I started to investigate what veterinarians thought about giving rawhide chews to dogs. Surprisingly, there was not a definitive consensus. Are rawhides a chew treat you should give your dog?
FIRST, what is rawhide? Rawhide is dried cattle skin. Have you ever opened a bag of rawhide and noticed an awful smell? This is because the skins have not been cleaned and have fat on them. Why are some rawhides ultra white? This is because chemicals are used to whiten them.
Nowadays most rawhide is imported. The cost of making American rawhide products has forced many manufacturers to close. People feel safe because this is regulated under the USDA (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture). An important fact is omitted. Imported rawhide is potentially subject to USDA inspection – meaning it’s not guaranteed. Don’t believe a rawhide product is safe because it is sold in a pet store.
Dogs teeth are very different from our teeth. Teeth are covered by enamel. Dog’s enamel is one fourth the thickness of ours. This means if your dog bites something hard it is much more likely to break the teeth. As a practicing veterinarian I have had to remove teeth almost weekly. To extract a broken tooth is expensive.
There is an organization called Veterinary Oral Hygiene Council (VOHC). They created a list of treats that would not break your dog’s teeth. The longer it takes your dog to chew a rawhide the better it works to help prevent periodontal disease. If a dog just swallows it then there is no benefit. Watch your dog to see what kind of chewer he/she is. A dog that swallows large pieces is more likely to block his windpipe or get a gastrointestional blockage. If he/she get a blockage it will probably need to be surgically removed. An owner needs to be present when their dog is chewing rawhide. The soft piece that is left at the end can choke your dog. You need to be there to remove it.
If your dog eats a rawhide and shows the following symptoms, call your veterinarian: decreased activity, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drinking or urination may mean your pet ingested a toxin.
Allowing your dog to chew or not chew rawhide treats is a personal decision based on several factors. Weigh the fact that chewing helps prevent periodontal disease. Consider the cost of multiple cleanings verses fracturing a tooth and the cost to remove it. Knowing how your dog chews rawhide lets you know if he/she is more likely to swallow large pieces. These large pieces can cause significant problems. Remember the risk of contamination with toxins or Salmonella bacteria should you deprive your dog from chewing something that is so pleasurable to them.
As I said in the beginning, there is no cut and dry answer. Clearly there are many shades of gray when contemplating rawhide chews for your pet.
Author: Dr. Karen Hoffman