Is Rawhide Bad for Dogs and What Science Has to SayThese chews are (in)famous among dog owners. But is rawhide bad for dogs, or is this a false alarm?

Rawhide dog bones are a staple among some pet parents and their canines. These chews can provide hours of entertainment and claim to be good for teeth.

Some studies have shown improvements in dental health, but other papers have contradicted these claims.

Many websites have stated that rawhide contains harmful chemicals, but none of the research seems to support this.

So are rawhide bones bad for dogs and should be avoided at all costs, or are they safe to give under supervision? Let’s take a closer look at what we currently know about this popular dog chew toy.

What is Rawhide?

Rawhide is not dehydrated meat.

Rawhide dog chews are defined as untanned skin. As the name suggests, rawhide is the inner “raw” portion of an animal hide, often cattle, bison or horse.

The other top portion of the hide will be tanned and made into leather by de-hairing, drying, liming, and other processes.

Rawhides are often flavored with beef, chicken or other flavors to make them more appetizing to dogs.

What Are the Benefits of Rawhide?

Are Rawhides Bad for Dogs and Why

There’s a reason why rawhide chews are so popular among dog owners. Most companies claim that rawhide can help with canine dental health and anxiety.

Dental health

Many rawhide chews are manufactured with the purpose to improve dog’s dental health.

Rawhide bones typically contain an ingredient that disinfects plaque. The act of chewing can provide a debriding effect on the surface of the tooth. A reduction in plaque can in turn reduce gingivitis and tartar formation, which are part of periodontal disease in dogs.

There are studies that support these claims suggesting dental rawhide bones can be an effective part of preventative canine dental care [1, 2, 3]. But to what extent?

Luckily, more research has narrowed it down for us [4, 5]. Studies show that while rawhide bones for dogs can be of some minimal assistance, they’re not the magic solution manufacturers make them out to be.

A dental rawhide is not a substitute for brushing and certainly not a substitute for professional dental cleanings performed by a veterinarian. Brushing dog’s teeth manually is still the most effective method for proper canine dental care [4, 5].

If your dog nibbles and gnaws on a rawhide over a significant amount of time, there may be some debriding effect. However, if the dog tends to swallow rawhide chews quickly, this is unlikely to help oral health at all.

So should you spend money on rawhide chews for dogs with the purpose to clean their teeth? Most likely not.

Bottom Line: The jury is out on this one. Plain rawhides without added ingredients labeled for reduction in plaque are likely ineffective for that purpose. In addition, only with slow mastication over time will there be any real mechanical benefit for the teeth.

Dog behavior/anxiety

Rawhide bones are definitely fun for dogs. They can provide hours of entertainment and can be a useful training tool for puppies that feel the need to chew [6]. Using rawhide is also a good way of distracting dogs from chewing on valuables at home.

Research suggests chewing on rawhide dog bones might help with anxiety in dogs, as well as other boredom driven behaviors [7].

It’s important to mention that rawhide dog chews can create behavioral issues among dogs on occasion. Some canines can become very possessive, and even aggressive, to other pets or even their owners over treats and chews.

With that in mind, always introduce a rawhide with supervision at first, so you can assess how your dog reacts to it. If your canine tends to guard them or becomes aggressive when chewing on one, it’s likely that rawhide isn’t an appropriate choice.

Bottom Line: When a rawhide is chosen appropriately in terms of size and density, and the dog is able to chew on it without excessive guarding, they might be a good option to help curb boredom and to help stop inappropriate puppy chewing.

Are Rawhide Bones Bad for Dogs?

Is Rawhide Bad for Dogs

Just like with many other dog chews, toys and foods, giving rawhide bones to your Fido comes with certain risks. Let’s take a look at the all the potential problems that have been associated with rawhide.

Contamination

Studies looking into bacterial contamination routinely find some scary bugs in rawhide dog chews.

One study showed contamination with MRSA (methicillin resistant staph), clostridium and E. Coli [8].

