Are Rawhide Chew Toys Safe for My Dog?
The answer is yes, and no. There are a number of things you should know about rawhide chew toys and treats so you can give your dog the pleasure of chewing them safely. The information below is not intended to alarm you and rob your dog of the pleasure of gnawing on his favorite rawhide, but is offered so you can make the best decision for your pet.
WHAT IS RAWHIDE?
Rawhide is the minimally processed hide of an animal—it’s basically leather. The uncooked skin, or hide, of cattle is stripped of hair, then washed, shaped, and dried.
The Tufts University Veterinary School publication, Your Dog, contradicts this definition of rawhide, stating it is not made from animal skin, but instead from connective tissue, which is the internal tissue between organs, and between muscles and bones.
Pressed rawhide is different—it is processed, similar to pressed wood, and made of a variety of parts. It breaks apart more easily and is generally more digestible.
WHERE IS THE BEST RAWHIDE FOR DOGS MADE?
Make every effort to buy rawhide products that are made in the USA (not just packaged here). American hides are the best because there are stricter regulations on the cattle industry in the United States than there are in other countries, higher standards of cleanliness in the slaughterhouses, and only hydrogen peroxide is used to bleach the hides. Some tanneries in the Far East and South America remove hair from the hides using arsenic, lime, or acid—all of which remain in the leather, even if it is washed afterward. Obviously, these chemicals are bad for your dog; where rawhide is sourced matters.
IS RAWHIDE FOR DOGS REGULATED?
There is no health regulation of rawhides because they are not technically a food. This means you have to pay attention and make decisions for yourself without any official “seal of approval” about the relative safety of the product. The “all natural” claim on many labels means virtually nothing, since it does not reflect how the cattle are handled before slaughter or what happens to the hides during processing.
RAWHIDE RISK TO PETS AND PEOPLE: SALMONELLA
Rawhide pet chews can be contaminated with bacteria such as salmonella, which can cause serious illness in dogs and the people around them. Young puppies and critically ill dogs can get very sick if exposed to salmonella, and even healthy dogs can suffer from intestinal symptoms. There is also the worrisome possibility of cross-species contamination; even a healthy person can be affected by salmonella poisoning. Symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and nausea, with effects lasting up to a week. Infants, elderly people and those with impaired immune systems are at the greatest risk.
As with many bacterial illnesses, hand washing is the key to health. If you handle a rawhide chew, wash your hands. If you have toddlers or other small children who might pick up a rawhide chew and put it in their mouths, then avoid the risk and don’t let your dog have rawhide around a young child. There’s also some risk of a dog bite when a child plays around a dog who has a prized chew and wants to guard it. Consider giving rawhide to your dog only during the little person’s nap time or preschool hours.
The good news is that salmonella is only a threat in theory, because there have been no recalls of any rawhide product in the U.S. due to salmonella. Of course it could happen anytime, just as there were recalls of pig’s ears in 1999 because of salmonella contamination.
OTHER DANGERS OF RAWHIDE CHEW TOYS
Intestinal obstruction, stomach upset, and dental problems are complications that can arise from rawhides. If the dog tries to swallow a big wedge-shaped piece of rawhide, it can stick in the throat or lodge in the bowel. There can also be intestinal blockage and upper-airway obstruction when a dog chews off a large piece of rawhide. Most of these problems are not emergencies—they just cause vomiting and/or diarrhea.
ABOUT “DENTAL CLEANING” RAWHIDE
Rawhide can’t clean tartar off your dog’s gums or teeth—tartar is at the gum line, where even aggressive chewers can’t reach with a rawhide. There are “dental chews,” which are often sold in vet’s offices, that claim to clean the dog’s teeth as she chews, and they must have some cleansing action to justify their name and the claim on the package. However, actual teeth cleaning is best done by the vet, or by you, under the vet’s supervision.
WHAT KIND OF RAWHIDE SHOULD I GIVE MY DOG?
Rawhide comes in many forms. There are big rawhide “bones” with a knot at either end, thin “pencils” of rawhide, and a “pencil” made of chopped rawhide that crumbles and is easier to chew but doesn’t last as long. By experimenting with your dog, you can discover what kind of rawhide chews are best suited to his chewing style and appetite. See the descriptions below to determine what kind of rawhide will give your dog the most pleasure without jeopardizing his health.
TIPS FOR THE SAFEST USE OF RAWHIDE CHEW TOYS
Chewing is a physical and emotional need for most dogs, though some seem to need it more than others. There are dogs who can happily spend half their waking hours chewing vigorously on whatever is offered to them. Know your dog’s habits and choose his rawhide chew toys judiciously.
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