Can A Dog Lose A Tooth Playing Tug Of War?

Tug of war is a fun and popular game that many dog owners like to play with their pets. It provides dogs with exercise, mental stimulation, and bonding time with their humans. However, some experts have raised concerns about potential dental risks associated with playing tug of war.[1] When dogs bite down hard on a rope or toy while playing, they can potentially damage their teeth and gums. Understanding the anatomy of a dog’s mouth, how tug of war is played, and ways to reduce risks can help owners make informed decisions about this classic game.

Anatomy of a Dog’s Teeth

Dogs have four types of teeth, each with a different structure and function: incisors, canines, premolars, and molars. It is important to understand the anatomy of dog teeth when considering risks like tooth loss during play.

Incisors are the small, chisel-shaped teeth at the front of a dog’s mouth. They are used for nibbling and grooming. There are six incisors on the top and six on the bottom. Canines, sometimes called fangs or cuspids, are the large, pointy teeth located on either side of the incisors. Dogs use these for gripping, tearing food, and defending themselves. Premolars and molars make up the back teeth and have flatter surfaces designed for grinding food. Adult dogs have a total of sixteen premolars and six molars on the top and sixteen premolars and six molars on the bottom (Diagram Of Dog’s Teeth, Dog Tooth Anatomy).

A dog’s tooth contains a pulp cavity at the center containing nerves and blood vessels. Hard enamel covers the outer portion while thick dentin makes up the bulk of each tooth (Diagram Of Dog’s Teeth, Dog Tooth Anatomy). Understanding the anatomy helps assess risks of damage.

Why Dogs Like Playing Tug of War

Dogs love playing tug of war because it taps into their natural instinctual prey drive ( When playing with toys that mimic prey animals, they can satisfy their instinct to hunt, capture, and play with “prey” items. This provides them with both physical and mental stimulation.

Additionally, playing tug of war is a great way for dogs to bond with their owners ( The back and forth nature of the game fosters collaborative play between pet and owner. Dogs see it as a chance to engage in play with their trusted human companion. This helps strengthen the relationship and establishes trust through this interactive game.

The physical nature of tug of war also provides dogs with good exercise. Pulling on the toy engages muscles and allows them to burn off excess energy. Mentally, it stimulates their brains by tapping into prey drive behaviors. Overall, the combination of physical and mental benefits makes tug of war an enjoyable and rewarding game for dogs.

Risks of Tug of War for Dogs

While tug of war can be a fun activity for dogs, it does come with some risks, especially for their teeth and mouths. Dogs have 42 teeth, and some of the main risks from playing tug of war too aggressively include tooth fractures, periodontal disease, and tooth loss.

The repetitive clenching and tugging motion during an intense game of tug can lead to stress fractures in the enamel of the teeth. These hairline cracks weaken the integrity of the tooth and make it prone to chipping or breaking. Dogs with thinner enamel are at greater risk of tooth fractures.

Periodontal disease can also develop from the pressure placed on the teeth during tug of war. The force exerted along the gumline can cause inflammation, recession, and loosening of the teeth over time. Bacteria from plaque also contribute to gum infections and erosion of the bone that supports the teeth.

In severe cases, teeth that are already compromised by fractures or gum disease may be pulled or fall out during tug of war. The constant pulling places significant strain on weakened roots and supportive structures. Even if no teeth are lost initially, damaged teeth often need to be extracted later by a vet.

Overall, while most dogs love a good game of tug, it’s important to be mindful of the potential dental risks. Monitoring your dog’s mouth and being careful about not playing too intensely can help minimize the chances of injury.

Factors that Increase Risk of Dental Injury

There are several factors that can increase the risk of a dog injuring their teeth during a game of tug of war:

Aggressive playing – Dogs that play very aggressively with constant pulling, chomping, and head shaking are at higher risk of dental trauma from the force on their teeth (1). Hard biting down repeatedly on a toy creates stress on the teeth and roots that can lead to fractures or displaced teeth.

Inappropriate toys – Tug toys that are very hard with little to no give, such as wood, hard plastic, or metal, create more risk for dental injuries. Soft rope toys with some flexibility put less pressure on teeth when biting down (2).

Underlying dental disease – Dogs with pre-existing dental issues like periodontal disease, fractures, or enamel defects are more prone to dental injuries during play. Their teeth and roots are already weaker and may not withstand the normal stresses of tugging and biting down (3).

By avoiding aggressive play styles, choosing softer toys, and maintaining good dental health, owners can reduce the chances of dogs damaging their teeth during an otherwise fun game of tug of war.




