When it comes to choosing the right dog chews, the options are seemingly limitless. You’ve likely heard that rawhide chews are particularly bad for dogs, filled with awful chemicals and waiting to be lodged into your pup’s intestine. But is this really the case? Are rawhide chews safe for dogs, or are they delicious death traps? Many dogs love rawhides. They are great long-lasting chews that keep puppies and dogs busy, are a tasty snack, and even help clean teeth and promote oral health. The short answer to their safety however, is “it depends.” Well, what does it depend on? It turns out the safety of any rawhide depends on several factors, and we’ll go over these below.
Your Dog's Chewing Style
It should be no secret that every dog is different. The safest treats and toys are highly dependent on your dog’s individual chewing style. For example, a Chihuahua is likely to be a much softer chewer than a Rottweiler. The age of the dog plays a role, as well, because most young puppies and senior dogs have softer mouths than their adult counterparts. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that your own dog’s chewing style will change over time, and the treats considered safe for your dog will vary alongside those changes.
Rawhides are meant to be long-lasting chews that break down into tiny, soft pieces over time. However, strong chewers are typically able to break off large chunks that can pose a major choking hazard or cause an intestinal blockage—both are life-threatening events. You can help prevent this from happening by offering an appropriately sized rawhide, but it’s best to avoid them if your dog is a very heavy chewer. For dogs that are soft chewers, rawhides are generally considered to be safe treats because these dogs don't break them down into chunks.
In recent years, many dog owners have become concerned about the ingredients in their dogs' food and treats. You may have even noticed that many rawhide chew manufacturers are promoting their "natural, digestible chews." Does that mean that rawhide chews are not all one and the same? That’s exactly what it means. Rawhide chews are made from dried animal skins, which seems natural enough. What’s important to consider, however, is where these rawhide chews are made. Rawhides made in the United States are few and far between, and much pricier than your average chew—but the benefits are well worth the cost.
Rawhide chews are made from the leather industry’s leftovers. Most hides are taken directly from the kill floors at slaughterhouses and placed into high-salt brines, which helps slow their decay. Most rawhide chews are manufactured in China, and it can take weeks to months before these brined hides actually make it to the tanneries for their final manufacture. Once the hide arrives at a tannery, it is soaked and treated with lime to help separate the fat from the skin, the hair is removed by chemical and physical efforts, and the hide is rinsed again. Unfortunately, the salt brines cannot prevent decay, no matter how long they delay it. It is best to fully rinse a rawhide in water prior to giving it to your dog.
Rawhide digestibility can vary from dog to dog and from chew to chew. Generally speaking, rawhides are not easily digested, which is why large chunks broken off and swallowed pose such high obstruction risks. Any pieces your pup breaks off will have to pass through his digestive system in chunks, since they will not be broken down as well as the rest of his food.
It is best to manually remove the chewed up rawhide before the dog ingests it, as it can not only potentially cause an esophageal or intestinal obstruction, but it can last for months in his stomach, causing very gastrointestinal issues.
That said, dogs that truly take their time chewing on rawhides and do not swallow large pieces should have no digestive problems with the treats. Some manufacturers even make rawhide chews out of more digestible ingredients, and although they do not always last as long, they are excellent alternatives for dogs that might have stomach issues.
The decision about whether to offer rawhide chews is going to be yours and yours alone. Consider your dog’s individual chewing habits and health, decide if you’re willing to accept the extra expense of high-quality, American-made chews (since it's less likely that illegal or toxic chemicals were used in the manufacturing process), and consult with your veterinarian. Make sure you read the label carefully, and remember that the thicker the hide, the better, since it will take longer for your dog to chew.
There are many great alternatives to rawhide chews, but for the right dog, these treats can be a perfectly safe option. It all comes down to your comfort level and ability to recognize the risks involved in providing them to your dog.