The Dangerous Truth About Rawhide

 The Dangerous Truth About Rawhide

By: Kristin Johnson

As fur-parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that we’re keeping our canine companions safe and healthy. Sometimes that’s no easy feat considering their endless energy and love of chewing anything they can get their paws on!

Providing our pups with an outlet for their need to chew is important – it relieves anxiety, burns energy, helps with teething, and satisfies their instinct to use those teeth! There are many options on the market today, and one such option is rawhide. Though rawhide chews have been around since the 1950s, it is becoming more widely known that they can be dangerous (and even fatal) for our canine companions – but why?

What is rawhide?

Rawhide is the hypodermic interstitial tissue, the inner layer of animal hide, typically from cows raised for meat production. While the outer layer of the hide is used for leather products, the inner layer is used to produce dog chews. It is tough yet flexible due to its high level of collagen. It is washed and sterilized with a variety of (often harmful) chemicals, such as sodium sulfide, lime, chromium salts, bleach, and hydrogen peroxide. It is then molded and dyed to form what you see in pet stores today.

Rawhide chews are long-lasting because they’re tough to chew through. Depending on how the dog chews, it will generally take them a long time to break off any pieces. The rawhide will usually soften and break down over the time it takes for them to chew through it. The smaller pieces that are softened, broken down, and chewed thoroughly can pass through a dog’s digestive system when consumed slowly, but it is best if they are not swallowed.

What are the risks of giving my dog rawhide?

Though dogs may love this convenient, long-lasting chew, there are several life-threatening health risks that come with chewing and consuming rawhide.

  • Choking hazard: When dogs consume rawhide chews too small for their size or break off large chunks without chewing them properly, it poses a choking hazard. The rawhide may get stuck in the trachea or esophagus, blocking their airway and creating a life-threatening veterinary emergency.
  • Intestinal blockages and digestive issues: Rawhide is highly indigestible and can wreak havoc on a dog’s digestive system. The most fatal risk of consuming rawhide is an intestinal blockage. When dogs don’t adequately chew pieces they break off of the rawhide, it may become lodged in their digestive tract. Rawhide swells several times its size when wet, so it is possible that even smaller pieces can cause a blockage. A blockage can lead to severe abdominal pain, fluid loss and dehydration, intestinal rupture, infection, and even death.
  • Harmful chemicals: As mentioned earlier, rawhide chews are produced with a variety of harmful chemicals and toxins due to limited regulation of its production. You may also find formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, and strychnine in rawhide produced in countries other than the U.S.
  • Contamination: Bacterial contamination has happened often with rawhide production over the years, so much so that the FDA has issued several major recalls. Campylobacter, salmonella, and E. coli have all been detected in rawhide products, which are harmful to both canines and humans.

How can I determine what’s best for my dog?

It’s important to remember that rawhide isn’t the only type of chew that could get your pup into trouble and it’s best to educate yourself (and others!) on the importance of choosing the right product. Though it’s easy to stay away from the word “rawhide,” it’s our duty as fur-parents to learn what’s best for our dogs. Things to consider when choosing a chew, treat, or toy for your dog include:

  • Chewing style: Some dogs take their time chewing. They may even be slow, methodical, and careful about it! On the other hand, some dogs inhale just about anything edible (or not) as quickly as possible. Many toys and chews on the market today list the chewing style on the product packaging, usually as soft, moderate, or aggressive. Make sure you know what your dog’s chewing style is and select a product accordingly. Rawhide is most dangerous for aggressive chewers.
  • Size and breed: We know that dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and the size of their teeth, jaw, and throat are important to consider when determining the best product for chewing. Like chewing style, this is often listed on product packaging small, medium, and large in reference to the weight of your dog. It’s a good idea to talk to your vet about what they recommend for your dog when considering their body type.
  • Health history: Dogs with a history of gastrointestinal issues should avoid rawhide due to its lack of digestibility and the exposure to harsh chemicals. It is almost guaranteed to wreak havoc on a sensitive stomach, and dogs that are more susceptible to these issues are at a greater risk for acute pancreatitis, which can result in death. When choosing a chew or treat, make sure you consider digestibility and what your dog’s digestive system has reacted well to in the past.
  • Age: Age is important when it comes to chewing! Puppies have different needs than an adult or senior dog. Teething puppies need softer chews that will protect and massage their delicate baby teeth, while adult dogs can handle harder chews that are designed for dental cleaning and mental stimulation. Senior dogs may have weakened muscle tone and bone structure in addition to sensitive gums and teeth that require soft chews. Hard chews such as rawhide may cause a jaw or tooth fracture.

What are the safe alternatives to rawhide?

There are numerous alternatives to rawhide on the market today. The more you pay attention to what your dog likes and needs, the easier it will be to find the safest product for your dog! We suggest trying:

  • Kong toys: Kong toys are the go-to brand for many dog owners for a reason! They come in just about every shape and size you could imagine, and dogs love their texture for chewing. They’re interactive, inexpensive, and very durable.
  • Bully sticks: Bully sticks are long-lasting, easily digestible, clean your dog’s teeth, and are an excellent source of protein. Conveniently, dogs love them! They come in all shapes and sizes, but Best Bully Sticks is a popular choice.
  • No-Hide chews: Earth Animal is a brand that makes long-lasting chews that resemble rawhide called No-Hide. Unlike most rawhide, it’s USA-made, easily digestible, and free from toxic chemicals. It comes in different flavors so you can choose what’s most appealing for your pup!
  • Antlers: Naturally-shed antlers are a great option for the adult aggressive chewers. They’re long-lasting, a natural source of minerals, and are unlikely to splinter.