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Rawhide Bones: The Good, The Bad And The Downright Dangerous


Last Updated: March 14, 2024 | 4 min read | 41 Comments

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Puppy with rawhide bone

Whether your dog is a 6-month-old puppy or a six-year-old adult, most owners would agree, they all love to chew. Rawhide bones are often the go to treat many of us give our beloved pets. But are rawhide bones really safe for our dogs?

What Is Rawhide Anyway?

Rawhide is just that: the inner soft hide or skin of an animal. It is most commonly made from cows but, technically, can be made from any livestock.

Yes, this means exactly what it sounds like. Depending on where it’s manufactured, the ingredients could include hide from cow, pig, sheep, horse or even water buffalo. The animal itself may not be cause for concern, but how, where and in what conditions the animal was raised can affect the overall quality (thinner and drier) and safety of the product.

How Is It Made?

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In countries outside of the USA, Rawhide often begins its journey with a chemical bath to help “preserve” the product during transport. For the most part, inside the US, it is shipped in refrigerated containers to prevent spoilage. Translation: if imported, this chew treat most likely has an extra dose of chemicals. But, if it’s U.S. made, it likely contains fewer chemicals.

During processing, it is first soaked in an ash-lye solution to remove the hair and fat. Then it can be “cleaned” with water or bleach and/or hydrogen peroxide. In some countries arsenic, or even formaldehyde, is used in this process (banned in the U.S.). Finally, it is either left natural or smoke and other artificial flavors are added to entice your dog to chew for hours.

Why Do Dogs Love Them So Much?

Dogs seem to adore Rawhide treats. But is it the Rawhide or just the chewing that they love? Eons ago, when dogs (and humans) still lived in the wild, dogs were given the scraps from the fire. This served to keep the dog loyal and as a means of trash disposal for the humans (yes, even then, no one wanted to take out the trash).

The urge to chew serves many purposes for your dog. As a puppy, it is a way to explore their environment and is natural when teething. As adults, dogs chew as a scavenging instinct, to play and to satisfy the urge to gnaw as a means to clean their teeth. Some dogs chew more because they are rewarded with attention, whether it’s positive or negative. And finally, for some dogs, chewing excessively is a reaction when they are anxious or stressed.

How Do Dogs Consume Rawhide?

It’s easy to see why Rawhide bones satisfy dogs’ urge to chew. It starts dry and then the dog’s chewing action combined with its saliva slowly softens the treat. Over time, they should be able to tear off small pieces that can easily pass through their digestive tracts.

The dangers of these chew treats are not inherent to rawhide. Some dogs will try to consume their treat in record time. If your dog chews their treat too quickly, they can easily choke on a piece that is too large. Even if they can swallow such a large chunk whole, this does not mean that it can pass through their system without doing damage.

Many of us have heard horror stories of beloved pets being too eager with their Rawhide only to later require emergency surgery. If not caught soon enough, this sad situation could even lead to the death of your darling pooch.

So Are Rawhide Bones Worth It?

Are there any advantages to giving your dog this bone? And what about the downsides?

The Good

The Bad

The Truly Dangerous

  • Rawhide bones satisfy your dog’s need to chew in a positive way
  • Rawhide bones could be an inadvertent source of harmful chemicals for your dog
  • If not sized right for your dog, they can be a serious choking hazard
  • When consumed properly, they are very good at cleaning your dog’s teeth
  • Poorer quality (thinner and drier) Rawhides could break your dog’s tooth, causing your dog pain and you high vet bills
  • Large chunks can be swallowed whole, which are indigestible and can cause serious illness or death for your dog
  • Relatively inexpensive treat for your dog
  • Yummy flavored rawhide bones can cause issues (e.g. vomiting and diarrhea) for some sensitive dogs

Are There Any Good Alternatives?

Many vets recommend natural alternatives to Rawhide. But, like all things, these dog treats also have pros and cons to consider.

Some beloved alternatives to give occasionally include (click on the links to view the product on Amazon):

  1. Large (full-size) organic carrots with the tops cut off
  2. SmartBones SmartSticks
  3. Pawstruck 100% Natural Beef Tendon Chews
  4. Snooks Sweet Potato Dog Chews
  5. Zukes Z-Ridge Dental Bones

Remember: If the chew treat is harder than the dog’s teeth it could cause breakage and is not a good choice. The video below covers treats that can be dangerous and good alternatives to them.

Rawhide Rules To Live By

Rawhide itself is not an evil treat to give your dogs but there are some things to remember before you give in to your begging four-legged friend.

Location, Location, Location

When choosing treats make sure you know where they come from; the country of origin makes a difference in the overall quality and safety of the product.

Unflavored Or Flavored

It’s also best to avoid the flavored variety no matter how much your dog loves them. This will help prevent any sensitivity your dog may have to different flavors.

Size And Shape Matter

Make sure the treat you choose is size appropriate for your dog. Also, rawhide treats that are long and cylindrical are better; avoid the knobs that can be easily chewed off. Remember to take these long treats away when they become short enough to swallow whole.

Supervise Your Dog’s Chewing

And finally, always supervise your pet when giving ANY chew treat. It’s just not worth the possible tragedy that could result. We all love our dogs and treats are good for anyone occasionally. So don’t feel guilty giving your dog a treat now and then. It will make both of you happy.

The information provided through this website should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease; it is not intended to offer any legal opinion or advice or a substitute for professional safety advice or professional care. Please consult your health care provider, attorney, or product manual for professional advice. Products and services reviewed are provided by third parties; we are not responsible in any way for them, nor do we guarantee their functionality, utility, safety, or reliability. Our content is for educational purposes only.

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