The dog treat aisle of your favorite pet store is undoubtedly filled with rawhide chews in various shapes, sizes, flavors and brands. Despite its popularity, there are conflicting opinions about rawhide for dogs based on how it’s made, whether it’s safe for your dog and what alternatives exist. Fortunately, if you wish to avoid rawhide chews altogether, there are many great rawhide alternatives including things like dental chews and bully sticks. Let’s paw through it.
What is rawhide?
Rawhide chews are dried animal skins, made from the leftovers of the leather industry. Rawhide is the inner layer (hypodermic interstitial tissue) of cow, horse and pork hides and is separated at the slaughterhouse.
How is rawhide made?
Most rawhide is made overseas, and it’s preserved in a high-salt brine to slow decay during transport. When it’s ready for processing, it’s treated with lime to separate the fat from the hide, and then other chemicals are used for hair removal. Next, it’s rinsed and, if needed, bleached to appear whiter and cover the signs of decay. Afterward, the hide is sanitized, usually in a hydrogen peroxide bath, rolled into sticks, or shredded and molded into a shape, and dried. Finally, the rawhide is packaged and shipped to stores.
Where is rawhide made?
Today, there are only about 30 U.S. tanneries in operation. Most tanneries use an enormous amount of water and produce large volumes of wastewater. As a result, a majority of rawhide products are made in China, Mexico and South America, which have fewer environmental law restrictions.
U.S. rawhide products tend to be fresher because they travel a shorter distance by truck, instead of across the ocean on container ships, and are frozen for transport instead of placed in salt brine.
Photo 2: Dog rawhide chews are made typically made from cow and pork hides and come in many sizes and shapes. ©Rachel Phelps
Should I give my dog rawhide?
Most dogs are a fan of this popular go-to chew. Their owners are too, because
- Rawhide satisfies a dog’s natural instinct to chew. It is an excellent positive alternative to your pup chewing up your shoes, TV remotes, furniture and other household items.
- It helps keep a dog’s teeth clean. Rawhide acts like a doggie toothbrush that helps reduce plaque and tartar buildup and keeps their gums healthy.
- Canines have been eating dried animal hides for thousands of years, so it is a great way to encourage a dog’s scavenging instinct and stimulate your dog.
- Rawhides are inexpensive treats.
Is rawhide bad for my dog?
Of course, there is always a downside, even to dog chews.
- Due to the manufacturing process, there can be trace elements of toxic chemicals and bacteria contamination, such as Salmonella or coli, that could make you or your dog ill.
- Your dog may be sensitive to rawhide or even allergic to the chemicals used to make it. This could lead to digestive issues such as diarrhea.
- Rawhide chews can be a choking hazard. Not only can rawhide cause serious gastrointestinal upset, explains Dr. Whitney Bruce, partner veterinarian at Wills Animal Hospital in Owensboro, Kentucky, but they can even lead to emergency surgeries. Pets can suffer obstruction, or a serious blockage of their stomach or intestines, which can result in death if not treated appropriately, says Dr Bruce.
- Rawhide can cause tooth breakage. The rawhide is hard and dense once dried and rolled into dog chews. If a dog is an aggressive chewer, or already has damaged teeth, chewing the tough hide could lead to teeth breaking or cracking – sometimes requiring surgery to remove the broken teeth. The rawhide could also cause cuts and scratches in the mouth and esophagus.
- There may be subpar quality and a lack of safety standards at the manufacturing plant. Since most rawhides are made in China, they do not have to abide by the U.S. laws concerning product purity and safety. Also, the tanners are not required to disclose or recall products that may be unsafe.
What are rawhide alternatives?
There are many excellent rawhide chew alternatives. These products are typically made from ingredients more easily digestible than rawhide but have a similar look and texture. Since rawhide is not recommended for dogs under six months of age due to teeth breakage and smaller mouths and digestive tracts, these alternatives are great for a teething puppy.
- Beef and Pig Ears – Bring out your dog’s natural scavenging instinct with flavor-packed natural ears. The Farm Hound brand even has ears that still have the hair on them. This hair acts as a digestive aid and a natural dewormer. However, ears in general, have higher fat, so they are not suitable for canines who require a low-fat diet. $3.49 – $6.99.
- Bully Sticks – These single – ingredient sticks are a highly digestible chew made from beef pizzle (a muscle). These sticks come in various sizes, shapes, flavors and even three braided sticks. $2.09 – $13.09
- Cod Skin Rolls – These low odor chews from Tickled Pet are great for many dogs with allergies. These chews are made with only one ingredient, dehydrated salmon skin, and are full of healthy Omega-3 oils. Available in eight to 10 roll packages for $16.99.
- Collagen Chews – Collagen is a protein found in the skin’s inner layer called the corium. It is one of the critical components in an animal’s connective tissue. “Collagen chews are excellent for your furry friend as it provides protein that is naturally abundant in your pet’s body,” explains Traci Mierzwa, brand manager for the Barkworthies dog chew brand. “While rawhides provide a great distraction to your pet, our 100% digestible collagen chews are minimally processed to ensure the key nutrients are there to promote healthy skin and coat, aid in bone and joint health, and the simple act of chewing prevents tartar and plaque buildup.” Chews start at $9.99.
- Dental Chews – One of the big benefits of a rawhide is to keep your dog’s teeth clean and tartar free. There are some great rawhide chew alternatives designed specifically for dental health, like the brand Loving Pets Ora-Bone Dental Treats. Their unique design features a central bulb that cleans behind the dog’s teeth and the roof of the mouth while the nibs massage gums and scrape the tongue. These chews come in three sizes. Ten chews for $13.99.
- Tough Toys – Goughnuts brand dog toys are made for the most aggressive chewers. These 100% natural rubber toys are perfect for the toughest chewers and have a lifetime guarantee. These even have a chew toy safety indicator (a colored rubber strip in the center) that lets you know when it’s time to replace the toy. According to president and founder Amy Rockwood, the rubber recipes are developed by an in-house engineer, and the molds are designed for even the toughest chewers. The toys are available in different strength levels for all different sizes and types of chewers. $10-$25 each.
Dogs should always be supervised when chewing on rawhide – no matter what chew you pick – in case they gag or choke on the item. If the chew becomes too small (small enough for your dog to swallow it whole), take it from your dog immediately and promptly dispose of it.
Now that you understand how rawhide chews are made, the benefits of giving rawhide and the potential risks, plus the many great rawhide alternatives, you can make a better-informed decision on the best chew for your pet.
Rachel Phelps, “America’s Pet Parent,” is an award-winning writer, photographer and certified dog trainer. She manages the career of her internet celebrity dog Preston from PrestonSpeaks.com. She has three Westies, who think they are mini-humans, and a cat, who rule the house. Learn more at rachelphelps.com.