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When it comes to choosing the right dog chews, the options seem just about endless. You may have heard that rawhide chews aren’t good for dogs, or that they’re filled with awful chemicals, or that they will get lodged in your dog’s intestine. But is this really true information about rawhide? Are rawhide chews safe for dogs, or are they something you should avoid?

The short answer to whether rawhide is safe for dogs is, “it depends.” The safety of any rawhide treat will be influenced by several factors. Many dogs love rawhides. They can be great long-lasting chews that keep puppies and dogs busy, are a tasty snack, and even help clean teeth and promote oral health. Learn how to decide if rawhide is a dog chew option to consider for your dog with some facts, common sense, and communication with your veterinarian.

Rawhide Safety and Your Dog’s Chewing Style

Every dog is different, and the safest treats and toys for your dog are highly dependent on your dog’s individual chewing style. What goes into their chewing style can include factors like breed, size, and age.

Size is a key consideration. Your five-pound Chihuahua is likely to be a much less powerful chewer than your 100-pound Rottweiler. Your dog’s age plays a role, as well. Most young puppies have less intense chewing styles than they will as adults, and senior dogs may not chew as powerfully as they did in their youth. So, it’s smart to assume that your own dog’s chewing style will change over time, and the treats that are considered safe for your dog will vary over the course of their lifetime.

Rawhides are meant to be long-lasting chews that break down into tiny, soft pieces over time. However, strong chewers may able to break off large chunks that can pose a choking hazard or cause an intestinal blockage if swallowed. Both of these scenarios are potentially life-threatening events. You can help prevent this from happening by offering a rawhide that’s appropriately sized for your dog, but if your dog is a super enthusiastic chewer, you may decide to avoid rawhide chews entirely. Observe your powerful chewer carefully if you offer them a rawhide chew to gauge if it’s safe. If they’re able to break off large chunks with little effort, rawhide isn’t the chew for them. Take it away, and discard it safely in the trash where they aren’t able to get to it.

For dogs that are softer chewers, rawhides are generally considered to be safe treats because these dogs don’t easily break them down into chunks. Always supervise your dog while they’re enjoying a rawhide, and take it away if you think they’re breaking it down too fast.
Dachshund looking at a rawhide bone

Rawhide Ingredient Safety for Dogs

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 is where these rawhide chews are made. Rawhides made in the United States can be harder to find, and pricier than your average rawhide 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 for Dogs

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 that break off and are swallowed whole can cause intestinal obstructions in dogs. Any rawhide pieces your dog breaks off and swallows will have to pass through their digestive system in chunks, since they won’t be digested as well as the rest of their food.

It is best to throw away pieces of chewed up rawhide before your dog has a chance to swallow them, as the chunks have the potential to cause swallowing or intestinal obstructions. Plus, if they do swallow a piece that isn’t large enough to cause an emergency issue, the not-so-easily digested rawhide can still hang out for months in your dog’s stomach, leading to gastrointestinal issues or discomfort.

That said, dogs that truly take their time chewing on rawhides and don’t swallow large pieces should have no digestive problems with rawhide. Some manufacturers even make rawhide chews out of more digestible ingredients, and although they don’t always last as long as natural rawhides, they are excellent alternatives for dogs that might have stomach or safety concerns with rawhide. There are also rawhide alternative treats that are similar in texture and look to traditional rawhide, but are formulated to be more digestible.

The decision about whether to offer rawhide chews is going to be yours and yours alone. Consider your dog’s individual chewing habits, any health issues, decide if you’re willing to accept the extra expense of high-quality, American-made chews, and talk with your veterinarian. Make sure you read the rawhide label carefully, and remember that the thicker the rawhide, the better: 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 safe option. It all comes down to your comfort level and ability to recognize the risks involved in providing them to your dog.
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