A Bone To Pick With Rawhide

Bone dog treat in air on light blue background

Key Points

  • Rawhide causes blockages when big chunks get broken off.

  • The chemicals in rawhide are toxic if not cleaned carefully.

  • Aggressive chewers are more likely to have issues with rawhide chews.

  • Some alternatives are far safer for dogs to chew on.

My first dog is what I like to call my soul dog. He was this floppy-eared mutt that I adopted in a Walmart parking lot from the back of a truck. Were my parents thrilled at this? No. However, I loved the little puppy in the back with my whole heart at 10.

I loved this dog with everything, and I wanted to get him chew toys. At the time, rawhide was fine, but now I know just how lucky I was with him. He never had issues, but I was always with him. He would chew in my lap while I was watching TV.

Not every owner is as attached to their dog as I was, and therein lies the danger.

What changed? Well, I learned how dangerous rawhide is. It is why my current dog — and any dog I get in the future — need never worry about the possible dangers of rawhide.

Even though my dog is an aggressive chewer, I've found better, safer options.

rawhide bones

What Is Rawhide?

Rawhide chews are dried animal skins in their most basic form. Most chews come from horses or cows, but the truth is that isn't always the case.

There aren't many rawhide makers in the United States. Strict U.S. rules ensure the few that are out there provide better quality products.

Most rawhide chews are made from the leftovers of the leather industry. The hides come from slaughterhouse kill floors and are placed in high-salt brines that slow the hide's decay. No matter what anyone does, there is no stopping the decaying process.

There is no telling how long the hides sit in this brine before they travel to the tanneries for manufacturing into dog chews.

Once the hides are at the tannery, they are soaked with lime to separate the fat from the skin. Depending on the manufacturer, the hides go through bleaching and further chemical processing. Depending on where the chew is from, it may also soak in artificial flavoring before drying.

Once the rawhides finish the process, they show signs of lead, arsenic, mercury, and other toxic metals, depending on their origin.

All those fun shapes don't come without something keeping them together. There are different types of glues used to keep rawhide in its various shapes. Not all glue is created equal, and the manufacturers that keep things cheap go for glue that isn't always up to standard.

Why is it Problematic?

So why is it problematic? There are six main problems with rawhides.

Every dog is different, and mine never had an issue with rawhide. I was lucky that nothing happened to my dog, but many people aren't so fortunate.


There is no health regulation for rawhide. It isn't dog food, so the FDA doesn't get involved in making it safe.

Yes, most rawhide labels claim to be all-natural but that means virtually nothing. There is no telling how the hide was handled before slaughter or what happened during the process.

Digestive Issues

Some rawhides are digestible, but not every dog can digest rawhide products. Manufacturers, especially in the United States, realize their products cause damage and want to change.

That is excellent news.

Animal skin isn't easy to digest. Fortunately, most dogs only get a small portion of the chew when breaking it off. Those small pieces are easier to digest for dogs, but the larger portions cause damage.

If a dog bites off a large portion, the blockage risk increases. Since the pieces aren't easy to digest, they get stuck in their digestive tract and expand.

Dr. James Barr, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, states, “Most commonly, they (dogs) swallow things that are too big to pass and end up stuck in the esophagus, stomach, or intestines.”

Not everyone has the $800 to $7,000 to pay for a blockage-removal surgery. If my dog needed this surgery, I couldn't afford it without assistance.

The other side of digestive issues comes from chemicals. The chemicals used to make rawhide often upset dog stomachs. Some dogs end up violently ill when chewing on rawhides, while others seem fine.

Salmonella is a huge concern in rawhide manufacturing. There is a high chance that feces touched the rawhide at some point during processing. An infected chew also poses a health risk to humans.

The key to avoiding illness is to wash your hands, but that only works for people.

Choking Hazard

The point of rawhide is that they are long-lasting. My dog didn't get that memo; he destroyed a rawhide in an hour or so.

Looking back, I realize how lucky I was that he didn't choke on his favorite toy.

Rawhide breaks down while a dog is chewing and is supposed to break down into small pieces.

Dogs, like mine, that are heavy chewers break off larger chunks that pose a danger to themselves. Rawhides are hard toys, and big pieces aren't flexible, posing a choking risk. The rawhide gets stuck in the esophagus or even the lower digestive tract.

Because of this risk, do not give rawhide toys to your heavy chewer.

Mild chewers take their time with rawhides and get them wet before breaking off a small piece. The wetness from the slobber makes the chew flexible and easier to swallow. However, this still poses the same risk.


I can hear it now: "But rawhides are all natural!" But are they?

