Dogs have an instinctive need to chew. As young pups, it helps their teeth break through the gums and strengthens their jaw muscles. In adult dogs, the act of chewing can help to alleviate boredom and anxiety. Once dogs became fully domesticated and moved into people’s homes, the search began to find things for dogs to chew on that did not include wires or shoes.
Rawhide bones have always been a popular option as an alternative to a chew toy for dogs. They are readily available, inexpensive and most dogs love them. In recent years, a debate has begun as to just how safe it is for dogs to use rawhide as a chew toy.
Risks of Rawhide Bones
There are four main risks associated with giving your dog rawhide to chew on; choking, digestive problems, and contamination with chemicals or bacteria.
Choking is primarily a risk for younger dogs or those that chew very aggressively. This problem arises when dogs chew off a piece of the rawhide and instead of swallowing it, they inhale it. Like small children, much of the risk associated with chewing can be alleviated by keeping a close eye on puppies while they chew rawhide bones and taking it from them when it begins to soften or break apart.
Rawhide chews can cause digestive problems if your dog swallows a large amount of it or if they swallow large pieces. Rawhide does not break down in a dog’s digestive tract. Every piece they swallow must pass through intact and will come out in roughly the same size and shape that it went in. Small pieces only cause a problem if many of them are swallowed in a short period of time. In this case, they can get stuck together and cause a blockage.
Larger pieces of rawhide present two problems. They can get wedged in the digestive tract and cause a blockage. They may also scrape, or even puncture, the inner layer of the gut. This can lead to irritation, inflammation, and even the release of gastric fluids into the body cavity.
Either of these issues can lead to pain and suffering for your dog and hefty vet bills.
While rawhide itself is a natural product, the chemicals used to process it often are not. Unacceptable levels of arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium, formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals have been found in rawhide chews. Some of these are the result of the processing and some seem to be carryovers from the animals the rawhide was made from. Either way, these chemicals are bad for dogs.
Both Salmonella and e coli have been found in rawhide chews. While these bacteria do present some risks to your dog, they are actually a greater risk to the humans who handle them. Recently several batches of rawhide chews have been recalled because of bacterial contamination.
Everything In Moderation
As with most things, the potential risks of rawhide treats become more likely the more of them your dog chews. While there is some debate among vets as to whether the benefits of rawhide; cheap, readily available and well received by most dogs, outweigh the risks, all agree that limiting your dog’s use of rawhide as a chew toy reduces any and all risks.
Alternative Toys To Rawhide Chews
Even disregarding the potential risks of rawhide treats to your dog, variety is a good thing. There are many rawhide alternatives that will satisfy your dog’s need to chew. While not every chew toy or dog treat is accepted by every dog, there are so many options out there that you are sure to find some that meet both your and your dog’s needs.
There are chew toys made of natural starches that mimic the look and chewing feel of rawhide. There are synthetic chew toys that come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some even have grooves or holes designed to be filled with peanut butter or other yummy things to enhance the chewing experience. You may also consider braided ropes as these not only provide chewing fun but also do a great job of cleaning in between your dog’s teeth.
There are also many chew toys that are natural and animal-based. These include hooves, dog bones, antlers, tendons and muscles, and bully sticks. Some present similar risks as rawhide and some can develop sharp edges when chewed. This is not only a problem for your dog but also anyone who inadvertently steps on them with bare feet.
While all of the risks listed above may seem really scary, it is important to remember that, although real, the negative side effects of chewing rawhide are rare. You can minimize these risks even more by taking these steps:
- Do not give to very young puppies.
- Monitor young dogs and those that chew aggressively to make sure they are not chewing off large pieces or showing signs of distress.
- Remove rawhide if it becomes completely soft or shows signs of breaking into pieces.
- Give your dog a variety of chew toys. This will not only minimize the risks associated with rawhide but will also increase their interest and amusement.
Ultimately, the answer to the question, “Is rawhide bad for my dog” is both yes and no. There is ample evidence to support either answer and so the decision of whether to allow your dog to use a rawhide chew is up to you, your dog, and your vet.
What can I give my dog instead of rawhide?
Veterinarians suggest many alternatives to rawhide. You may want to go with synthetic options that are formed to look and feel like rawhide dogs chew, or braided ropes, all of which can be found in any pet store. If you choose to stay with natural products, you can try cow hooves, antlers, raw bones, or even carrots, celery, and sweet potatoes. If your dog does not accept one type, keep trying. There are so many choices that you are sure to find one that both you and your dog are comfortable with.
What is the safest thing for a dog to chew on?
There is some debate among veterinarians and dog owners as to the safest type of dog chew. You want to find one that is unlikely to break into small pieces and present a choking hazard and one that is digestible to prevent gut blockages. It is also a good idea to look into what, if any, chemicals were used in the manufacture of a chew toy. Ultimately, the safest chew toy for your dog depends on his chewing style and preferences.
Is Rawhide safe for dogs in the UK?
Veterinarians in the UK tend to take a harder stance against allowing your dog to chew on rawhide, however, the risks of rawhide to dogs in the UK are the same as anywhere else.
Can you leave a dog alone with a rawhide?
It is not considered safe to leave young dogs alone with rawhide, or any other dog chews, that might break into pieces, as they may chew more aggressively and haven’t yet learned what is safe to swallow and what is not. Dogs with particularly strong bite strength or those that chew very strenuously should also be monitored while chewing. For most adult dogs, the risks of leaving them alone with rawhide are minimal.