The Potentially Deadly Treat You May Be Giving Your Dog

Puppies are notoriously aggressive chewers, but some dogs never grow out of chewing. If you want to save your shoes or furniture from untimely destruction, you probably offer your furry friend rawhide treats to alleviate their tendency to chew.

But could you be unknowingly putting your dog in danger? Here are some of the hidden dangers of feeding rawhides and some alternatives to appease your little chewer while keeping him safe.

Rawhide Manufacturing

Rawhides are made from the inner layer of cow or horse hides (source). By the time they make it to the store, they are clean, usually white or brown, hard chews.

But what goes into making these chews? Pet nutrition blogger Rodney Habib describes the chemical-laden manufacturing process used for preserving and cleaning the hides. Things like hydrogen peroxide and bleach are commonly used, as well as artificial colors and preservatives like sodium benzonate, according to Habib.

To avoid chemical byproducts, it’s important to do some research. Read labels or even call the manufacturer to ask what preservatives they used. Your typical manufacturer is going to use a chemical preservative to make sure the rawhide doesn’t spoil. They don’t necessarily have to say what chemicals were used on the label. Unless we know it doesn’t contain chemical preservatives, we should assume it does and avoid it.

Look for labels that say “preservative free,” or otherwise indicate no chemical preservatives were used to manufacture the rawhides. Family farms who slaughter their own cows and dry their hides naturally in the sun are ideal. 

Rawhides aren’t inherently evil.

In fact, rawhides can keep an aggressive chewer captive for hours—but make sure you monitor their intake and limit their chewing to an hour a day or less if they can tear through an entire rawhide in that time. And always, as with any bone, toy, or chew treat, supervise your pet and make sure they are an appropriate size for them.

Dangers of Rawhides

Apart from the chemicals used to preserve most rawhides, there are some other risks with feeding these hard chews to your pet: mainly choking, getting lodged in their throat, or even causing a gastrointestinal obstruction. All are dangerous and potentially deadly situations.

Getting access to a rawhide lodged in their throat is extremely challenging. The best way is with an endoscope but if one of the edges scrapes the inside of the esophagus, whatever is in the esophagus will leak out in small or large volumes, which can cause irritation and infection, too. 

If your dog does start to choke, try to pull the piece of rawhide out. It’s better to pull it forward than push it down. But even if you can remove the rawhide yourself, you should still take your dog to the vet because you may have created some damage in the back of the throat.

Gastrointestinal obstructions are life threatning. As a veterinary technician, I have seen many of foreign body surgeries, most of which were some sort of rawhide, bone, or object that a dog should have not eaten. Not all rawhides are evil, but they certainly are not my favorite chew treat and especially not for teeth cleaning purposes.

Teeth-Cleaning Myths

Most pet parents think rawhides are great for cleaning their dog’s teeth. While there is some validity to that, there are better options for keeping your dog’s chompers clean and their gums healthy.

Chewing on a treat does not equal a toothbrush. Ideally, you should be brushing daily and working with your vet for treatment like anesthesia teeth cleaning when necessary.

Studies show there is a correlation between canine tooth decay and the type of food they eat, especially kibbles and certain carb-heavy treats. These leave more easily fermentable carbohydrates on the teeth that bacteria can grow on.

Alternative Options

There are a number of safe, healthy alternatives to rawhides, and I prefer products that have been proven to work by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

  • Virbac Enzymatic Oral Hygeine Chews: These have enzymes that break down tartar but they are made with beef rawhide, so if you have a pet with a sensitive stomach, this may not be your best option. These are a great choice if you do have an aggressive chewer and are going to choose some type of rawhide.
  • Virbac C.E.T. Veggiedent Tartar Control Chews: These are personally my favorite, and are approved for pets with food allergies. They are vegetable-based chews that work with a dog’s chewing action to freshen breath, reduce plaque, and decrease tartar formation. For them to be effective, they must be given on a daily basis.
  • Milk-Bone Brushing Chews: These chews help provide an easy and effective way to take care of your dog's teeth. These daily dental treats are clinically proven to reduce tartar and fight bad breath and are VOHC approved! 

Ideally, we would all brush our dog's teeth, but for some, this isn't realistic. These are just a few of the products out there that are clinically proven. For a full list of products awarded the VOHC seal of approval, visit VOHC Products. Most dental chews need to be given on a daily basis to work and studies show they must chew on the treat for 3-5 minutes total. Depending on how severe your pets teeth are, they may need a professional dental cleaning before you begin them. A clean slate is easier to work with! Dental tartar is a mineral deposit that can turn to stone on teeth if left there long enough, at which point the only way of removing it is an ultrasonic or hand scaler. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian today to have an oral health exam and pick a plan that's right for you and your pet!

The Bottom Line

Redirecting your dog’s natural tendency to chew by offering a tasty treat can save your furniture or shoes from destruction, but you need to make sure you know your chews are SAFE. Always monitor your dog with any chew toy and take and throw away the small pieces as he gets to the end of the chew to prevent choking.


The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional veterinary help.


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Posted on August 15, 2015 .