There have been numerous recalls over the years over concerns for Salmonella from rawhide bones [9].

Rawhide dog chews imported from other countries, especially China, are at an increased risk for contamination [10].

It may be argued that this is an inherent risk of any food or treat containing animal ingredients. However, even though domestic USA made rawhides have been recalled for this as well, there does seem to be enough evidence to suggest that purchasing rawhides made in America may decrease risk of contamination.

Bottom LineRecalls and reports of potential Salmonella and other infectious organisms associated with rawhides do occur from time to time.

Chemicals

Recently, there have been a lot of articles written online about the “chemical dangers of rawhide dog chews.” This immediately elevated the level of alertness among dog owners.

The alarm bell ringing is related to the process of manufacturing rawhides which uses chemicals to remove the hair from the hide.

However, we have yet to encounter any evidence of dogs ingesting any harmful chemicals by chewing on rawhide. None of the quoted studies in this article had seen this to be the case, nor are there any other substantiated claims.

So where are these publications getting their facts? “Nowhere” is the answer. This is just yet another reason to write emotionally engaging blog posts with click-bait headlines and hope to build a following of worrisome dog owners.

Bottom Line: There is no evidence to suggest that dogs are at risk of ingesting harmful chemicals from chewing on rawhide. It’s best to buy USA-made rawhide.

Broken teeth

Rawhide chews that are very long lasting can be hard on dog’s teeth. Tough rawhide dog bones have been known to fracture teeth, and cause wearing.

Some veterinarians are proponents of only offering rawhides after all primary teeth of puppies are gone and replaced with more durable adult teeth.

The trade off is that the softer chews tend not to last as long, causing a concern for inappropriate ingestion.

Bottom Line: A good rule of thumb is to assess the density before giving the rawhide to your dog. A chew that is dense enough to cause a dent on a wooden table is too hard.

GI issues/obstructions

Rawhides can contribute to gastrointestinal problems in some pets for a variety of reasons. Some dogs may be sensitive to the ingredients in the chew.

The majority of dog’s GI problems seen by veterinarians, however, have to do with the improper consumption of rawhide bones. Some dogs are so eager to get the chew into their stomach that they will swallow it whole, or swallow large pieces causing vomiting.

It is uncommon to have a gastric obstruction requiring surgery since the pH of a dog’s stomach is generally sufficient to break a rawhide down in time [11, 12].

However, rawhide chews lodged in the esophagus or oropharynx can pose significant risk to dogs.

Bottom Line: Rawhide chews are not appropriate for dogs that swallow them whole, or otherwise inappropriately consume them. Rawhides are meant to be gnawed and nibbled on over time.

Extra calories

Rawhides can be calorie dense. Some estimates have already put over half of American dogs in the overweight category. Added calories in the form of rawhides may be a bad idea if your dog’s diet isn’t spot on.

One study demonstrated the average rawhide has about 15 calories per inch [8]. The average six inch chew could have almost 100 calories.

For a dog on a calorie restricted diet, this extra 100 calories could be detrimental to the waistline and possibly even general health.

Rawhide chews are essentially treats for dogs. This type of dog treats can be part of a weight loss plan, but shouldn’t contribute to more than 10% of overall daily calories for a canine.

Rawhides may not be appropriate for dogs on calorie restricted diets.

Bottom Line: Rawhides should be counted as an occasional treat or reward, and not as a staple. It is important to account for those extra calories.

Which Rawhide to Buy?

Are Rawhide Bones Bad for Dogs

It’s good to make sure that chews are made in America, although other countries have been known to also produce good quality treats (e.g. Brazil).

Buying USA made chews not only means they will be fresher, but it also decreases the chance of potential contamination and toxic ingredients, which are more prevalent when chews are manufactured in places like China [10].

Reading the label closely for the source of ingredients is highly recommended. Companies like to mislead owners to avoid them realizing products are manufactured outside of the United States.

Be mindful of the texture, looks, coloring and smells of rawhide. These can often be indications of bacterial infestation, poor manufacturing practices and other issues.

