Are Rawhides Bad For Dogs?

When I got my first dog many moons ago, it never occurred to me that rawhides might be bad for dogs. I mean, everyone gives their dogs rawhide chews, right? 

They keep puppies out of trouble, give bored dogs something to do . . . I thought I was doing a good thing when I bought rawhide bones, and my dog certainly appreciated it!

But, at some point along my dog journey, I read or heard something that talked about the dangers of rawhide bones and chews. And then I started hearing recalls.

When I sat down and googled “Are rawhides bad for dogs” I was shocked at the resulting list of articles that described multiple ways rawhides can be dangerous for dogs – yes, multiple.

So let’s talk a bit about rawhides and why you should find another alternative for your dog.

What IS a Rawhide?

Rawhide is actually a leather byproduct. It is made from the leftover part of the cowhide not used to make leather.

Most rawhides come from cattle raised in concentrated animal feeding operations, otherwise known as feedlots or stockyards. This introduces the first set of unhealthy factors:

  • Feedlot cows live crammed together in huge buildings, never going outside until they are picked up for slaughter.
  • Many factory farm cows are fed antibiotics, hormones, and other drugs used to boost production.

Here is how a rawhide is made:

  1. Skin is removed from cow or horse carcasses (mostly cow).
  2. Hair is removed from the hide by soaking in a mixture of lime and sulphide. This produces vast amounts of wastewater known for its negative impact on the environment.
  3. The cowhide is split into a top and lower layer. The top layer is used to make leather products, the bottom layer is used for rawhides.
  4. The bottom layer is washed and whitened using a solution of hydrogen peroxide. Some reports claim that, in certain countries, other chemicals such as formaldehyde, arsenic, and bleach are added to the soaking solution.
  5. The hide is cut, shaped or pressed into its final shape, and dried. Many times it is coated with artificial flavors and colors before being dried to give it an appealing flavor and appearance. 

Once you know how rawhides are made, you start to see how there can be residual chemicals in the rawhide after it has been manufactured.

Next, let’s talk a bit about what happens when the dog chews and eats them.

Can Dogs Digest Rawhides?

pile of rawhide sticks that are bad for dogs

The simple answer: No. Absolutely not.

When a dog chews on a rawhide, the rawhide becomes soft and spongey (and absolutely gross if you have to pick it up or grab it out of your dog’s mouth).

Once the rawhide softens, when the dog bites and pulls on it, small pieces pull away and the dog swallows them. No matter how long that piece is in the dog’s stomach or intestines, it will not digest. 

It simply travels through their intestines and comes out in your dog’s poop.

Worse yet, when the rawhide pieces are in the stomach, they actually swell up because they are absorbing more liquid.

Which brings us to the next section, how rawhides are bad for dogs.

Why Are Rawhides Bad For Dogs

Rawhides are dangerous for dogs for a number of different reasons:

1. Chemical poisoning

rawhides being put into a barrel of lime and sulfide
hydrogen peroxide being poured on rawhides in a barrel

Because many rawhides come from countries with dubious quality control, the risk that there are toxic chemicals in the rawhide is quite real. There are relatively few tanneries in the U.S, so most rawhides are processed in other countries—roughly 100 in the U.S. vs. thousands in other countries.

When your dog chews, licks, and ingests rawhide pieces, they can be poisoned by these chemicals, slowly and over time.

2017 Chemical Contamination Recall

In 2017, United Pet Group discovered that their rawhide manufacturing facilities in Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil, were using an antimicrobial chemical (meant for cleaning food processing equipment) as a part of the rawhide manufacturing process.

The company discovered this after receiving reports of dogs becoming ill after chewing the rawhides, with symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and malaise.

After initially recalling 3 brands of dog rawhide treats, the company later expanded the recall to 8 brands

2. Intestinal blockage


As discussed above, once rawhides are swallowed, they swell up as they absorb liquid in the stomach. These swollen pieces can become lodged in the intestine and cause intestinal blockage. If not treated quickly, tissue death starts to occur, and the situation can quickly become life-threatening.

