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What’s the Problem with Rawhide Dog Chews? (+Healthy Alternatives)

Photo of Chew Toys

Feeling confused about rawhide? You're not alone.

Walk into any pet store, and you are sure to see mountains of rawhide dog chews in all different shapes, styles, and flavors.

Our canine buds LOVE getting stuck into a big chewy hide bone, and it's a great way to keep a naughty pup out of mischief for a few hours.

But online, you'll find reams of articles warning you of the dangers of rawhide and reports that it has been responsible for the deaths of a large number of dogs.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at the big concerns over rawhide chews, and we'll give you a few tasty alternatives your dog can try instead.

The Rawhide Manufacturing Process

Rawhide comes from leftover ‘waste' hide that is not good enough quality to be tanned for the leather industry. It's not part of the food industry, and that is where a major problem arises.

Hide chews are not classified as human food or pet food, and they don't have to meet any of the usual standards that apply.

Dangerous Toxins

In China, where much of the world’s rawhide is produced, the processing of fresh hides into finished rawhide dog treats often involves the use of toxic chemicals.

Toxic sodium sulfide, for instance, helps remove the fat and hair from the hide. Some Asian factories even use highly poisonous arsenic for this process.

Following this the hide is normally bleached with hydrogen peroxide, to make it look clean and white.

The final stages of rawhide production involve cutting and pressing the hide into various shapes and then using glue to hold pieces together.

Choking Hazard

Another key concern over rawhide is the potential for large pieces of these chews to be gnawed off by your dog and swallowed whole. This can cause choking but also potentially result in dangerous blockages in the intestine.

A GI tract obstruction can be very serious, and your dog may need an emergency operation to remove the blockage.

But why isn't the rawhide digested in the stomach? Unfortunately, rawhide if not easily digested by dogs.

Chewing habits make a big difference

Whether rawhide is going to cause your dog problems as he eats them depends on how your dog chews.

Chewing habits can vary a lot by breed and age, and also just on your dog's personality.

Gentle chewers may nibble small sections of a bone, and it won't pose any kind of choking or digestive hazard.

Powerful chewers, on the other hand, are at a higher risk of chewing rawhide too quickly and easily. It's more likely that they'll break off large chunks and attempt to swallow them.

To be fair, though, a huge number of dog chews can also potentially cause choking and intestinal blockages if your dog eats them too quickly. You should always monitor your fur-kid when he's munching on any kind of dog chew.

Is there such a thing as ‘safe' rawhide?

So you feel like your dog is a sensible chewer, and you want to continue feeding him rawhide?

Just remember that rawhide chews vary wildly in quality.

If you want to avoid chews that have nasty toxic chemicals, your best bet is to look for treats manufactured in a US factory using hide from US cattle.

They may cost a bit more, but the quality will be far superior.

Photo of Dog With Rawhide Chew Toy

When shopping for a good quality rawhide look out for:

  • A more natural light brown or yellow color. A bright white color probably means that it's bleached using hydrogen peroxide.
  • A small amount of bendiness in the chew is a good sign. Rock hard chews may pose more of a choking risk and could also damage teeth.
  • A slightly unpleasant smell is a sign that the treat has not been overly processed. Obviously, if you see signs of mold, you should not feed it to your pet.

The Good Buddy range of different rawhide shapes and bones will keep your pup busy for hours.

They are made from 100% USA beef and then basted in natural chicken flavor, with no artificial colors or preservatives.

Ready to quit rawhide? Here are some great alternative chews for your dog

It's a shame rawhide is not safer for dogs because most pups enjoy gnawing on them, and they provide some excellent dental health benefits.

Rawhide chews are often the ‘go-to' treat that owners offer their dogs when they need to take a break from watching their pup. Some big hide chews can keep a dog occupied for hours!

If you are ready to chuck your hide chews in the bin after all you've heard, we've put together a list of deliciously chewy and moreish natural alternatives your dog will go wild for.

Natural Animal Part Chews

Lots of animal body parts that we think are too gross to eat can actually be used as delicious, healthy treats for our dogs!

Unlike the nasty chemical processes rawhide is subjected too, most of these natural animal chews are produced by slowly dehydrating them in low-temperature ovens.

When you are shopping for them, try to avoid any which have added artificial colors or flavors as they really aren’t necessary.

The yuck factor – odors and grease

If you are used to bleached rawhide chews that are entirely odorless, you may be in for a surprise when you try natural animal chews for the first time.

They can smell gross to humans. Sometimes it's just a mildly unpleasant odor (often marketed as ‘aromatic'!), and sometimes they downright reek.

But try to remember how much your dog loves stinky things. To him, the fabulous stench is all part of the fun!

Natural chews can sometimes feel a bit greasy or oily to touch.

Again this is entirely natural, but you'll want to wash your hands after handling them and make sure your dog eats them away from any nice carpet or rugs.

Our top 5 natural dog chews

1) Bull Pizzle

Once you can get over the weirdness factor of feeding your dog another creature's dried penis, you'll soon find that pizzle is one of the best dog chews around.

