Dogs have an instinctive need to chew, and most dogs enjoy the taste and texture of rawhide chews. Is rawhide bad for dogs? The answer ultimately depends on the size and contents of the rawhide chew. Some rawhide products are safer than others.
What Is Rawhide?
Rawhide is made from processed animal skin, specifically the inner layer of cow, horse, or pig hides. Some rawhide used for dog chews is a by-product of the leather industry. Chemicals are often used to separate the inner layers from the outer layers. The rawhide is washed and then cut or ground. Various chemicals and adhesives may be used to process rawhide chews for dogs. Rawhide is often bleached and treated with chemicals to preserve it. It may then be colored and/or flavored. The rawhide is then shaped and dried. Some rawhide is pressed or extruded into a shape. Others are layered and wrapped into knots or bone shapes using glue or other adhesives. The ingredients used to process rawhide will vary by manufacturer.
Is Rawhide Safe for Dogs?
Not all rawhide chews are the same; some are safer than others. Factors to consider when feeding rawhide include digestibility and ingredients.
Some rawhide chews take a long time to digest and may cause gastrointestinal obstruction, which is an emergency situation for dogs. Studies show variable digestibility of rawhide chews depending on the formulation. In general, extruded or pressed rawhide is easier to digest because it's ground and mixed with other ingredients. Wrapped rawhide knots and bones take longer to digest, especially if large pieces are swallowed.
This basically means that the safety of rawhide chews depends on the type of chew and the individual dog's chewing style. Some dogs are aggressive chewers with a tendency to swallow large chunks of rawhide. Wrapped rawhide knots and bones should be avoided for these dogs. Consider pressed rawhide chews or non-rawhide chews for these dogs. When giving rawhide to moderate and light chewers, make sure the size of the chew is in proportion to the dog's mouth and body size. Always supervise your dog when feeding rawhide or other types of dog chews.
It's also important to consider the ingredients used to manufacture rawhide chews. Some rawhide chews contain adhesives and chemicals with questionable safety for dogs. Choose products made in the USA that contain all-natural ingredients. Some rawhide is treated with pet-safe enzymes to make it more digestible and to reduce plaque buildup on the teeth. This type of rawhide is considered safer and more beneficial for dogs. Ask your veterinarian about the safest types of rawhide chews for your dog.
Do Dogs Need to Chew?
Chewing is a healthy, normal behavior for dogs. Chewing strengthens the jaws and helps keep teeth and gums clean and healthy. Dogs have an instinctive need to chew and will find something to gnaw on if you don't provide one. This could lead to the destructive chewing of furniture, shoes, and other objects in your home. By providing rawhide or other chews, you fulfill your dog's need to chew and help keep them healthy.
Be sure to supervise your dog when feeding any type of dog chew. Any type of chew can be dangerous under the right circumstances. Potential risks include choking, oral injuries, GI obstruction, and GI injury.
Rawhide Alternatives for Dogs
You may wish to seek out safer dog chews for your dog in order to keep your dog safe while fulfilling his need to chew.
- Bully sticks and beef tracheas are more digestible than rawhide and most dogs enjoy the meaty flavor. The downside is that these chews don't typically last as long as rawhide.
- Commercial dental chews are safe and beneficial to your dog's teeth and gums. However, dogs tend to go through these chews faster than rawhide.
- Non-edible chews are good options for some dogs, but aggressive chewers may be able to tear off and swallow pieces, so use caution. Many of these chews are flavored or can be filled with food like peanut butter. They also tend to last a long time if the dog is not too destructive.
Avoid hard chews like bones and antlers as these can break or wear down the teeth. If swallowed, they can cause GI injury or obstruction. Veterinarians recommend that you never give chews that are so hard that they would hurt you if hit on your own knee.
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de Godoy, Maria R. C., et al. “In Vitro Disappearance Characteristics of Selected Categories of Commercially Available Dog Treats.” Journal of Nutritional Science, vol. 3, no. e47, 2014, p. e47.
Hennet, P. “Effectiveness of an Enzymatic Rawhide Dental Chew to Reduce Plaque in Beagle Dogs.” Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, vol. 18, no. 2, 2001, pp. 61–64.