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Rawhide: Yay or Nay?

rawhide bones - are they good or bad for dogs?

As a dog owner, you know how important it is create a healthy foundation for your pup by choosing nutritious food and treats he will not only enjoy but thrive on. As such, you probably know that plenty of commercially sold bones, chews, and treats are really just canine junk food—full of byproducts, fillers, and artificial ingredients/flavorings.

But then, there’s that gray area…treats that seem ok on the surface but it’s hard to know for sure due to conflicting messages. A perfect example is rawhide. Some sources say rawhide can be a safe, healthy treat, while others claim it is dangerous. What’s the truth?

Well, the short answer doesn’t provide much clarity: “It depends on a few factors.”

The good news is, once you know what those are, you’re better equipped to decide if rawhide is something that your dog can safely enjoy.

What Is Rawhide?

Rawhide is made from the inner layer of horse, pig, sheep, or cow hides—which are usually left over from the leather industry. So, it starts off natural enough.

But during manufacturing, the hides are cleaned, cut, and ground into different shapes and sizes. This entire process involves various chemicals to help process, preserve, and/or flavor the hides.

One Big Benefit of Rawhide

The main benefit of rawhide is that it provides your dog something to chew that’s NOT your favorite pair of shoes or grandmother’s antique coffee table.

In all seriousness, though, dogs have a strong instinct and desire to chew on things. For puppies in particular, chewing is a self-soothing activity that helps to ease discomfort associated with teething. It can also be a stimulating exercise that aids in brain development.

Chewing is important for dental health, too. In fact, the act of chewing on bones, rawhide, or similar treats helps to strengthen the jaw and keep teeth clean and gums healthy.

As dogs get older, the urge to chew may die down at bit, but the instinct is still there to varying degrees. Some adult dogs spend hours a day finding things to chew on, while others only do it if they’re bored, anxious, or excited.

Risks & Drawbacks of Rawhide

While plenty of dogs do fine chewing on rawhide, there are some risks, drawbacks, and caveats you should be aware of:

Allergic reactions. Some dogs are sensitive to the ingredients/chemicals used to make rawhide. This often manifests as digestive issues such as diarrhea. If your dog has a very sensitive stomach, I suggest you choose natural, minimal-ingredient treats.

Poor digestibility/choking hazard. This is probably the most serious concern when it comes to rawhide.

Rawhide products are not easily digested. The digestive enzymes in a dog’s stomach usually aren’t able to break down rawhide efficiently, which means the product tends to travel through the system largely intact. This may result in digestive upset (at best) or intestinal obstruction (at worst). Intestinal obstruction can be a serious medical emergency requiring surgery.

Additionally, enthusiastic chewers are often known to break off large pieces of rawhide and swallow them whole, which can get caught in the throat. This situation can also become a medical emergency, as it can cause your dog to choke.

This is where knowing your dog’s chewing style can help you determine if rawhide is a safe treat for him.

A “chewing style” is basically the characteristics that form your dog’s unique chewing habits and preferences. For instance:

Soft/Light chewers are dogs that spend days or weeks slowly gnawing or nibbling away on a single chew toy or bone. They may even lose interest over time and abandon the object.

Strong/Durable chewers will enthusiastically destroy just about anything you put in front of them. They have strong jaws and can chew endlessly at just about everything in their path, food and nonfood alike.

And of course, there are varying degrees of “in between” chewers (“moderate chewers”) that go crazy over some things but have no interest in others.

With that said, rawhide is meant to be a long-lasting treat. So generally speaking, it tends to be a safer choice for soft chewers, who spend a long time breaking down the hide into small pieces and chewing them to the point where they become soft, easy to swallow, and less difficult to digest.

Strong chewers, on the other hand, are able to break off large chunks. If swallowed, they can pose health challenges no dog owner wants to deal with.

Keep in mind, chewing styles can change over the course of a dog’s life. For example, puppies and seniors tend to be softer chewers then adolescent or adult dogs. So, chew toys and treats need to be reevaluated every few years to make sure they’re appropriate for your dog’s current life stage.

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The Bottom Line on Rawhide

As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to giving rawhide to your dog. You need to consider his unique chewing style, digestive health, allergies, and overall personality.

If you do decide to give your dog rawhide, make sure you choose an appropriately sized treat (i.e., don’t give your Labrador a Chihuahua-sized treat, and vice versa).

Also, never leave your pup unattended with rawhide. Watch for large pieces that get broken off. If they are small enough to be swallowed, take them away (carefully!) before he has a change to ingest them.

Alternatively, that there are plenty of other treats on the market that are similar in texture, taste, and appearance to rawhide, but formulated to be much more digestible for strong, enthusiastic chewers.

Finally, if you have any questions or need advice on safe chew treat for your dog, don’t hesitate to talk to your veterinarian.

*This blog was developed with Veterinarian Dana Wilhite, DVM to help educate pet owners.


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