If you’ve ever stepped foot into a pet store, you’re likely familiar with rawhide. This popular, affordable, long-lasting, widely available chewing toy is often used to promote healthy teeth and gums, and to keep dogs occupied so that they don’t chew on other household items.
However, rawhide also poses some risks—some that may outweigh the benefits. Keep reading to learn whether rawhide is a safe choice for your dog, or whether you should consider an alternative option with sustainably sourced, raw materials.
What is Rawhide?
While rawhide’s name may lead you to believe that this popular doggy chew toy comes from the beef industry and is made from dehydrated meat, this is not the case. Instead, rawhide is, essentially, the leather industry’s leftovers—and it’s not quite as “raw” as we may think.
After cattle hides are sent from the slaughterhouses to tanneries for processing, they are treated with chemicals which strip hair and fat, slow down decay, and prepare the hide for splitting.
From there, the product is cleansed in more chemicals to conceal any decay and whiten the product. Some rawhide products are even painted to become more visually appealing.
And then, the final steps: even more chemicals, and sometimes even glue, until the product is store-ready.
Because of the chemicals involved in the rawhide manufacturing process, these chews can contain toxic ingredients and bacteria which could lead to contamination.
Chemicals aside, rawhide is generally not made to be digestible. It’s a toy intended for chewing, not eating. Of course, all your pooch knows is that it’s a yummy treat, especially if it comes in appealing flavors. Over time, chewed rawhide becomes flimsy and gummy in texture, but doesn’t break down the same way food does. A dog attempting to swallow a chunk of rawhide, which can be a choking hazard, may end up with an intestinal obstruction; one of those chunks could also sit in Fido’s stomach for months and cause gastrointestinal issues.
- Repeated swallowing
- Decreased energy
- Indications of pain
- Hesitation to eat
If your dog struggles with digestion with or without rawhide, consider Pet Honesty’s Digestive Support Chews to promote healthy digestion and intestinal health.
While there are several risks to be aware of, it’s worth noting that not all rawhide is the same. According to Purina Senior Nutritionist Jan Dempsey, there are good-quality rawhides which have been properly washed and cleaned. Assessing whether rawhide is safe for your dog comes down to three key factors: manufacturer, size, and your dog’s chewing style.
Some companies make higher-quality rawhide chews than others; digestibility of the product varies from dog to dog and rawhide chew to rawhide chew. For example, if your canine is a strong chewer, he’s more likely to break off large chunks which could lead to choking or intestinal blockage. If you have a smaller dog who doesn’t chew as fiercely, rawhide may be a relatively safer option.
Pricier rawhide manufactured in the United States is likely safer than rawhide made overseas, which often contain extra chemicals for preservation purposes, or even a greater likelihood of decay due to the long processing time.
If you do decide to purchase rawhide, make sure to read the label carefully to understand the ingredients. Also, take note: the thicker the rawhide, the longer it takes for your dog to chew—and that’s a good thing.
If you would rather avoid the risks of rawhide altogether but still want to satisfy your pup’s urge to chew (and keep his sensitive stomach from getting upset), consider some rawhide alternatives, such as raw bones. Raw bones can fight bacteria in two ways: chewing alone loosens bacteria, and raw meat enzymes kill off bacteria to keep your dog’s breath feeling fresh. Avoid cooked bones, as they can crunch and splinter when chewed and cause exactly the type of issues you’re trying to avoid.
Full-size carrots (raw or frozen) can also help your dog with his urges to chew. If your dog loves interactive activities and variety, consider stuffing a Kong with healthy treats ranging from ice chips, frozen broth, peanut butter, veggies, dog food, and store-bought Kong Stuffing.
Of course, you know your dog best, so be aware of any food allergies or sensitivities before throwing all of your leftovers into a Kong. Before purchasing rawhide or rawhide substitutes, be sure to read the ingredients and become familiar with the manufacturing company to ensure that you’re providing your pet with nothing but the best.