One of the most enduring traits of dogs that have been passed down since the ancient times is their tendency to chew. This is one trait that will never go extinct, regardless of how advanced we have become in terms of canine training and behavior modification. It’s already in their genes. Unless the genetic marker for such a trait is extinguished in all breeds of dogs, then there is a chance that we can eliminate the chewing behavior of dogs. Until then, we can only do so much to make sure our pooch’s chewing tendencies do not go overboard that they’d be chomping down on everything we hold dear.
This is where rawhide and other doggie chew toys come in. These are super durable that dogs are known to spend endless hours chewing down on a rawhide. The question most dog owners have about rawhide is related to its safety. Because many dog owners give their pets rawhide, does this automatically mean you should give your hound rawhide bones, too?
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In this article, we will be exploring a bit more about these quintessential dog chews. We’ll take a closer look at what this product is, how it’s made, and why members of the canine family love it so much. We’ll also take a closer look at how our canine pets process these dog chews as well as the advantages and disadvantages of giving rawhides to our pets. We’ll then look at some better alternatives before closing it up with some safety tips for you to observe while giving your pooch rawhide.
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A Closer Look at Rawhide
Rawhide is nothing more that the skin of an animal that has never been subjected to any kind of processing most especially tanning. Technically, it is sourced from cows, although it is not unusual to get it from any other livestock that has cleft hooves.
As such, you can get rawhide that is made from pig, horse, sheep, and even buffaloes. This somehow raises a few questions since the dog chew can come from almost any other cleft-hooved animal. It is even possible that the dog chew may not be sourced from any of the aforementioned livestock at all. There really is no way of telling whether the rawhide you purchased for your hound is really made of the inner hide of cows or the other animals we have mentioned or maybe something else.
Anyone can easily put a label saying their products are made of cow’s hide, when it fact it isn’t.
Even products that are really made from those animals we have listed, there are still issues that could be of concern especially to the safety-conscious dog owner. The environment and livestock conditions upon which these animals are raised can have an impact on the overall quality as well as safety of the dog chew.
Since the product is dried animal skin, its quality is quite dependent on the overall nutrition of the animal from which the rawhide was sourced from. If the animal happens to be poorly fed or was raised in not-so-ideal conditions, this will be reflected on the quality of the rawhide. You’d get something that is quite thinner and perhaps even drier, making it very susceptible to breakage.
How is Rawhide Made?
The typical process involved in the manufacture or production of rawhide dog chews is that the hide is harvested from the source animal. Understand that animal hide is composed of an outer, tougher layer and an inner, softer layer. The outer layer is mostly intended for the production of leather while the inner layer is what is converted into rawhide.
Since it would be grossly impractical to just get the lower grain (inner layer) and discard the top grain (outer layer) of the cow hide, most producers of rawhide will obtain the split hide from tanneries as byproducts. From this standpoint, it is clear that the quality and safety of the rawhide will then depend on the manufacturing processes observed at the tanneries where these animal hide byproducts are obtained.
- Splitting of the hide
The harvested hides are typically transported to a tannery. Before transport, the animal hides are immersed in a chemical bath to help make sure it doesn’t spoil during transportation and help preserve its ‘quality’.
Upon arriving at the tannery the hides are immersed in a toxic solution that contains sodium sulphide to remove excess hair, fat, and other tissues not needed in the production of rawhide or leather. Some manufacturers use an ash-lye solution instead.
Once the hair and excess tissues have been removed, the animal hides are then treated to another batch of chemicals to make them a lot easier to split. This is important since the top grain is what will be used in the production of leather for various products while the bottom grain will be used in the manufacture of rawhide. The same bottom grain is also used in the manufacture of glue, cosmetics, and gelatin, among others.
- Cleansing the hide
The post-tannery hides are then washed and whitened in a solution that contains hydrogen peroxide. This is to help neutralize or eliminate the odor that is so characteristic of leather.
- Addition of enhancers
After cleansing and whitening, the rawhides are then subjected to a variety of processes that will give it a more appetizing look. Surely no dog would want something that resembles pale strip of leather. As such, dyes and flavorings are added to the product. Some are also painted with titanium oxide to make it look more bone-like. Some manufacturers may also add sodium benzoate and the carcinogen FD&C Red 40.
- Finalizing the rawhide
Before the rawhides are individually packed for distribution, other chemicals are added to make sure that it will last a longer time. Independent studies have confirmed the presence of lead, chromium salts, arsenic, formaldehyde, and mercury among others in the final rawhide product of some manufacturers.
There is also the issue of so-called concentrated animal feeding operation or CAFO, which is actually a bucolic term that is used to describe the modern industrial farm. The livestock sourced from these farms are often laced with hormones, antibiotics, and arsenic to help improve livestock production. The current claim that these substances can never be found in the meats of these livestock has never really been substantiated with proof, further lending credence to the notion that these are dangerous.
