Is Rawhide Safe for Dogs? Benefits and Risks

Is rawhide safe for dogs? Dog chews on rawhide boneRawhide chews, like other toys, allow your dog to satisfy their toothy urges, but is rawhide safe for dogs?

When you think of a dog bone, you probably picture a cartoon-looking one in your head or a bone-shaped chew with folded-up edges. The latter is a rawhide chew toy.

There has been much debate over the safety of rawhide over the past few years. We’re going to talk about rawhide, what it is, and the benefits and risks of letting your dog chew on rawhide toys.

What is Rawhide?

Rawhide is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. To make leather, animal skin (think cows) has to go through the process of tanning. Rawhide isn’t tanned and has a different feel and composition than leather.

To make rawhide, the animal skin has everything removed from it (hair, fat, meat), and it’s then stretched out to dry. Rawhide is lighter in color than leather and looks a little like parchment. When wet, rawhide becomes soft and stretchable, and easily shaped.

Whips and drum skins are made from rawhide because it’s durable, and today, it’s also a popular dog chew toy. It’s worked into the classic dog bone shape we’re all familiar with, as well as other shapes like rings, but is rawhide safe for dogs?

Following Their Natural Instincts

Wolves, the ancestors of all dogs (from Great Danes to Yorkshire Terriers), use their teeth for hunting down prey. Chewing on bones cleans tartar off the teeth and works those jaw, head, and neck muscles. Chewing and gnawing is just a natural instinct for canines.

Dogs need to chew. It’s part of who they are, even if they’re not hunting down prey like wolves. Dogs chew for a lot of reasons. Puppies do it because teething is uncomfortable, while anxious dogs chew to calm their nerves. Dogs chew when they’re bored or frustrated too, but it’s also merely entertaining and satisfying to do!

If left unchecked, chewing can become destructive.

Every dog owner has a story where their favorite pair of shoes are ripped to shreds or has a table leg in their house with bite marks in it.

You can’t stop your dog from chewing, but what you can do is encourage them to chew on dog-friendly things like chew toys ( bitter sprays designed to deter gnawing on furniture doesn’t hurt, either). Every dog’s preferences are different, so that’s why there are so many different chew toys available at every pet store.

Is Rawhide Safe for Dogs?

Rawhide gives the same general benefits that other dog chew toys give. They provide something for your dog to do, encourage better oral health, and curb the destruction of furniture, your children’s toys, and your shoes. They are long-lasting and tasty (to your dog, at least), so your pooch will enjoy chewing them.

When Rawhide Isn’t Safe

When rawhide gets wet, it gets a little soft, which means a dog’s saliva will cause a rawhide chew to soften and break down over time. Larger chunks breaking away from a rawhide chew is the problem.

Swallowing broken-down pieces of rawhide can cause some severe issues. Choking is the first one. Unlike regular food and treats, your dog’s teeth can’t just chew a hunk of rawhide. When they go to swallow the piece, it can get lodged in the throat.

Like people, dogs can suffocate from choking. The risks don’t end there. Rawhide is tough, and larger chunks will be difficult for your dog’s stomach to digest. Rawhide can cause obstructions in your dog’s stomach and intestines, as well as other gastrointestinal issues.

Some dogs are aggressive chewers, and they will destroy even the toughest of chew toys eventually. Others aren’t, and rawhide treats will be of less risk to them because they chew and break down the rawhide slowly, only swallowing tiny pieces. To accommodate a variety of chewers, you’ve probably seen puppy-friendly toys or extra-strength Kongs: different dogs have different chew strengths.

Often, smaller and older dogs will be gentler chewers than bigger dogs, but this is a general rule and isn’t always true. Rawhide treats might be ‘so-so’ for gentler chewers, but not for dogs that chew aggressively.

Other Reasons to Avoid Rawhide

Being a choking hazard isn’t the only reason why there’s growing concern about giving dogs rawhide chews. Rawhide is essentially dried animal skin, but not all rawhide chews are equal.

Depending on the location of production, the skin to make rawhide chews is taken straight from the slaughterhouses and soaked in a salt brine to preserve them until they are processed into rawhide.

Once they arrive at the tanneries (though it isn’t tanned itself), the skin is treated with lime to remove the fat. A variety of chemicals and manual removal strips the remaining animal hair.

There’s a lot of fearmongering around ‘chemicals’ and ‘toxins’ these days. Honestly, many of these fears are unfounded, as many Western countries have strict regulations on what chemicals can and cannot be used in food and consumer products.