For more tips and advice on how to choose which rawhide chews to buy, I recommend reading an article by Nancy Kerns on Whole Dog Journal.

Take Home Message

Rawhide dog chews are not made from dehydrated meat. They’re made from untanned skin through separating the “raw” inner portion of an animal hide.

Although some studies have shown potential benefits of rawhide chews for dog’s dental health, further research is required. So far, it seems to be unlikely that plain rawhides can help with plaque.

Rawhide chews are good for distracting dogs and assisting with anxiety, teething and constant need for chewing. However, they need to be given to dogs under supervision to avoid complications.

Claims about rawhide chews containing chemicals are still unsubstantiated. Contamination, GI issues and obstructions from rawhides are very rare but possible. It’s advisable to buy only USA made rawhide chews to decrease the chance of contamination.

The biggest problem so far that dog owners will face when giving rawhide chews to their dogs is the extra serving of calories, and potentially broken teeth from chews that are too hard.

So is rawhide bad for dogs? No, not really, as long as you follow common sense and supervise your dogs. Make sure to always pick the right size for your dogs which isn’t too small so they would accidentally swallow, and isn’t too hard on their teeth.

[toggle title=”References“]

  1. Hennet P. Effectiveness of an enzymatic rawhide dental chew to reduce plaque in beagle dogs. J Vet Dent. 2001 Jun;18(2):61-4.
  2. Brown WY1, McGenity P. Effective periodontal disease control using dental hygiene chews. J Vet Dent. 2005 Mar;22(1):16-9.
  3. Rawlings JM1, Gorrel C, Markwell PJ. Effect on canine oral health of adding chlorhexidine to a dental hygiene chew. J Vet Dent. 1998 Sep;15(3):129-34.
  4. Igor Capík. Periodontal Health vs. Various Preventive Means in Toy Dog Breeds. Acta Vet. Brno 2010, 79: 637-645. doi: dx.doi.org/10.2754/avb201079040637
  5. Caroline Jevring. The Task of a Toothbrush. Veterinary Nursing Journal Volume 9, Issue 1, 1994. doi: 10.1080/17415349.1994.11012598
  6. Robert C. Hubrecht. A comparison of social and environmental enrichment methods for laboratory housed dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science Volume 37, Issue 4, September 1993, Pages 345-361. doi: 10.1016/0168-1591(93)90123-7
  7. Takeuchi Y1, Houpt KA, Scarlett JM. Evaluation of treatments for separation anxiety in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000 Aug 1;217(3):342-5.
  8. Lisa M. Freeman, Nicol Janecko, J. Scott Weese. Nutritional and microbial analysis of bully sticks and survey of opinions about pet treats. Can Vet J. 2013 Jan; 54(1): 50–54.
  9. X. Li, L.A. Bethune, Y. Jia, R.A. Lovell, T.A. Proescholdt, S.A. Benz, T.C. Schell, G. Kaplan, and D.G. McChesney. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. August 2012, 9(8): 692-698. doi:10.1089/fpd.2011.1083.
  10. Katie Burns. Recall shines spotlight on pet foods. JAVMA news journal, published May 1, 2007; accessed February 3, 2016.
  11. S. Hooda, L. G. Ferreira, M. A. Latour, L. L. Bauer, G. C. Fahey, K. S. Swanson. In vitro digestibility of expanded pork skin and rawhide chews, and digestion and metabolic characteristics of expanded pork skin chews in healthy adult dogs. Vol. 90 No. 12, p. 4355-4361. doi: 10.2527/jas.2012-5333
  12. Hooda S1, Ferreira LG, Latour MA, Bauer LL, Fahey GC Jr, Swanson KS. In vitro digestibility of expanded pork skin and rawhide chews, and digestion and metabolic characteristics of expanded pork skin chews in healthy adult dogs. J Anim Sci. 2012 Dec;90(12):4355-61. doi: 10.2527/jas.2012-5333. Epub 2012 Oct 16.

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