The main difference in rawhides made between the US and non-US countries is the addition of a preservative bath to the harvested animal hide during transport. The hides that are transported to tanneries in the US are typically refrigerated, eliminating the need for a chemical bath. However, the fact remains that the animal hide will still have to go through the same process of splitting, cleansing, whitening, and finalizing. Of course, some manufacturers opt to go the natural route, either letting the product stay as is or are naturally smoked for a much more pleasant flavor to your dog.
Why Do Dogs Love Chewing on Rawhide?
It is important to understand, as we have already pointed out in the beginning, that dogs are naturally inclined to chew. This means that dogs will chew on almost anything regardless of whether it is rawhide, a bully stick, a piece of furniture, or even carpet. The fact is that dogs are just so built to chew, but for good reasons. Here’s why.
- As a means to explore their world
Puppies and juvenile dogs use their mouth to learn more about their surroundings in the same way as human babies use their senses to learn. When puppies bite and chew on things, they are rewarded with a variety of sensations from hard to soft to the different tastes of things. When used as a training tool, puppies will also learn to temper their bite force.
- As a way to clean and soothe the teeth
Dogs chew on things to clean their teeth of debris from their previous meal. They don’t have toothbrushes and toothpastes to help them maintain an oral hygiene that is close to what we have. For puppies that are undergoing the teething process, chewing on things can help relieve the pressure of the erupting tooth on the gums, making it more bearable for them.
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- As a tool for expressing their natural instincts
We mentioned that chewing is encoded in the genes of every single dog. One can never really fully extinguish this genetic trait that has come to define these members of the animal kingdom. While we cannot do anything about what’s already written and encoded in time, we can at least give them something that is less destructive. Rather than our dogs chewing on our brand new carpet or furniture, you’re better off with a dog chew or a rawhide for that matter.
- As a means to get your attention
Most dogs chew because it is the only way they can get your attention. Remember, they don’t have any clue whether the chewing they are doing is negative or not. For them, if you yell at them for chewing on your carpet, they still got your attention. If your dog chewed on your child’s favorite toy and you scolded it right away, it may learn that it is not nice to chew on a child’s toy. However, it also learns that it got your attention.
- As a method of relieving stress
Perhaps we can all relate to this, or most of us would. Chewing can be viewed as a defense mechanism for anything that is causing great stress to the dog. While there really is no way to prove that canine anxiety or stress can be described as having excessive levels of nervous energy, it is believed that this excess can be channeled through chewing in pretty much the same way that we channel our anxious energies to squeeze balls and fidget spinners and the like.
So, why do dogs love rawhide? They don’t love rawhide per se. They are just pleased that with the opportunity to satisfy their innate need to chew.
How Do Our Pooches Consume Rawhide?
One of the most common questions dog owners have about rawhides is related to how it is consumed by their dogs. Rawhides are always packaged dry and quite hard. This helps provide your dog with the sensation that it is able to ‘fight’ the rawhide. However, as your dog’s saliva gets ingrained within the spaces and crevices created by your pooch’s chewing, the dog chew slowly loses its hardness, turning a bit soft and chewy, but still relatively more compact and harder than soft chews. As your dog keeps on biting, chewing, and applying saliva on the surface of the dog chew, some of it will eventually break off. Here’s where the problem lies.
If the pieces are relatively small and your pooch ingested these parts, then it should pass through easily down its gastrointestinal tract. That should not pose any problem at all.
Unfortunately, if your dog has a gulper or even a destroyer type of chew personality, this otherwise tough and durable dog chew will be nothing.
Gulpers are known for chewing on things in record time. One moment you see them chewing on their rawhide, next thing you know the dog chew is nowhere to be found. Destroyers may not be as voracious as gulpers, but they tend to rip items apart. They are at most risk for intestinal obstruction secondary to ingestion of an unusually large piece of the rawhide. This can be rather problematic since you’re looking at a potentially expensive surgical procedure. If not, you can start saying farewell to your pooch.
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Giving Dogs Rawhide?
Despite the fact that there are certain safety and quality issues that have to be clarified with rawhide products, it would be unfair to label it outright as bad. The point is that, like all things, it does have its pros and cons, too. In this section, we’ll try to examine the advantages and disadvantages of giving rawhide to our pooches.
- It promotes non-destructive chewing in dogs by redirecting your dog’s chewing activities from, otherwise precious personal belongings like clothing, furniture, carpet, and many more.
- It helps clean your dog’s teeth and promote optimum oral and dental health including the prevention of gum disease and its associated health problems.
- It is relatively inexpensive compared to other doggie treats.
