Rawhide is probably the most popular chew toy purchased for dogs and it comes in every shape, size and color. Unfortunately, some could be dangerous for your pet.
Rawhide is made from dried animal skin. The tough outer layer is used for shoes, upholstery and other products. The inner, softer layer is made into rawhide chews for our dogs. Commonly the hides come from cows, pigs, sheep or horses.
Imported chews may contain toxins left over from the processing that include arsenic, lead, titanium oxide, formaldehyde, chromium salts, mercury, cadmium and bromine as well as harmful antibiotics and bacteria. Because less developed countries lack efficient methods of transporting the hides to processing plants, various preservatives are used to prevent molding and rotting of the hides. Even with the use of these toxic preservatives, Salmonella has been detected in some imported products.
Once at the processing plant, the hides are processed. The meat and fat is scraped off, then the hide is soaked in a lime or lye solution. This solution removes the remaining tissue. The hides are then treated with bleach to remove the caustic lime/lye solution. Afterwards, some countries use titanium oxide to make the rawhide white – white rawhide has market appeal to consumers.
In the US and Canada, refrigerated trucks are used to transport the hides so there isn’t the need for chemicals and the hides are processed in hydrogen peroxide, then rinsed with water.
Rawhide chews that are labeled as U.S. Beef products are safest and the best quality. Chews made from Canadian and South American cattle are usually considered good quality, too.
Unless you want to spend the money for organically produced rawhide chews, chews are frequently tainted with antibiotics, pesticides and growth chemicals that are used in the production of the animal, no matter what the country of origin. North American manufacturers are aware of this problem and are making efforts to change this.
All of the above info aside, all chews are controversial among vets and other experts. Chewing makes the rawhide soft and mushy with the combination of the dog’s saliva and the mechanical action of chewing, but dogs can bite off and swallow large chunks of the rawhide causing choking or intestinal obstruction. Since the rawhide is tough, it isn’t easily digested. Deaths have occurred, however the larger problem has involved milder digestive upsets like vomiting and diarrhea. Especially in dogs who chew rawhides often.
Supervise your pet while they are chewing rawhide. Don’t use rawhides as a treat for the dog when you are leaving the animal alone. If you notice pieces hanging loose from the rawhide, cut them off. When the rawhide gets small enough that it could be easily swallowed, throw it out.
Many chews are basted with a flavor coating. While dogs love the flavoring, the color can stain your carpeting or your furniture.
Newer products on the market grind the hide and “glue” it together with a gelatin base in various shapes. The compressed chews aren’t as likely to cause problems, but overall, rawhide dog chews may be more trouble than treat.
Choose rawhide chews and other shapes in proportion to the size of your dog to prevent choking.
There are also many alternatives to rawhide including vegetable and meat-flavored bones made from potato starch, bones made from extremely strong rubber infused with flavorings, and corn-starch based bones also infused with flavor. All of these but the rubber ones break apart into tiny pieces while being chewed. Once they are chewed down to a small piece that your dog could swallow, discard it. All of these bones except for the rubber-based ones are easily digestible.