As I researched this article I read multiple stories of dog fatalities. The rawhide became lodged in the intestines, and by the time the owner realized there was a problem and got their dog to the vet, too much intestinal tissue death had occurred and the dog had to be euthanized.

3. Choking

Your dog can also choke on the pieces of rawhide that break off, or even on the entire rawhide if they attempt to swallow it whole (which some dogs will do if you approach them to take the rawhide away).
The internet is full of stories from owners whose dog tried to gulp down a large rawhide piece and nearly choked to death, or did die when the rawhide they tried to swallow was too big and become lodged in their throat, putting pressure on the windpipe and cutting off the dog’s air supply.

4. Salmonella and E. coli

Rawhides can be contaminated with salmonella and E. coli which can easily transmit to humans who have not washed their hands after handling the rawhide.

Symptoms Of Rawhide Issues

sick dog from eating rawhide

If a rawhide contains toxins or gets lodged in your dogs airway, intestines, or stomach, you may see the following symptoms:

  • Lack of energy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in stool
  • Lethargic
  • Refusal to eat

If your dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms it is always a cause or concern, but if your dog has recently chewed a rawhide early action is imperative to avoid possible serious complications or even death.

If you notice any of the symptoms above, get your dog to a vet — be sure to bring a sample of the rawhide and the rawhide package.

Rawhide Alternatives

Now I’m hoping most of you, having read the above information, are currently picking up all of the rawhides in your house and tossing them in the trash.

But you’re probably also wondering “what the heck am I going to give my dog now to keep them busy while I’m trying to get things done?”

The good news is there are healthier options that your dogs will love just as much!

Side Note: Are natural chews more expensive?

You may be worried that if you switch from rawhides to a more natural chew alternative that it will cost more than you want to spend.

Before you head back to the “cheap quality-cheap price” dog items, consider this:

Yes, it will cost a few dollars more to buy natural chew treats that are produced in ethical ways or sourced from ethical operations.

But all it takes is one emergency vet visit – ONE – to use up all the money (plus hundreds or thousands more!) that you save on cheaper rawhide treats. . . let alone the stress and fear the dog would go through.

It’s just not worth the risk.

Rawhide Alternatives That Are Safer For Your Dog:

Bully Sticks

Bully sticks don’t last as long as rawhides, but dogs LOVE them- and if you put them in a toy they will last considerably longer. (I use the West Paw Quizl, pictured below)

Bully sticks are a single-ingredient dog chew made from high-protein beef muscle. Which muscle? OK this is where it gets a bit gross. They are made from the beef penis muscle, called beef pizzle.

The good news is they are totally digestible so don’t pose the risk that rawhides do. Although any dog that swallowed a large chunk could sustain an esophagus or intestinal injury the same as if they swallowed a stick.

When bully sticks get wet they smell pretty bad, so I would highly recommend getting the “odor free” ones, which are processed differently in order to get rid of the smell.

I like the Natural Farm brand, they source from free range Brazilian cattle, donate a portion of their profits to pets in need, and use eco-friendly packaging.

Frozen Vegetables

dog with carrot for rawhide alternative (1)

Veggies are a great chewy treat to give your dog. If you put them in the freezer they will last longer: try freezing carrots, green beans, apple pieces, or thick sweet potato “sticks” cut from long sweet potatoes.

Cow Ears

I have not tried these but was intrigued when I read about them. The EcoKind brand is single ingredient, has no preservatives or additives, and comes from free range Brazilian cattle.

Sweet Potato Chews

Based on the reviews, these sweet potato chews are quite thick and dogs love them, although some mention that they aren’t as long lasting as other alternatives.

Fish Skin chews

These salmon skin options won’t last as long as other alternatives on this list, but they are a great healthy chewing alternative!

