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Puppies are notoriously aggressive chewers, but some dogs never grow out of chewing. If you want to save your shoes or furniture from untimely destruction—especially if you have to leave your pet unattended during the day—you may have offered rawhide treats to help. But could you be unknowingly putting your dog in danger?
We talked to Los Angeles-based holistic veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney about rawhide dangers and rounded up some safe alternatives.
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TL:DR: rawhide processing is questionable. Safer options for dog chews include the following. (You’ll find more detail on these at the end of the post.)
- Honest Kitchen Beams
- Bully Sticks or the more affordable Beef Gullet Sticks
- KONG toys
- Himalayan Dog Chew
- Naturally Shed Antlers
Dog-safe bones and some other natural chews are great, too, but be sure to give them under supervision. That’s where a trusted pet sitter or dog walker can really help.
Why are Rawhides Dangerous for Dogs?
Rawhides are made from the inner layer of cow or horse hides (source). By the time they make it to the store, they are clean, usually white or brown, hard chews.
But what goes into making these chews? Pet nutrition blogger Rodney Habib describes the chemical-laden manufacturing process used for preserving and cleaning the hides. Hydrogen peroxide and bleach are commonly used, as well as artificial colors and preservatives like sodium benzoate.
To avoid chemical byproducts, it’s important to do some research. Read labels or even call the manufacturer to ask what preservatives they used.
“Your typical manufacturer is going to use a chemical preservative to make sure the rawhide doesn’t spoil,” Dr. Mahaney says. “They don’t necessarily have to say what chemicals were used on the label.”
“Your typical manufacturer is going to use a chemical preservative to make sure the rawhide doesn’t spoil.”
Dr. Mahaney suggests looking for labels that say “preservative-free,” or otherwise indicate no chemical preservatives were used to manufacture the rawhides. He says family farms who slaughter their own cows and dry their hides naturally in the sun are ideal.
“Rawhides aren’t inherently evil,” Dr. Mahaney adds. “If dogs chew on a rawhide without chemicals, I’m not 100% anti-rawhides.”
In fact, rawhides can keep an aggressive chewer captive for hours—but make sure you monitor their intake and limit their chewing to an hour a day, or less if they can tear through an entire rawhide in that time.
There are other risks with giving these hard chews to your pet: mainly choking and getting lodged in the throat. Having rawhide stuck in the esophagus is a dangerous and potentially deadly situation.
“Getting access to it is extremely challenging,” Dr. Mahaney says. “The best way is with an endoscope, but if one of the edges scrapes the inside of the esophagus, whatever is in the esophagus will leak out in small or large volumes, which can cause irritation and infection.”
If your dog does start to choke, try to pull the piece of rawhide out.
“It’s better to pull it forward than push it down,” Dr. Mahaney adds.
But even if you can remove the rawhide yourself, you should still take your dog to the vet, in case any damage has occurred.
Many pet parents think rawhides are great for cleaning their dog’s teeth. While there is some validity to this, there are better options for keeping your dog’s chompers clean and their gums healthy.
“Chewing on a treat does not equal a toothbrush,” Dr. Mahaney says. “Ideally, you should be brushing daily.”
As mentioned above, there are a number of safe, healthy alternatives to rawhides. We recommend giving these under supervision, due to the choking hazard for any chew.
1. Honest Kitchen Beams: Pure fish. Stinky, but dogs love them.
2. Bully Sticks: Softer than rawhide, and irresistible to most dogs we know. Power chewers might bite off chunks too quickly, though bully stick holders are a new, interesting idea for safer use. Check out this trainer’s article on bully stick holders for more.
3. Carrots: An all-natural, vitamin A-packed, surprisingly popular dog treat.
4. KONG toys: stuffable, rubber classic that keeps pups busy. This article has plenty of great KONG stuffing “recipe” ideas.
5. Nylabone: Seriously tough stuff. Plus, it comes in bacon flavor.
6. SmartBones: Digestible and seemingly delicious, based on our dogs’ reactions.
7. DreamBones: Dental chews that dogs can digest easily.
8. Himalayan Dog Chew: Our dogs are insane for this dehydrated yak cheese. As with bully sticks, safety issues can arise if small chunks break off.
9. Naturally Shed Antlers: These are expensive but high-quality options that give dogs a chewing challenge. They’re often available in bins at specialty pet stores.
The Bottom Line
Redirecting your dog’s natural tendency to chew by offering a tasty treat can save your furniture or shoes. Just make sure you know how your chews are being processed. Always monitor your dog with any chew toy, and take and throw away the small pieces as he gets to the end of the chew to prevent choking.
Final pro-tip: don’t give chews unsupervised. A pet sitter or drop-in visitor can help if your dog needs a chew fix during the day!
Top image via Flickr/Shane Adams