English Bulldog with a rawhide bone in her mouth.

Rawhide For Dogs -
Safe or Dangerous?

Rawhide bones are a particularly popular type of dog chews. They’re affordable, durable and your pooch simply can’t get enough of them.

Now, you’ve surely heard that this kind of chew can be very harmful to dogs. There are certain risks with chewing rawhide, including health issues and choking hazards.

So what’s the truth? Is rawhide for dogs healthy or harmful?

The answer is - it depends. In this article, we’ll talk about both benefits and dangers of using rawhide as a dog treat.

Let’s dive in.


What Exactly Is Rawhide

As the name suggests, rawhide is untanned animal skin. Typically, it’s made from cow skin, but you can find products made with other livestock as well. Depending on the country of origin, the hide used can be from pigs, horses, water buffalos, deers and elks.

Of course, many Australian brands use kangaroo hide to make this tasty treat.

How Rawhide Is Made

But there’s a long way until an animal hide turns into a form of a dog treat. First, the hide is sent to the tannery, where it’s soaked in water to soften the hide for easier processing. Often, leather workers might add different types of biocides to water to prevent bacteria from attacking the leather.

The next step in the tanning process is liming, which means soaking the hide in an alkaline solution to remove hair and fats, as well as to swell up for easier layer separation. Limewater by itself isn’t a solution that’s toxic for dogs, and this wouldn’t be a problem had it not been for the common addition of so-called “sharpening agents.” What these do is weaken the keratin and allow hairs to break down easier.

The problem is that most compounds used as sharpening agents are toxic. These include sodium sulphide, cyanides, amines etc.

The “Prettifying” Process

But the chemical treatment of the animal hide doesn’t end up there. Once the hide puffs up from liming, it’s much easier to split into different layers. While the outer layer is used for making clothing, shoes, furniture and similar, the inner layer is what’s used for making rawhide.

At this point, that inner layer goes through an additional processing step. First, it’s washed, and then it’s treated with bleach, hydrogen peroxide or any similar chemical to kill the smell that appears at this stage of production.

Finally, rawhide is sometimes smoked or basted for additional flavour. What’s more, sometimes it’s even coloured to appear more attractive. Of course, the majority of the time the colour used is artificial, which can also be irritating to consume.

A couple of rawhide dog bones.

Why Dogs Go Nuts About Rawhide

What makes rawhide such a popular treat option for dogs? Because they can keep a dog distracted and entertained for several hours. But dogs don’t chew only when they’re bored. The point is, that chewing is a natural behaviour (1). Young puppies chew when teething. Adult dogs do it as a part of their oral hygiene, as well as acts of stress relief.

It’s clear what the rave about rawhide is all about. When dogs start chewing, rawhide is dry and firm. Over time, saliva slowly causes it to soften and swell, allowing your pooch to pierce it with teeth.

And to be honest, rawhide bones can be a great distraction. Many dog toys resemble different objects we might have at home, so it’s easy for a pooch to mistake some of your personal items for toys. With rawhide, that’s not the case.

Now, is rawhide good for dogs in terms of oral hygiene? Definitely. Chewing on rawhide helps a great deal with removing plaque and tartar buildup on your Fido’s teeth (2). It also helps with keeping your pooch’s breath and preventing periodontal diseases when consumed regularly.

Last but not least, rawhide bones are cheap and sold practically everywhere. While your local grocery shop might be out of your dog’s favourite dental sticks, they have rawhide treats in stock.


Is Rawhide Bad For Dogs

While there are tons of reasons you should get your pooch a rawhide treat, there are just as many reasons to not do so.

Digestive Blockage

Remember how we said that rawhide becomes softer in contact with saliva? Well, at some point small pieces will start to break off, and your furry friend can swallow them. Once inside the stomach, rawhide particles will continue to swell up from all the juices inside.

Rawhide is already a tough material for a dog to digest, and things don’t get any easier once its pieces get that big. Let’s just say that removing chunks often requires a surgical procedure.

Choking Hazard

Not just inside the intestines, pieces of rawhide can also get stuck inside the throat and cause choking. What’s more, it’s not uncommon for rawhide treats to cause tooth damage either. Both of these possibilities are especially great with puppies and aggressive chewers.

