If you go into any pet store, department store or feed store you are going to see a huge array of different kinds of rawhide toys and chew toys for dogs. Typically there will the traditional bone shaped rawhide toys in a variety of sizes, but you may also see rounds, horseshoe shapes or even rawhide twists and ropes in a variety of sizes. Rawhide comes in many different colors from bleached white to tan to even oranges, greens and yellows, all designed to look attractive to you as the buyer, not to add any value at all for your four legged friend. While there certainly will be no shortage of rawhide toys to choose from, the real questions owners need to ask is "Should I be giving these to my dog at all?"
Almost all vets and most breeders are strongly against the use of rawhide toys with dogs or puppies. In some puppy contracts breeders will stipulate that the new owners agree not to provide rawhide toys to the puppy at any time during his or her life. So why are all these professionals and dog experts so concerned about dogs playing with a perfectly natural product such as rawhide?
To answer that question it is important to do a bit of research into the product itself and the risks that rawhide toys can pose to dogs of all ages and sizes.
Just What Is Rawhide?
As most people would guess, rawhide is the processed hide from animals. It is not, however, only from cattle that have gone to slaughter. It can be from horses, goats and other animals slaughtered for meat products. Since a great deal of the rawhide chew toys are imported from countries with far different inspection and regulation guidelines, there is a chance you may get rawhide from almost any meat producing animal.
In addition rawhide from other countries may contain pesticides, insecticides, growth hormones, chemicals, dyes and other preservatives that would not be used in the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe the United Kingdom or many other countries. There have been cases of arsenic and lead poisoning due to dogs consuming rawhide chew toys, plus antibiotics can be found in the rawhide that will make treating your dog much more challenging for your vet. Although antibiotics are not serious in most cases, they allow the bacteria, viruses and diseases in the dog's body to build up immunity or tolerance for antibiotics, which means they don't work when you need them to boost the dog's immune system.
Rawhide is typically made from leather that is unsuitable for other purposes. This means they are already low grade skins to start with as hides sold for leather are worth far more than those sold to make rawhide toys. While poisonings and antibiotic resistance is not common, it does happen occasionally.
The Digestive Problem
The biggest and most concerning problem for dog owners with regards to rawhide is that your dog doesn't see the toy as a plaything, he or she sees it as a food source. In other words, the dog is just being a canine, eating what, to them, appears to be something from another animal. While in the wild dogs, coyotes, wolves and other meat-eating animals do eat the hide it is in the natural, hydrated form which can be easily digested by the dog's system.
Rawhide, on the other hand, has been dehydrated and processed resulting in a final product that simply cannot be digested. Dogs will eat the rawhide chew by grinding and ripping at the toy, since the rawhide will become more pliable as the saliva from the dog's mouth rehydrates the leather. Once a piece comes off, the dog doesn't chew it further in his or her mouth, rather they simply swallow the whole mass. Even a small piece that lodges in the intestines can completely block the waste material from leaving the stomach, intestines or bowel areas, causing abdominal cramping, bloating, pain and potential rupture of the stomach, bowel or intestines.
Vets routinely remove large chunks of undigested rawhide from affected dog's intestines, plus any owner that has provided rawhide toys or bones will tell you it passes through the dog completely intact.
Rawhide doesn't always just cause problems in the intestines and digestive tract after the stomach. In some cases the rawhide can form sticky, stringy masses that lodge in the throat, posing serious choking risks. It actually gets worse as the dog's body struggles to produce more saliva to help move the mass. The added moisture simply causes the rawhide to swell further, and giving the dog a drink at this time will create a potentially life threatening situation if the water ends up entering the lungs.
Are There Safe Rawhide Toys?
Generally avoiding rawhide is the best option, however there are now newer types of rawhide toys on the market that are made from shredded rawhide that is then mixed with a natural gelatin mixture and pressed into shapes. This type of rawhide can still cause some blockages and does pose choking risks, however the changes of huge masses forming in the throat and digestive system are much less.
Buying rawhide toys that are made in the United States will eliminate concerns about the chemicals and products used to make the rawhide, plus will ensure you are getting beef rawhide unless otherwise indicated on the packaging. Higher priced rawhide toys are typically better quality than the very low cost items.
If you are allowing your dog to use a rawhide chew or toy, only do so when you are there to supervise. Take the toy or chew away when it gets soggy or starts to come to pieces and remove any loose chunks of rawhide before your dog has a chance to consume them. If your dog is eating the chew toy outside or out of your supervision area, you are really running a huge risk of the dog possible choking or actually eat the whole toy, resulting in the digestive concerns expressed above.
In the event that your dog does start to vomit, has abdominal swelling, starts drooling excessively, pawing at his or her mouth, coughing or having difficulty breathing after playing with a rawhide toy or chew, immediately get the dog to the vet. Waiting even a half an hour to see if the dog will correct the problem on their own can cause death. Immediate emergency treatment is usually the only way to correct a blockage or choking problem with rawhide.