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Sure, rawhide is animal hide, but remember how it comes to be? All those chemicals aren't safe for dogs. Many rawhides come from overseas, where the laws differ from here in the United States.

There is also the chance that chemicals aren't completely removed during the rinsing process.

The good news is that since people began voicing concerns about these chews, manufacturers are changing how they make rawhide. That said, it is still dangerous.

Tooth Damage

Once dried, the rawhide is hard. It hurts if you bang it against your knee. That alone goes against every rule for a dog's chew toy. A chew toy must be malleable, with some give, before it is safe to use.

Aggressive chewers or a teething puppy risk damaging their teeth. These chewers are most likely to experience tooth fractures because they lack inhibition. These fractures are painful and make the body open to a secondary infection.

Some rawhides claim to be dental chews, but they don't work that way. The toy can't reach the gumline where the tartar builds up. If it does, it is more likely to cause a minor cut from being so hard than to provide any dental health benefits.

Is It Cowhide?

Maybe it is cowhide, but nothing says it has to be. Yes, that is incredibly grim to think about. The place or production determines what hide is used.

As grim as it is, some rawhide is made from dogs. Sadly, the fur trade doesn't discriminate against any animal.

Is Rawhide Always Dangerous?

No. Take it from me, I have had nothing but good things happen with rawhide. My dog lived for 17 years and didn't once have an issue with rawhide. He was happy as a clam, but he was lucky.

It comes down to just keeping a dog safe while chewing rawhide products and being aware of what is and isn't a good product.

There are ways to make rawhide safe, but it requires understanding and staying alert. I know it isn't always possible to watch a dog. When it comes to rawhide, watching is mandatory.

Rawhide is safe for those dogs that don't chew much. They gnaw off small pieces at a time and don't make much progress, unlike aggressive chewers that take off big chunks.

Avoid rawhide with added components. Knots on the end of bones are often separate and easily break off during chewing.

If the rawhide is very white and lightweight, simply move on to another option. The lightness and color indicate the rawhide might contain formaldehyde.

When in doubt, get the bigger option. It is better to have something too big than something too small for your dog to chew on.

The best way to ensure rawhide isn't dangerous (besides just not giving it) is supervising your dog while they chew. I know it doesn't sound fun, but watching them means catching anything dangerous before it becomes a vet bill.

For me, the risks outweigh the benefits. There are alternatives to rawhide out there that do the same thing with far less potential risks.

What About Alternatives?

So, are rawhides dangerous? Yes, but primarily for aggressive chewers that don't take their time.

There are a few alternatives out there for dogs. Finding the right one can feel daunting.

After learning the dangers of rawhide, it took me plenty of time to find the right chew for my dog.

One of the biggest alternatives is sitting in the fridge: carrots.

Carrots are a healthy alternative to rawhide that provide your dog that satisfying crunch. The downside is that carrots aren't long-lasting, so they don't provide the mental stimulation of chewing.

Bully sticks, on the other hand, are longer lasting. These chews last longer and still hold that easily digestible feeling of carrots. The main issue with the bully sticks is their smell. The odor is enough to put most dog owners off, and it is one thing I dislike about them. After a while, the smell disappears — or at least isn't as overpowering as a fresh stick.

To keep dogs busy, snuffle mats or even the KONGs are great at mental stimulation.

My favorite way to make a KONG last longer is by stuffing some peanut butter inside. Pop it in the freezer for a few hours and it lasts while keeping my dog entertained for hours.

The best part is I just wash the KONG with my dishes in the dishwasher after my dog's done playing with it.


I know many are wondering about antlers being an alternative. They are long-lasting, and many dogs love them. This is great, and they do make decent chew toys, but also pose a huge issue.

They are hard like rawhide. What do hard things do to teeth?

Dogs may break or crack their teeth on antlers due to the antlers' hardness. Things with horns fight with them, and they don't fight lightly. Antlers don't break easily.

Most vets recommend against using antlers as an alternative to rawhide because they are so hard and unbreakable.

rawhide bones on purple background

Stay Safe

There you have it. I laid out the issues with rawhide but the choice isn't mine to make. I know there are plenty of people that swear that rawhide is the best chew toy out there. It is cheap and lasts a long time.

I can't tell you what to do. I just know that at the end of the day, some things aren't worth the risk.

Some amazing companies love dogs and want the best for them. Others don't care and push out a product quickly to make money. It is hard to tell which companies are which when standing in the treat aisle.

Ultimately, the risk to my dog's life isn't worth the convenience of rawhide. I always choose something else after learning about rawhide's dangers.

Before you commit to anything, do your homework and keep thinking about the facts I presented here.

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