Contamination

Finally, rawhide, like other raw animal-derived treats, can be contaminated with harmful pathogens such as salmonella. That’s not as uncommon as you may think. There were multiple instances in the United States where the Federal Drug Administration recalled products for being contaminated with salmonella.

Australia has a pretty good import policy regarding rawhide chews. If not tested in the country of origin, every product is subject to gamma irradiation treatment as soon as it arrives in Australia (3). This assures every imported rawhide is free from harmful pathogens.

The domestic market, however, isn’t that well regulated. Because it’s not considered pet food, rawhide isn’t outlined by the Australian Standard for the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food (4). This means it can easily surpass all the necessary treatments for decontamination.


Dogs That Should Avoid Rawhide Treats

Keep in mind that, even with all precautions in mind, rawhide treats are simply not suitable for certain dogs.

Puppies Under Six Months Old

The intense teething period usually lasts until the puppy is about six months old. At this point, their deciduous teeth should have fallen out and been replaced with growing permanent teeth. But before this happens, rawhide for puppies is a bad idea, as it’s too hard for their jaws.

Elderly Dogs

No matter how great regular oral care your dog might have, there’s a high chance of dental issues as your pooch gets older. Chewing on rawhide can cause fractured teeth and even more severe dental problems.

Dogs With Sensitive Stomachs

Rawhide treats are often treated with flavouring or colouring products, and both of them can cause an upset stomach and other digestive problems. If your dog has food allergies and other gastrointestinal issues, it’s best to avoid rawhide altogether.

Heavy Chewers

Some dogs are simply way too aggressive when chewing on treats or toys. If your pooch likes to tear away pieces, then rawhide should be avoided, as there’s a real risk of swallowing large chunks.


How To Use Rawhide Responsibly

Not everything is black and white when it comes to rawhide treats. With a few precautions, your dog can enjoy this treat under your supervision.

Rawhide is meant to be the treat a dog can chew on over a longer period. Heavy chewers can go through the whole rawhide quickly, but that’s exactly what you should avoid. For those pooches that are gentle on treats, chewing on rawhide isn’t dangerous, if they’re not breaking off pieces with their teeth.

Try to avoid flavoured and coloured versions whenever possible. Even if the ingredients used are non-toxic, your pooch can still develop an allergic reaction or an upset stomach.

Pay attention to the country of origin. As we already mentioned, Australian treats aren’t regulated, so pay attention to the label and see if the product is treated with any decontamination method. Imported rawhide might be a safer option, as it goes under mandatory irradiation before entering the country. Still, you should avoid products made in countries with the unregulated dog food market, such as China.

Finally, it goes without saying to always supervise your dog while chewing on rawhide treats. That way, in case of an accident, you can provide aid or take your pooch to the vet.


In Conclusion

Is rawhide safe for dogs or not? The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors, including the dog’s overall health and chewing habits. If you follow the safe consumption recommendations, there’s no reason why your furry friend can’t enjoy this tasty treat occasionally.

But remember, it should always be done under your supervision.

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References

  1. Flowers, A. May 08, 2021. “Rawhide: Good or Bad for Your Dog?” Pets by WebMD. Retrieved May 28, 2022. https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/rawhide-good-or-bad-for-your-dog
  2. Hennet, P. Jun 18, 2001. “Effectiveness of an enzymatic rawhide dental chew to reduce plaque in beagle dogs.” National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 28, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11968913/
  3. December 21, 2018. “Changes to import conditions for rawhide dog chews.” Australian Government. Retrieved May 28, 2022. https://www.awe.gov.au/biosecurity-trade/import/industry-advice/2018/193-2018
  4. April 02, 2019. “Rawhide – the Nasty Truth.” Dogshare. Retrieved May 28, 2022. https://www.dogshare.com.au/rawhide-the-nasty-truth
Vedrana Nikolic

Vedrana Nikolić is a professional writer, anthropologist & dog lover with a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology. Currently pursuing a Masters degree in Semiotics studying the communication between animals and humans. Vedrana is able to use her expertise to analyse and review dog products and write informative posts on canine behaviour and training.

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