Fact Check

Dog Poisoned by Nerf Football?

Did a dog die after picking up a poisoned Nerf football in a dog park?

Published Aug 22, 2013


Claim:   A dog died after picking up a poisoned Nerf football in a dog park.


Example:   [Collected via Facebook, August 2013]

Last night my sister's dog, Jake, was at the community dog park. He was playing and running and having a blast. He picked up a Nerf football that was just laying around. He immediately dropped it and shook his head. He got a drink and played a bit longer. Then all of a sudden he wanted to go home. When he got home a few moments later, he laid down and in minutes he was dead. This was a wonderful, healthy 4-yr old Golden Retriever mx. Apparently someone didn't like the dog park and had left the ball full of poison. So NEVER, NEVER, NEVER LET YOUR DOG PICK UP ANYTHING THAT HE DIDN'T BRING WITH HIM! Any toys abandoned should immediately be put in the trash! This was a horrible loss and my sister is devastated! I doubt they will ever know who did this, but don't be the next victim. Spread the word--SAVE A LIFE!


Origins:   This account of a dog named Jake who purportedly died after picking up a poisoned Nerf football in a dog park was posted in mid-August 2013 by a woman named Jayne Hawthorne. The original post contained little in the way of details, but Jayne's sister (and Jake's owner), Kim Demeter of St. Petersburg, Florida, provided an account of the incident to Pet360.com:

Demeter said in a phone interview that she took Jake to her apartment complex's new, 3-week old dog park after arranging a playdate with her friend who has a dachshund. After they got to the park, Jake picked up a small plastic coated pink football, brought it toward her, spit it out and was foaming at the mouth.

"I really didn't think much about it because dogs sometimes get foam when they get hot," Demeter told Pet360. "I then got out his water and

bowl, which I brought, and he drank it and went and ran three more laps with the other dogs, then he went by the gate and acted like he wanted to go home — which never happens — and so we packed up and walked home."

After arriving home, Jake collapsed in just minutes. Jake was unconscious and experiencing what Demeter thought was a seizure. Neighbors helped Demeter rush Jake to an emergency veterinarian in St. Petersburg, but it was too late. Jake, who Demeter described as her baby, was gone.

"I didn't put two and two together about the ball until later," says Demeter, who then rushed back out to get the ball, for fear another dog or child might get hurt.

Although it is possible that Jake died because the Nerf football he picked up was suffused with some form of poison (either deliberately or accidentally), that claim remains an unproven hypothesis — as noted in the Pet360.com interview, no necropsy or toxicology tests were performed on Jake (because his body had already been frozen), nor was the Nerf football analyzed for traces of poison. Jake's sudden and unexpected death might have been due to one of a number of alternative explanations:

Demeter says the vet told her that she did not believe Jake's sudden death was due to heat, but was likely caused by a heart attack or anaphylaxis, a condition that onsets when a dog comes in contact with a toxic substance or something that might cause a severe allergic reaction.

Keith Niesenbaum, a veterinarian who owns three veterinary clinics in New York, including Farmingdale Dog and Cat Hospital in Farmingdale, N.Y. says without a necropsy on Jake, assuming cause of death is pure speculation.

"There's no hard evidence of poisoning," says Niesenbaum who says he couldn't think of many poisons that would work that quickly.

Niesenbaum says any number of things could have killed Jake suddenly, including a bee sting or a genetic defect unknown to Jake's mom and veterinarian.

We've received many accounts of pet owners finding dog treats and other ingestibles laced with poisons or other harmful substances at dog parks (and other areas frequented by dogs), so maintaining a degree of vigilance about what your dog might be able to pick up or eat while outdoors is a prudent precaution.

Last updated:   22 August 2013

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.