3. Balls are easy to bite, chew, and carry in their mouths. Labs don’t like chewing on anything too big. A ball is light enough and easy to hold that they don’t have to put much effort into it. When they’re done running around, they can hold and nibble on the ball, making it the perfect toy.

If your Labrador’s favorite toy is a ball, they’re not alone. Many dogs love chasing balls, but there’s one unanimous agreement among many pet health professionals: Tennis balls aren’t the best solution. In fact, chewing a tennis ball can put your Lab into serious trouble. They should use a different ball.

Should Labradors Chew on Tennis Balls?

Labradors shouldn’t chew on tennis balls because they can cause several health issues. It might seem harmless to those who’ve used tennis balls for many years, but they’re much more hazardous for your pup than other toys.

A hardened rubber ball or chew toy makes a better fetch toy than a tennis ball. Here’s why:

  • Tennis balls break apart, meaning they could get lodged in your dog’s throat. The American Kennel Club states tennis balls are weak compared to the pressure of your dog’s teeth. As they bite into it and shred the ball apart, some of the bits and pieces will likely end up in their stomach. Your dog could get sick or require hospitalization.
  • A chewy ball can make your dog’s teeth fall out (which can cause premature teething in puppies). Puppies lose their teeth relatively easily. Chewing a tennis ball can pull loose teeth out earlier than they were supposed to come out. This problem can hurt their gums and make it hard to chew until their new teeth grow through.
  • Too much of the small fuzz can make them cough or get into their intestines. Most tennis balls are covered in yellow and green fuzz. These tiny fuzzies come apart and cause a problem similar to hairballs in cats. While cats have adapted to this issue, dogs aren’t supposed to hack and cough balls of fuzz from a tennis ball.
Labrador chase ball, brought it back and laying on the ground.

If you want to play fetch with a ball, it’s best to get something designed for dogs. Tennis balls are made for sports, not pups! The RHL Dog Squeaky Toy is made for dogs who love chewing through everything they can get their teeth on. It’s chewy enough to keep them entertained but won’t break apart from their jaw strength.

Conclusion

Now that you know why having your Labrador chase balls for too long can be an issue, you can try other games to keep them entertained and exercised. They’re unaware of the stress put on their joints and muscles by playing catch all day, but you can keep them safe and healthy by switching it up every once in a while.

If you throw balls for your Lab to catch, make sure they’re not fragile tennis balls that can be chewed apart and swallowed.

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