Is Rawhide Bad for Dogs?

Before you reward your dog with a chew toy, make sure you're not putting his or her health at risk.

Your pup is your best friend, so naturally, you want to reward him or her for being so awesome. But it’s important to know which treats are good for dogs and which ones should be avoided at all costs. Most dog owners are probably well aware that there are many human foods you should never feed your dog. But unfortunately, some treats that are made specifically for dogs can present dangers to them, too. For instance, concerns about potential dangers of rawhide bones have many dog owners wondering, Is rawhide bad for dogs?

What is rawhide?

Rawhide chew sticks, or rawhide bones, are unsurprisingly made from rawhide. What that means is that, according to TheBark.com, animal—usually cow—hide is split to make rawhide bones. In most cases, the top grain is tanned and made into leather products, while the inner, “raw” portion of the hide goes to the dogs.

These bones are popular for two reasons: They give your dog a fun, engaging activity and keep their sharp teeth away from your furniture. But you could be unknowingly put your dog’s health at risk if you give him or her these chew sticks.

Is rawhide bad for dogs?

“Rawhide can be okay for dogs that will use it as intended—gnawing on it until it’s a squishy mess,” explains Dr. Jennifer Coates, vet expert for Chewy. In fact, it can even have some benefits. It gives dogs a “natural outlet” for their instinctual need to chew and can even help clean dogs’ teeth, “particularly if you use a product that has been specifically designed for this purpose,” Coates says.

But rawhide bones—whose benefits are ones that many other types of chew toys can provide, too—also come with some risks. In fact, rawhide bones are often pet products vets never buy.

What are the risks of giving dogs rawhide bones?

The biggest potential danger of rawhide bones is that some dogs will chew them so aggressively that they will start to fall apart. “The most common problem with rawhide occurs when large pieces are swallowed,” Dr. Coates explains. “Rawhide is not very digestible, so it can irritate or cause blockages within the digestive tract.” You may even see this on the rawhide packaging—warnings that, if swallowed in large pieces, rawhide can get stuck in the esophagus or other parts of the digestive tract.

And that’s not the only danger present. Another potential rawhide bones-related danger comes from the chemicals that are often used during the manufacturing process. “Rawhide can also be contaminated with chemicals used in manufacturing [them], or with potential pathogens like Salmonella,” Dr. Coates warns.

To keep your dog safe, it’s important to do your research, says veterinarian Patrick Mahaney. Read labels, but also be aware that manufacturers don’t necessarily have to specify what chemicals were used on the label. “Unless we know it doesn’t [contain chemical preservatives], we should assume it does and avoid it,” Mahaney says. He suggests looking for “preservative-free” labels or other indications that no chemical preservatives were used.

What precautions should dog owners take with rawhide bones?

“Rawhides aren’t inherently evil,” Mahaney says. “If dogs chew on a rawhide without chemicals, I’m not 100 percent anti-rawhides.” If you do give your dog rawhides, however, Mahaney recommends monitoring their intake and limiting their chew time to an hour a day, or less if they can destroy an entire rawhide in that time. Dr. Coates agrees: “Never leave a dog alone with a rawhide,” she told RD.com. “And it’s important to remove it once it becomes small enough to be easily ingested.”

Dr. Coates also recommends avoiding it altogether if your dog is a particularly aggressive chewer—and if you’re not sure exactly what constitutes “aggressive,” it’s probably better to be safe than sorry—and/or if your dog has a sensitive digestive tract.

What are some alternatives to rawhide bones?

The simplest way to avoid rawhide bones’ potential dangers is to buy something different altogether. Consider “chews made from alternative ingredients.” Dr. Coates recommends SmartBones Medium Sweet Potato Chews and The Honest Kitchen Beams Ocean Chews Cod Fish Skins Dehydrated Dog Treats. “Aggressive chewers often do best with a firm rubber chew toy like the Kong Classic Dog Toy or GoughNuts Stick Dog Toy,” she adds, and “Greenies Dental Dog Treats are a good option if you are primarily looking for an option that will promote healthy teeth and gums.” Finally, though, she advises that you avoid “any products that are hard enough to break teeth, like those made of bone, antler, or hard plastic.” If you weren’t aware of the dangers of rawhide bones, you’ll also want to watch out for these other mistakes dog owners commonly make.

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.