Rawhide is everywhere. This ubiquitous dog chew treat is found in every size, shape, flavor, and color in almost every pet supply store in the country. It’s promoted as an “all-natural” treat that helps clean your dog’s teeth while keeping him entertained for hours.
Therefore, it must be safe, right? Well…not so much.
In the interest of full disclosure, although there are many things I’m not a big fan of, rawhide is pretty high on my “Not a Fan” list. Unfortunately, in veterinary practice, I’ve seen a myriad of problems caused by rawhide chews.
Why is Rawhide Dangerous?
Since rawhide is compressed when it’s created, when it gets wet, it expands. This is not a great scenario when rawhide comes into contact with a dog’s saliva or stomach contents! Over the years, I’ve assisted in several cases where pieces of rawhide were swallowed and then expanded, becoming stuck in dogs’ throats – or worse, in their GI tracts, causing digestive upset or total gut blockages that resulted in emergency surgery.
Rawhide is also manufactured using dangerous and caustic chemicals, whose residues linger on these “treats” until they are ultimately ingested by your dog.
What is Rawhide?
Rawhide is the tough inner layer of cow, bull, horse, and buffalo hides. It’s produced by splitting an animal hide; the top grain of the hide is usually tanned and used for leather products, while the softer inner portion of the hide is used to make rawhide products for dogs.
In the manufacturing process, the hair must first be removed. One of these removal methods includes soaking the hide in either an Ash-Lye solution or a Lime solution for 1-3 days, which loosens the hair so it can be scraped off. This extremely caustic process is repeated until all hair is removed. Other methods may include the use of chemicals such as sodium sulfide, arsenic, and formaldehyde – all considered “hazardous” or “very hazardous” on Material Safety Data Sheets.
Once all the hair is removed, the hide is rinsed in a bleach solution to remove the lime and sanitize the rawhide product. The product is then molded into different shapes while it’s still wet. Processed rawhide can shrink up to half its original size when dried. Once dried, artificial flavorings, dyes, and preservatives are added.
In a particularly horrific twist, some overseas manufacturers actually use the skins of slaughtered dogs, cats, and other animals to produce rawhide products. These products are regularly exported to the U.S., where they are sold in stores, according to an ongoing investigation of the international fur trade by Humane Society International.
Other Dangers of Rawhide
- Pieces of ingested rawhide can swell up to many times their original size in a dog’s esophagus, stomach, or intestines, causing choking, stomach torsion, or GI blockages – all life-threatening emergencies.
- Rawhide is not considered a “food item” in the United States, and is therefore not regulated by the FDA for ingredients, processing methods, or labeling.
- Salmonella contamination (a bacteria which causes vomiting and diarrhea) has led to several recalls of rawhide treats since 2008.
- Other dangerous contaminants have been found in rawhide, including mercury, lead, insecticides, and antibiotics.
- Rawhide chews have been linked to acute pancreatitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the pancreas.
So What Should I Give My Dog to Chew Instead?
There are many alternatives to rawhide that are safer and healthier, and offer a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors for your dog.
- Nylabones – these are extremely durable chew toys made from nylon flavored with meat juice. They are washable, wear down slowly so there’s no choking or digestive hazard, and are excellent for teething puppies.
- Booda Bones – made from food starch and dried yeast, these are highly digestible and safe. Many are made with raised bumps to stimulate your dog’s gums and help clean teeth while chewing.
- Kongs – these rubber, oblong-shaped toys can be stuffed with treats, peanut butter, or spray cheese. Billed as indestructible, there’s little to no choking hazard. Similar rubber treats include “Dogzillas” and “Zanies”.
- Healthy Edibles Natural Chews (made by Nylabone) – these are made from completely digestible ingredients including wheat and rice flours, chicken powder, and pea protein, and contain no artificial colors, salt, sugar, or fillers.
- Bully Sticks – also known as dried bull pizzles, these are highly-digestible, present a very low choking hazard, and dogs seem to love them. However, some tend to have a very distinctive odor, so you may want to give them to your dog outdoors! (If you use bully sticks, be sure to buy organic ones.)
- Yak/Himalayan Chews – made from yak’s milk, these treats are digestible, long-lasting, low-odor, and natural (they’re essentially a non-staining baked cheese chew). They can be found online or in your local pet supply store.
- Frozen peanut butter/broth cubes – If you’d like to make your own treats, you can use chicken broth or a mixture of peanut butter and beef broth and freeze them in ice cube trays (these are nice during the hot summer months).
No Need to Play Russian Roulette
Embrace Pet Insurance states that “The Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA both discourage rawhide consumption and list it among the dangerous household products for pets (next to pesticides and cleaning chemicals).”
Some pet parents may choose to give their dogs the occasional rawhide, and some dogs may get lucky and never experience any problems. However, there are enough non-toxic chew toys and treats on the market today that don’t cause problems…so why risk it?
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What kinds of chew toys or treats do you like to give your dog? Tell us about it in the comments below!