- It can help alleviate canine anxiety.
- The various chemicals used in its manufacture can make rawhides a particular health concern since most manufacturers do not provide full disclosure of the various chemicals that are used in the production process.
- Some rawhides especially those of poor quality tend to cause damage to the dog’s teeth. This can bring about pain which you may have to manage using appropriate veterinary prescribed analgesics.
- There are raw hides that can upset the dog’s stomach, inducing vomiting and diarrhea in the process. While this is only seen in hypersensitive dogs, there really is no way one can pinpoint which dog will react to which.
What Makes it Really Dangerous
- If the size of the rawhide is not appropriate to your dog, there is a chance that it might choke your pet. This often requires emergency veterinary management to get the foreign body obstruction out of your dog’s airways.
- If the rawhide happens to easily break off in pieces, there is a chance that these large chunks can get lodged in the digestive tract. In some cases, if the obstruction is not resolved or is not removed, serious illness can set in or, worse, death can ensue.
Are there Better Alternatives to Rawhide?
Knowing that there are serious drawbacks to rawhides, it is but natural for dog owners to be interested in knowing what can constitute as better and safer alternatives to this kind of dog chew. Here are some of the more natural and safer alternatives to rawhides as recommended by veterinarians.
- Organic carrots
Raw, fresh carrots are quite tough and should provide your pooch with the ‘resistance’ that it needs to feel on its jaws for it to bite and chew on. The great thing with carrots is that these are naturally rich with phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals that will give your pooch additional nutrients for optimum health. In the event that your dog ingests the carrot or a portion of it, you can bet that it will not hurt your pet one bit.
- Natural trachea or tendon treats
There are manufacturers that produce doggie treats made of trachea or tendon from livestock. Tendons are more resilient than hides since their chemical structure is denser. On the other hand, trachea is more like cartilage, soft and chewy but with a crunch that dogs will love. Just make sure to get only those that do not come with any additives. To see how it stacks up to the competition, see our article on the best dog treats.
- Bully sticks
As the name implies, these are dog chews that are made from bull penis. The great thing about bully sticks is that they are fully digestible so even if your pooch will ingest it, it should pose no problem. Additionally, bully sticks are typically oven-baked penises of bulls with none of the added chemicals we often see in rawhides.
- Himalayan dog chews
Made of all natural yak’s milk, and in some instances high quality cow’s milk, Himalayan dog chews are exceptional alternatives to rawhides. You can think of the Himalayan dog chew as your super-hardened, super-tough yet equally nutritious cheese sticks designed for canine pets. Every stick is gluten-free and is rich in calcium and other nutrients that will help your pet grow more optimally.
Safety Tips when Giving Rawhide to Your Dog
We’re not saying that rawhides are inherently bad for your pooch. What we only would like to point out is that, like anything else we give to our pooches, it is imperative that we observe some safety tips whenever we are giving them rawhides. Here are some safety reminders you need to think about.
- Always check the country of origin of the rawhide
You will have more peace of mind if you get a product that’s made in the US or any other first world country where manufacturing processes undergo stringent monitoring and certification. While we don’t necessarily generalize, you’ll be better off with a product that is genuinely made in the US.
- Steer clear of flavored varieties
Giving flavored rawhide to dogs is already expected. However, while many do this, don’t give in to the temptation as many of these ‘flavored’ varieties are laced with chemicals that we clearly don’t have any idea what they can do to our dogs.
- Choose the size and shape that is appropriate for your pet
Different dogs will require different types of rawhides, typically with respect to their size and shape. The safety issue you would like to avoid here is accidental choking. You don’t want your pooch to swallow the whole thing only to get lodged in its throat, making it unable to breathe. So choose the size and shape of your rawhide wisely.
- Never leave your dog unattended whenever it is chewing on these treats
Dogs clearly have no clue whether the rawhide you gave them is harmful or not. For them, as long as they can bite onto it and chew it down, then it must be good. That is why vigilance is a must whenever pooches are chewing on something since you’ll never know just when a piece of the dog chew will break off. It is best to keep a watchful eye on your pooch while it is enjoying its treat of rawhide bone.
It is easy to see why rawhides remain a favorite among many dog owners. However, now that you have a much clearer understanding of what it is, how it’s made, and what risks are typically associated with such dog chews, you can now make a better-informed decision whether to give your pooch a rawhide or simply choose something that is safer yet equally effective in satisfying our dog’s innate need to chew.
- Dr. Marty Becker DVM, Is It Safe to Give My Dog a Rawhide?, Vetstreet
- T. J. Dunn, DVM, Can Dogs Eat Bones? Raw & Cooked Bones for Dogs, PetMD
- Rawhide: Good or Bad for Your Dog?, WebMD