Is Rawhide Bad For Dogs? How to Decide If This Treat Is Right for Your Pup
You see them at the pet store all the time, but some of your friends and family swear off the bones and chews. So: Is rawhide bad for dogs?
Rawhide for dogs certainly seems like a smart concept. The leather industry leftover lasts a long time, allowing your dog to sometimes gnaw on the chews for days. But dogs can find themselves sick and in pain if they eat too much rawhide or ingest pieces that are too big, says Albert Ahn, DVM, veterinary advisor for Myos Pet. In fact, it's why one major U.S. retailer stopped selling traditional rawhide products.
Here's what you should know about these chewy snacks.
What Are Rawhide Chews?
Rawhide is made from animal skins, including cows, steers, and bulls. Manufacturers will often take the dried animal skin and mold it into bone shapes or cut the rawhide into strips, Ahn says.
They're edible and contain protein and fat, but they should never be more than supplemental to your dog's diet. In fact, eating too much rawhide can cause your dog to experience vomiting and diarrhea, Ahn says. The material is tough and hard to digest, so, ideally, your dog will spend hours, even days, chewing on the bone or strip, ripping off and eating only small pieces at a time.
"They're fundamentally fine as long as a pet owner exercises some good judgment," Ahn tells Daily Paws.
Just like for bully sticks, Ahn recommends buying rawhide treats that are made in the United States, where they have to meet stricter safety standards than those made in some other countries. This reduces the risk of contamination with bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella which can be harmful to people in the home as well as dogs.
Is Rawhide Bad for Dogs?
The primary fear with rawhide is that dogs might bite off a piece that's too big, causing them to choke or forming an obstruction in their digestive system.
That's why Petco pulled traditional rawhide from its shelves last year, opting to sell what it described as easier-to-digest rawhide chews that are perforated.
"[Rawhide is] so yummy, and they eat it so fast, and, unfortunately, it can cause stomach upset. We can see GI obstructions and things that we don't want to be putting our pets at risk for," Whitney Miller, DVM and Petco's head of veterinary medicine, told Daily Paws in 2021.
So if you do plan to feed your dog a rawhide bone or chew, make sure it's a big piece, Ahn says. Ensure there's no way your dog can accidentally swallow it whole. And if your dog is enjoying a rawhide treat, keep an eye on him. When it gets small enough that he might accidentally swallow the entire piece, throw the rawhide away. Eventually, you can replace it with a new chew, but you'll only want to feed your dog a "finite" amount of rawhide to take it easy on his digestive system, Ahn says.
"Pet parents should limit the amount of rawhide consumed at any given time and discourage consumption of significant pieces that could cause choking or gastrointestinal obstruction," the ASPCA says in a position statement. "Obstruction may be more likely to occur in smaller dogs."
You'll also want to keep rawhide chews away from dogs who have dental problems because the tough material could further damage their pearly whites, Ahn says. The same goes for puppies—they might accidentally bite off more than they can chew, so it's best to try some more forgiving treats and toys for chewing.
If you question whether your dog can enjoy rawhide chews, ask your veterinarian for advice. Dogs with allergies and those on prescription diets may need to avoid rawhide. You can make the best decision together because you both know your dog's health and chewing habits best.
Worried After Your Dog Eats Rawhide?
Whether your dog is potentially choking or simply acting odd after consuming a rawhide treat, Ahn says to call your veterinarian. If it's after hours, call the nearest emergency vet and ask what you should do.
The health professionals will advise whether you need to take immediate action or just keep an eye on him. If your dog is choking on the rawhide, you may have to step in and help.
Best Rawhide Alternatives
If you're nervous about giving your dog rawhide, don't! There are plenty of other toys and treats available for chomping.
Who doesn't love a KONG toy—especially one filled with peanut butter or cheese? Those are plenty chewable and, like rawhide, can occupy a dog for a while (as long as your dog does not have allergies or is on a prescription diet).
For dogs who need to rebuild some muscle, Ahn suggests Myos's chew made with egg yolk (a study showed that egg yolk may help dogs retain muscle mass after knee surgery). There are plenty of other chews—including joint supplements and dental chews—that might serve your dog better than rawhide. There are also dental-specific chews that help with teeth.
If you're worried about choking or digestive hazards, look for treats and supplements that break down easily into pieces, Ahn says. Those are much easier for your dog to swallow and then digest, but again: It's best to ask your vet for guidance.