These snacks keep dogs busy for an incredibly long time. Even powerful chewers will find they have their work cut out to gnaw through a large section of pizzle.

Like other natural chews, gnawing on pizzle sticks can help with dental care and also strengthens the jaw muscles. They are healthy too, being high in protein and low in carbs.

Pizzle has a unique ‘aroma' that is very appealing to dogs. You may not appreciate it so much, but you can always offer your dog his treat outside rather than in the house.

When you are shopping for pizzle, check that the product you buy is 100% beef, and gently air-dried with no chemicals or preservatives.

Pizzle is also known as Bully Sticks, and you can buy it in all sorts of shapes and sizes suitable for large and small dogs.

This six-pack of 6″ pizzle chews from Bones & Chews is great value, considering how long it will keep your dog happy and occupied.

2) Cows Ears and Pigs Ears

Cow and pig ears are waste products from the meat processing industry. As a single ingredient chew, they are 100% natural and also high in protein.

Cow and pig ears are prepared by gently drying them out at low temperatures. They do not need any additives or chemicals, so try and avoid those that list any extra ingredients.

Just like rawhide, dried ears can pose a choking hazard if your pup swallows large chunks without chewing them thoroughly.

Always keep one eye on your dog when they are munching their way through one, and feed an appropriate size for your dog.

On the plus side, they are much easier to digest than rawhide. They also have a significant cleaning effect on teeth.

What's the difference between cow and pig ears?

Pig ears tend to be a little greasier and much higher in fat than cow ears. If your dog is on a diet, cow ears are probably the best treat to choose for him.

USA Bones and Chews pack of 10 x pig ears are made in the USA, and free from any binding agents or artificial additives.

Rabbit ears are great for small dogs.

For smaller dogs, a tasty pint-sized alternative to big cow ears is rabbit ear chews. The size and thickness of them are much more suitable for more petite breeds and softer chewers.

Rabbit ears, like these from Nature Gnaws, are highly digestible and suitable for dogs with sensitive digestion.

3) Deer or elk antlers

Every year deer and elk naturally shed their antlers but they don’t go to waste. The bone-like material that forms antlers doubles up as a long-lasting natural chew for dogs.

Antler chews are a super option for powerful chewers, as they are relatively hard and take a lot of time to gnaw down.

They also don't tend to break into shards or sharp chunks like bone can.

Having said that, you should watch out for your dog chewing antlers into a sharp point and remove them if that happens.

Antlers are good for dental care, as the abrasive action against the ridged antler surface naturally helps clean teeth of plaque build-up.

They also contain valuable minerals, including iron, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.

One great feature of antler and horn chews is that they don't make as much mess or odor as some other natural chews.

Want to try them out for your dog? We love Buck Bones big range of deer and antler chews. They come in various sizes suitable for all breeds.

Water buffalo horn is another similar alternative, with equally great benefits.

4 Chicken or Duck Feet

Chicken and duck feet are another dog treat high up on the ‘gross’ list for humans. But dogs adore them! Something about the crispy, chewy texture seems to really appeal.

Feet chews are full of fatty acids that are important for keeping your pup's fur and skin healthy.

Try this pack of duck feet from Bravo! Since duck is hypoallergenic, these treats are particularly suitable for dogs with sensitive digestion.

5 Fish Skin chews

If dogs could vote for their number one chew, we are pretty sure dried fish and fish skin chews would be right up there.

They smell super fishy, which dogs seem to love. (Owners not so much!)

Because of the seaside odors, it's probably best to feed fishy treats to your dog outdoors.

But the stinkiness of these tasty morsels is outweighed by the considerable health benefits.

Dried fish skins are low in fat but high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals.

The main drawback is that fish chews are not naturally as tough in texture as other natural chews, and don't tend to last as long.

The Honest Kitchen's dried cod skin treats and 100% natural and made from human-grade ingredients. Your dog will relish the crispy, chewy texture.

Non-meat rawhide alternatives

Yak milk chews

It may sound crazy, but Yak milk all the way from the Himalayas can be turned into some pretty tasty dog chews!

People in the region have been using the milk from these shaggy bovines to make solid, hard cheese snacks for many centuries.

The chews are created by adding a little bit of lime and salt to the milk and then pressing them into blocks.

After this, they are smoked for a month to give them delicious meaty flavors.

Yak cheese blocks naturally contain lots of healthy calcium and protein, and the traditional production method is entirely natural, with no preservatives or any other additives needed.

Ready to give them a try? Yaky has a handy little set of Himalayan Dog Cheese Chews your pup will most definitely love getting his teeth into.

Sweet Potato Chews

Sweet potato is undeniably delicious – especially when turned into fries! But did you know these vitamin-rich vegetables can also make yummy dog treats?

Sweet potato has a whole host of health benefits. It's high in dietary fiber to support optimal digestion and contains essential vitamins like B6, C, and A.

Photo of Sweet Potato

Turning a sweet potato into tasty chews for your pup is pretty easy to do yourself at home.

Just cut them into thin sections and pop them in the oven for a few hours at a low temperature to dehydrate them.

If that sounds like too much work, then you can buy a ready dried pack of sweet potato fries from Wholesome.