Caution comes after report reveals two adults and a child injured in separate incidents linked to the toys

Pet owners are being warned about the risks posed to dogs and cats by one of the world’s most popular children’s toys.

Emergency and critical care veterinarians at Vets Now say they have treated a number of small animals for injuries linked to Nerf guns and their equivalents.

They are calling on pet owners to make sure pets are out of harm’s way when children are playing with the guns, which shoot soft foam bullets and darts and were on the list of ‘must-have’ presents last Christmas.

Their warning comes in the wake of a study published in the BMJ, which revealed doctors have treated three people for eye injuries after they were shot with the toy guns by children.

Laura Playforth, Vets Now’s professional standards director, said: “Pet owners, particularly those with children, should be aware of the potential dangers associated with these toys and keep them well out of the way of pets.”

Jessie the labrador was admitted to emergency care after being hurt by a Nerf toy
Labrador Jessie hurt her nose while playing with a Nerf toy

Makers Hasbro warns players never to aim Nerf guns at the eyes or face.

In a statement issued to Vets Now, the toy manufacturer stated: “Product safety is of utmost concern at Hasbro. Nerf products undergo rigorous reviews and testing to assure that they are safe and fun to play with, and meet or exceed global standards and regulations.”

Hasbro also insists its darts and foam rounds are “not hazardous when used properly”.

But Laura Playforth warned: “These guns are powerful enough to cause nasty injuries, including loss of vision, in small animals while the bullets are colourful so can be appealing to inquisitive pets.

“If a foam gun bullet is swallowed it may cause a potentially fatal blockage.”

Vets Now has treated at least nine cats and dogs with Nerf gun-related injuries in the past year, ranging from choking to eye damage.

Joy Sweatman, from Coventry, rushed her dog Ozzy to her nearest Vets Now pet emergency clinic after a family gathering went awry.

Joy’s eight-year-old grandson was playing with his new toy when the curious Labradoodle strayed into the path of a flying bullet and was hit in the eye.

“Initially, Ozzy seemed completely unaffected by the bullet,” Joy explained. “But when we got him home we realised his left eye had begun to swell. We contacted our emergency vets immediately.

“Luckily the vets didn’t think it was too serious and we got to take Ozzy home, but I think it’s important to highlight to people how damaging they can be to pets.”

Joy went on to explain the family had learned their lesson from the incident, adding: “We wouldn’t dream of using the gun around dogs again. They’re too dangerous for pets.”

“We wouldn't dream of using the gun around dogs again. They're too dangerous for pets.”

Joy Sweatman Ozzy's Owner

Another pet owner, Andrea Proctor, from Bedworth, had to take her four-year-old Labrador to Vets Now after she was accidentally hit in the nose by a Nerf “gumball thrower” designed specifically for dogs.

She said: “We were playing with the toy and Jessie jumped up to catch the ball but it hit her in the side of the face. She made a terrible squeal. It was horrific. I had never heard her make a noise like it. ”

“You don’t realise the power of it, you think it’s fine but with the speed at which the ammo fires out, at close range it could really hurt.”

Jessie didn’t seem phased by the ordeal and, thankfully, returned to her usual happy self and after being prescribed medication.

However, as Andrea joked: “It’s still her favourite toy – although we only play with it outside now.”

Nerf guns are labelled for children aged eight or over, although many adults take part in games known as “Nerf Wars”.

Players have also been known to modify their guns using unofficial online tutorials, making the weapon shoot harder, faster and farther by adding weights to the pellets.

In one online Nerf war forum known as NerfHaven, users even boasted about injuring pets with their marksmanship.

Anonymous user “Black fox” commented on a post, claiming: “My cat started attacking people as they walked up the stairs. I shot him in the face. The next time he rushed at me, he grimaced when I whipped around ready to fire again. I find that disturbingly amusing.”

Family pet Ozzy was injured after being struck by a Nerf bullet
Labradoodle Ozzy was hit in the eye with a Nerf bullet

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Cheap imitation versions of Nerf guns, bullets and darts are also available online from other retailers.

These are often made with harder foam, so are potentially more dangerous.

The authors of the medical study called on Nerf gun users to wear protective eye goggles, although they stopped short of suggesting a safe equivalent for pets.

They added: “It is important to note that the risk of having an eye injury with the Nerf darts also comes from the fact that a projectile can harm when it travels fast enough.”

Vets Now is open through the night, seven-days-a-week, and day and night on bank holidays and weekends, to treat any pet emergencies that may occur.