Ocean Chews

Freeze dried salmon skins

Salmon skin rolls 100% salmon

Salmon bones

These bones are made by Snack 21, the same company as the salmon rolls in the above picture.

Food toys 

Food toys are a great way to keep your dog busy. You can split your dog’s meals up and use these toys to give them portions of their food multiple times each day. I will put a few toys here to give you an idea, but if you want to see a great selection of unique food toys be sure to check out my article about feeding toys for dogs!

Intellectually Stimulating Dog Toys

Intellectually stimulating dog toys are a great way to keep your dog busy, with food or without! Here are some of my favorites; be sure to click and read about even more toys to mentally stimulate dogs.

Barkbox Tennis Ball Stoplight Interactive Dog Toy
Barkbox Tennis Ball Stoplight Interactive Dog Toy

Chew Toys For Puppies

We all know that puppies love to chew— and if you don’t have appropriate toys for them to chew on, they will choose your shoes, your papers, or your furniture!

Puppyhood is actually a great time to get your dog used to chewing, and some say the dogs who get bones as a puppy learn to chew softly and not damage their teeth.

Here are a few puppy favorites, you can find even more in this article featuring the best natural chews for teething puppies.

Kongs

Before we move on, let’s not forget about the tried-and-true Kong.

Fill it with peanut butter mixed with dog kibble, soft treats, or my dog’s favorite: canned sweet potato mixed with canned salmon. Freeze, and your dog will be entertained for hours!

Be Wary Of These Rawhide Alternatives 

Nylabones

I am not a huge fan of nylabones. I know that some people use Nylabones (and similar products like Benebones) and have great luck. I have multiple reasons I don’t use them. 

First, they are petroleum based. I don’t want my dogs chewing on a petroleum based product. 

Second, parts of the bone break off sometimes. It happened with my dogs many years ago, and if you read the reviews you’ll see it happens to others as well. 

Third, I dislike that Nylabone doesn’t openly share the material used to make their products. You can read more about my attempts to find out in my article discussing the best natural chews for teething puppies

Organic Raw Bones

I have a love-hate relationship with raw bones. I love how much my dogs like them and how long they keep my dogs entertained, but I hate the risk to my dog’s teeth. 

If you have an aggressive chewer, I would be very hesitant to give them raw bones. My senior girl has a huge slice of her canine tooth missing from chewing raw bones, fortunately it didn’t expose the roots/nerves so she didn’t need it removed.

If your dog isn’t an aggressive chewer, make sure to get bones that are this size:

long marrow bone rawhide alternative

and not this size:

short marrow bone rawhide alternative

I say this after I read a great article on www.petful.com where a dog got a marrow bone stuck on her jaw and had to have it removed with a bolt cutter at the vet’s office.

marrow bone rawhide alternative stuck on dogs jaw
Photo by Petful.com; used with permission

Yak Chews

Yak chews are made from yak milk, and are definitely digestible and safer than rawhides. That said, numerous reviewers said their dog had cracked a tooth on them, so they are not for aggressive chewers.

If you have a puppy or a dog that gnaws gently, they are a good option.

Time To Get Rid Of Your Dog’s Rawhides!

Now that you know how rawhides are bad for dogs, I hope you are in agreement that rawhides are just not worth the risk. 

The more dogs chew, lick, and swallow the rawhide pieces, the greater their exposure to any chemicals they have been soaked in, and the greater risk that they will swallow bigger pieces that can become swollen and stuck in their intestines.

As much as your dog may love them, there are just too many other safer alternatives to make rawhides worth the risk.

Have you found a good rawhide alternative? Tell us in the comments below – the more ideas you share, the more dog owners that will stop using rawhides and choose safer alternatives.

Until next time-

Naturally,

Karen

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Karen Pedersen Written by:

Karen is an independent copywriter who loves dogs and everything about them. She is married to Scott, has 4 kids, and likes to take a natural and holistic approach to living and pet ownership.

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