Rawhide dog chews — they’re cheap, they’re tough, and they’re “all natural.” You can buy them at big box retailers, pet stores, outdoor shops — just about everywhere. And dogs gnaw on them for hours of fun.
So what’s not to like?
The truth is, rawhide is an industrial waste product. The reason rawhide chews are so cheap is they’re made out of tons of leftover scraps, mostly from vast factories in China. Rawhide processing involves toxic chemicals, and the chews are flavored with a smorgasbord of hazardous compounds.
The result? Sheila Pell of The Bark magazine tells us,
"If rawhide manufacturers were held to the same standards as drug makers, they’d be forced to add an equally long list of warnings to their labels: May cause stomach torsion, choking, vomiting, diarrhea, salmonella poisoning and exposure to various [toxic] chemical residues."
What is rawhide exactly?
As you might guess, rawhide is hide — also known as leather, usually from cows — that hasn’t been tanned. When a cow is skinned, its hide consists of two layers: the surface, “top grain,” gets tanned and turned into shoes, belts, wallets, bags, vests, upholstery for vehicles, and so on.
The inner portion of the hide isn’t as nice-looking. So, instead of going through the tanning process, the inner skin gets thrown to one side, to be dried and twisted into a shape vaguely resembling a bone.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Here’s the thing: in order to remove the hair from the hides, most factories use a process called “sodium sulphide liming.” This process is so toxic that former US tanneries top the list of Superfund sites. This is not a chemical you want your dog ingesting in any quantity.
But wait — there’s more!
According to the Food & Drug Administration, as long as rawhide dog chews don’t include nutrition information on their labels, the FDA does NOT require manufacturers to “follow the AAFCO pet food regulations.” What’s that mean? Rawhide dog chews are not “food” and are therefore not laboratory-tested, and do not have to abide by laws regarding purity and safety that protect pet food as well as people food.
When tested in laboratories, lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium salts, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals have been detected in rawhide chews.
My dog chews rawhide all the time!
I know — and I used to have an absolute blast car surfing (before it was hip). I didn’t die, break any limbs, or even get a ticket. Does that mean it was a good idea?
Here’s what we know for sure about the hazards of rawhide chews:
- Bacterial contamination: salmonella and/or E. coli pose infection risks to dogs (as well as owners)
- Blockages: dogs sometimes swallow large pieces of rawhide that create an indigestible blockage in the stomach or intestine. This is a life-threatening situation and often requires surgery to correct.
- Choking: again, large pieces of rawhide can become lodged in the esophagus and cause choking
- Digestive distress: some dogs aren’t able to cope with rawhide, and experience bouts of vomiting or diarrhea.
Warning signs: if your dog suffers from any of these symptoms, please get in touch with your veterinarian ASAP:
- Repeated swallowing
- Diarrhea (especially bloody diarrhea)
- Lack of energy
- Constant whimpering, abdominal tenderness, or other signs of pain
- Refusal to eat or weight loss
But there are like a billion rawhide chews sold every day — how can they possibly be so bad?
Yes, lots of dogs chow down on rawhide every day and they’re still with us. Rawhide chews are not the worst thing in the world.
Why take the risk? Yes, rawhide is cheap and easy to find. But it isn’t cheap and accessible because it’s good for our pets. It’s cheap and accessible because it’s basically leftovers from the leather industry that would otherwise just rot in vast stinking piles outside Chinese factories. Rawhide is the dog chew equivalent of factory-farmed junk food that’s actually unhealthy – merely nutrition-free at best, and potentially dangerous.
Can’t we do better?
We developed Nature Gnaws all-natural dog chews for one reason: discarded, chemically-treated leather isn’t good enough for our dogs. We work with ranchers in Patagonia who’ve traditionally reserved a few parts of beef cows as rewards for their hard-working ranch dogs. Those Patagonian dogs are more than pets — they’re partners, absolutely critical to daily operations, keeping the herds safe, and putting in long exhausting days.
When their free-range, grass-fed herds are ready for harvesting, the ranchers keep back beef tendons and the “pizzle”, dry them in ovens to preserve them, and share them with their dogs. (Once I told one of our ranch partners about rawhide dog chews and he laughed. “¿Comen cuero? Nuestros perros comen carne, no botas.”
"They eat leather? Our dogs eat beef, not boots."
We think the Patagonian ranchers have the right idea. We should feed our dogs food. We believe you should know the facts about rawhide chews so you can decide for yourself whether or not they’re good enough for your best friends, as well.