Ways to Play More Safely

There are some ways you can play tug of war with your dog more safely to reduce the chance of dental injuries:

Use appropriate toys – Select tug toys made of rope or rubber that are designed specifically for playing this game with dogs. Avoid toys that are too hard like wood or plastic, which could chip teeth (

Use proper technique – Always hold the toy stationary to start. Wait for your dog to grip it, then tug briefly before letting them “win.” Avoid jerking the toy around or playing aggressively (

Get regular dental exams – Your veterinarian should examine your dog’s teeth annually or bi-annually. They can identify any cracked, loose, or damaged teeth to be treated or extracted if needed.

Playing tug of war does not need to be avoided altogether. By selecting the right toys, using appropriate technique, and getting veterinary dental exams, you can reduce risks and enjoy this fun activity safely with your dog.

Signs of Dental Injury

There are several signs that may indicate your dog has suffered a dental injury while playing tug of war or chewing on a toy:

Broken teeth – Fractured or chipped teeth are an obvious sign of dental trauma. The tooth may be cracked vertically or horizontally. Part of the tooth may also break off entirely, leaving exposed dentin or pulp.

Pain or discomfort – If your dog has a fractured or broken tooth, it will likely experience pain when eating or chewing. You may notice it dropping food, chewing only on one side, or avoiding hard foods.1

Bleeding gums – Injuries to gums or damage to teeth can cause bleeding from the gums. You may see blood on chew toys.

Mouth odors – Fractured teeth expose pulp and dentin to bacteria. This can cause foul odors from the mouth, even if there is no visible injury.

Swollen muzzle – Blunt trauma from a tug toy hitting the muzzle can cause swelling and bruising.

If you notice any of these signs, examine your dog’s mouth carefully. Look for chipped, loose, or broken teeth. Contact your vet, as damaged teeth often require extraction or capping.

Treating Dental Injuries

There are several treatment options for dental injuries in dogs depending on the severity and type of injury:

Extraction: For severe fractures, displacements, or pulp exposures, extraction of the tooth may be necessary. This involves surgically removing the damaged tooth under general anesthesia. Extraction helps prevent infection and provides pain relief. The missing tooth will eventually fill in with bone.

Root Canal Therapy: If the pulp is exposed but the tooth is otherwise healthy, a veterinary dentist may perform a root canal to save the tooth. This involves cleaning out the root canal system and sealing the tooth. A crown is often placed afterward to protect the tooth.

Crown: For minor fractures, a crown (cap) can be applied over the tooth to stabilize it and prevent further damage. This restores function and a natural appearance.

Reimplantation Surgery: For severely displaced teeth, reimplantation surgery may reposition and stabilize the tooth. Success depends on how soon it’s performed after injury, the stage of root development, and the presence of infection.

Overall, treatment aims to relieve pain, restore function, prevent complications, and improve the pet’s quality of life. The cost varies based on the intervention, ranging from $500 for an extraction up to $2500+ for root canal therapy and crowns.

Preventing Dental Injuries

There are several steps dog owners can take to help prevent dental injuries in their pets:

Routine dental care – Regular tooth brushing, dental chews, and professional cleanings can all help maintain your dog’s dental health and prevent issues like loose teeth or gum disease that increase injury risk. Brushing daily or several times a week is ideal. Annual veterinary dental cleanings are also recommended.[1]

Monitoring play – Supervise all play sessions, especially tug toys and chews. Stop the game if it seems too intense. Inspect toys for sharp edges that could cause cuts or cracks. Rotate toys to avoid overuse and damage.

Choosing appropriate toys – Select toys designed specifically for dogs that are the proper size and strength level for your dog. Avoid real bones, antlers, and hooves, which are hard enough to fracture teeth. Rope toys are gentler on teeth than hard rubber.

Training bite inhibition – Teach your dog to “drop” or release toys on command. This can minimize abrupt tugging motions that may jerk teeth.



Tug of war is an enjoyable and stimulating game for many dogs, but with risks of dental and mouth injuries. This can especially happen with overexcited, energetic, or competitive play by dogs. Heavy forces and stress on a tooth or jaw can result in damage over time. But with proper precautions like using rope toys instead of sticks or towels and monitoring your dog’s mouth health, the risks can be reduced. If you do notice signs of injury like a loose or broken tooth, bleeding gums, or behavior changes, get veterinary care immediately. Overall, with safe practices, tug of war can still be a rewarding game that strengthens your bond with your furry friend. The keys are moderation, safety, awareness of risks, and being attentive to any potential injuries or issues.

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