Why Are Rawhides Bad for Dogs? Is Rawhide Safe for Dogs?

beagle enjoying a rawhide type chew stick

Are rawhide treats safe for dogs? Are rawhides bad for dogs? What are rawhide chews made from, anyway? Rawhide treats are something your dog can chew on (often for days). Some brands say rawhide chews are safe for dogs and even beneficial for canine teeth. You might want to hold off serving up another rawhide bone to your pet until you know the facts on this treat.

BarxBuddy’s veterinarian consultant Dr. Sara Ochoa says while rawhides aren’t the worst things you can give a dog, they aren’t the best either.

“There are much better and safe choices for dog chews than rawhides,” Dr. Ochoa said.

What Are Rawhide Dog Bones Made Of?

The “healthy” food craze in the human diet has spilled into the pet industry, with dog food manufacturers labeling their products as all-natural and full of healthy ingredients. And, to be fair, there are some good dog food makers out there. Our guide to reading dog food labels can help you understand what to look for and ingredients to avoid in pet foods.

What about rawhide bones? What are they made of? Rawhide bones are not bones. They are made from dried animal skins leftover from the leather industry. Although some rawhide bones are made in the United States, many are produced in China. The typical process requires the hides to soak in high-salt brines, slowing decay until the skins are manufactured into leather goods. Upon arriving at a tannery, which can take weeks or months, lime is applied to the hide to separate it from the fat. Hair is then removed from the skin, which also requires manual effort and chemicals.

Is Rawhide Bad For Dogs? Is It Safe?

While the notion of your pet eating dried animal skin seems natural, there are risks and safety guidelines you should be aware of. Rawhide chews can be exposed to toxic chemicals during manufacturing and may contain trace amounts. It is also possible for rawhide bones to harbor bacteria, including E. coli and salmonella, which can pose a risk to humans if they come into contact with a contaminated rawhide bone.

Some dogs may have sensitivities or allergies to the rawhide itself or the chemicals used, which can cause gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea. And, even though the skins are rinsed during the process, no step entirely prevents decay of the hide. For this reason, you should always rinse your dog’s rawhide treat before giving it to your pet.

Rawhide bones are meant to be long-lasting chews that soften and break down into small pieces over time. How your dog chews can significantly impact the breakdown and the safety of rawhide. Throw away unconsumed rawhides after seven days, to avoid contamination from bacteria build-up.

Why Are Rawhide Chews Bad?

Some rawhides are very hard and break or damage your dog’s teeth, Dr. Ochoa said. If your dog breaks off large pieces and swallows them without chewing, they could get stuck on the way through their gastrointestinal system.

Strong chewers can break off large pieces that can become a choking hazard or cause an intestinal blockage—both of which are life-threatening. Dr. Ochoa said she has had to surgically remove a whole large rawhide from a Labrador retriever’s intestines because the dog swallowed the whole rawhide without chewing it.

“Many rawhides can also cause dogs to have an upset stomach,” Dr. Ochoa said. “Some of these are coated with peanut butter or bacon flavor to help entice your dog to want to eat them. These flavor additives, I find, can cause diarrhea in dogs with sensitive stomachs.”

Rawhide Bones Alternatives

Plain and simple, dogs need to chew. If they don’t have something to chew on regularly, they will take to gnawing away your furniture, shoes, and other belongings. What can you give them instead of rawhide?

Dr. Ochoa uses a fingernail rule when she buys treats for her own dogs.

“Before I give my dog any treats, I make sure that I can make an indention into the treat with my fingernail,” she said. “This would mean that my dog’s teeth can also chew them up.”

When you give your dogs chew toys, Dr. Ochoa says to watch them for 15 to 20 minutes while they chew and play with the new treat, to make sure they don’t swallow it whole. She also reminds dog owners to get treats that are suited for your dogs’ sizes.

“Small dogs should have a treat for small dogs, where large dogs need a large-dog treat,” she said. She likes to give dental sticks and Greenies, which help decrease tartar and plaque build-up, and these come in various sizes.

If You Must Give Your Dog Rawhide Treats …

Today, several rawhide alternatives exist. You can opt for one of the no-rawhide, easier-to-digest bones or offer your pet a food-grade rubber chew toy that is designed to withstand heavy chewers and keep your pet entertained. Your veterinarian can recommend chew treats that suit your dog’s size and breed, as well.

Here are a few more tips:

  • Follow the 10% rule: Only offer rawhide alternatives intermittently, as they are not intended to be any more than 10% of your pet’s overall diet.
  • Treat sizes matter: Buy rawhide treats that are slightly larger than your dog’s mouth.
  • Practice food safety: Reseal in the original container or store treats in an airtight glass or BPA-free plastic container in a cool place to preserve freshness and prevent your dog or pests from getting into them. If you don’t store treats in their original packaging, always retain (tape to the outside of the container so it’s handy) product information including brand, manufacturer, UPC, lot number, and best by date as a reminder of when to change them out and in case your pet has adverse reactions to the treats or product recalls.
  • Give lots of water: Always ensure your dog has access to fresh water.
  • Watch for these signs: Contact your vet immediately if you observe any of the following as they can indicate bacterial contamination, gastric irritation or intestinal blockage.
    • Gagging
    • Repeated swallowing
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea (with or without blood)
    • Lack of energy
    • Fear
    • Signs of pain
    • Refusal to eat or weight loss
    • Straining when pooping, or inability to poop

The choice to offer your dog rawhide treats is yours to make, however, offering a variety of treats and toys may prove best at satisfying your pet’s chewing needs.

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