However, not all countries and companies have adequate quality control. The not-so-great companies may skimp on proper production, safety, and cleaning measures. If you’re going to buy a rawhide chew for your dog, make sure it’s from a reputable company that takes pride in its high-quality products.

Alternatives to Rawhide

There are so many safer and affordable alternatives to rawhide chews out there. Some will be better than others for your dog, depending on chewing strength, cost, availability, and your dog’s tastes.

The first few alternatives we’ll look at are edible. Edible chews taste good and are meant to be slowly eaten by your dog, though it’s important to keep your dog’s nutritional and dietary needs in mind with these types of chews to avoid weight gain.

All natural marrow bones for dogsFrozen raw marrow bones are a naturally tasty and long-lasting treat. Why raw and not cooked? Cooked bones (especially from poultry) are more likely to splinter and hurt your dog. Enzymes from the inner marrow will help break down the plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth, while the hard bone will scrape it all away.

Another edible treat is bully sticks and tendons. These are mostly dried animal parts, and your dog will probably love them because they’re flavourful and will promote better dental health, though they don’t last as long as a frozen marrow bone would.

My dog loves chicken tendons and bully sticks, …but they sure get her guts going. Don’t be alarmed if your dog suddenly becomes a fart machine after chewing on one of these!

Remember, always read the label of edible dog chews before buying. Some have better ingredients than others, and you might be surprised that some of the more prominent, well-known brand names of edible chews aren’t as great as they claim they are (ex. adding food coloring).

Kong Chew ToyThere are good, non-edible chews out there too.

Nylabone is one company that makes lots of fun toys, all with different levels of chew strength, size, and shape.

Kong is another great company that makes the iconic, fillable rubber chew toy.

There are lots of other companies producing non-edible chew toys, ask at your local pet store, dog grooming spa, dog daycare, or veterinary office for suggestions of the ones available for purchase in your area.

Chewing Safety

We couldn’t finish talking about chew toys and ignore a couple of general safety precautions! The first one is purchasing dog toys and chews that are the right size for your dog’s mouth.

If the chew is too small, you run the risk of your dog swallowing it. The same is true for chew strength also. Choose toys that your dog won’t be able to destroy easily. You can find toys meant for different chewing styles at your closest pet store.

Our second piece of advice is keeping an eye on your dog when they’re gnawing away on a chew, especially if edible like bully sticks. Even if your dog is a gentler chewer, they still run the risk of choking. You wouldn’t leave a toddler eating unsupervised, so don’t leave your dog!

On the topic of edible chews, keep in mind that these tasty snacks do count towards your dog’s daily nutritional needs. Some of these treats are more nutritious than others, but they shouldn’t make up most of your dog’s diet. Just like giving your dog too many treats, chewing on too many of these could contribute to weight gain.

And make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh, clean water every day. They’re sure to get a little thirsty with all that chewing!

Keeping these things in mind can help reduce the risk of choking and emergency trips to the veterinarian’s office.

Conclusion

Dogs need to chew to feel mentally and physically satisfied. Rawhide, a processed animal skin, is a popular material for dog chew toys. Many dogs enjoy rawhide chews because they have an appealing flavor and last for a long time.

Like other chews, rawhide chews allow your dog to flex their muscles and help clean their teeth. Unfortunately, rawhide chews can cause problems. More aggressive chewers can ingest larger chunks of rawhide while chewing, which can lead to choking or severe gastrointestinal problems.

Not all rawhide dog toy companies have good practices either, and their levels of cleanliness and product quality may be lacking or pretty much non-existent. For these reasons, there is growing concern among dog owners over giving their best buddies rawhide chew toys.

There are lots of alternatives to rawhide. Many companies make a variety of fun chew toys, both edible and non-edible. From chicken tendons to hard rubber Kongs, you’re sure to find something out there that suits your dog’s chewing strength and tastes.

So… is rawhide safe for dogs? It depends. Some dogs are perfectly fine with rawhide because they’re gentle chewers, slowly breaking down the rawhide and not swallowing large pieces. However, we don’t think rawhide’s worth it. There are just too many risks with giving your dog rawhide. Other widely available chews, like frozen marrow bones, can easily replicate rawhide’s benefits.

We’re not veterinarians, so we recommend you talk to your veterinarian – they can recommend safe chew toys best suited to your dog.