Are Rawhide Dog Chews Bad for Dogs?

Consensus is not firm, but a plurality of authorities say rawhide chews are generally safe for dogs. Some experts advise against them. Rawhide chews can help keep a dog's teeth in good condition and alleviate boredom, but they can pose a safety hazard under some circumstances. Before you give your dog a rawhide chew, talk with your veterinarian about whether rawhide chews are a good choice for your pet. Chewing treats should be given in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Dog eating rawhide treat
Rawhide. It's not what's for dinner.
credit: Sebastian Ghita/iStock/Getty Images

Rawhide Chew Basics

Rawhide treats appeal to your dog's natural desire to chew. Without some form of acceptable chew or treat, many dogs turn to chewing on household items or items that can put them at risk of injury. Rawhide chews are made from the inner layer of cow or horse hide. The outer layer of the hide is manufactured into leather; the inner part becomes dog chews. Some manufacturers add beef, liver or chicken flavoring.

Rawhide Chew Hazards: Contamination

In many ways, a rawhide chew is no different from any other food or treat item. There will always be a small risk that the treat will be contaminated with some type of chemical or bacteria. While the odds of coming into contact with contaminated treats is relatively low, the risk does exist, and contaminated treats can make both humans and dogs quite ill. Never feed a rawhide chew that appears discolored or has a foul odor.

Rawhide Chew Hazards: Choking

Rawhide chews pose a choking hazard for dogs, especially when they break off small pieces. If yours likes to gulp down chunks of his treats as quickly as possible, reconsider feeding rawhide chews. Chews manufactured of a single, whole piece of rawhide are thought to be safer than those made of multiple small pieces pressed or weaved together.

Take your dog's rawhide chew away once it is small enough that the entire chew can fit in your dog's mouth at one time. Replace it with a new chew.

Rawhide Chew Hazards: Canine Allergies

Your dog may be allergic to rawhide treats or to some ingredient of the treats. If your dog has food allergies, or has a negative medical reaction after being given a rawhide treat, discuss the situation with your veterinarian. It is not common for a dog to be allergic to a rawhide treat, but it is possible.

Factors that Affect Treat Safety

Rawhide chews manufactured outside the United States are not held to the same standards as those made here. Purchasing only treats that have been manufactured in the United States is a hedge against risk of contamination. The same goes for the cow or horse hides chews are manufactured from. Hides processed in other countries may have less rigorous safety standards.

Chews that are bright white likely have been bleached during the manufacturing process; avoid these. Those that are less white were likely treated with a different compound than bleach and don't present the same risk potential.

Additional Considerations

Supervise your dog when you give him a chew treat, regardless of the type of chew you decide to give. If you choose not to give your dog rawhide chews, discuss alternative chew options with your veterinarian. Common chew options include actual bones, dried tendons, untreated rope and hard rubber chews.