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Did you know that rawhide chews are mostly indigestible? Did you know that rawhide chews can be dangerous to our dogs? In this post, I share more than 20 alternatives for pet parents looking to safely satisfy their dog's chew drive.
Benefits of Rawhide Chews
Our dogs love to chew and rawhide chews have been great for their teeth, for boredom, and to alleviate anxiety. Rawhide chews keep our dogs' jaws strong, their teeth clean, and their breath fresh. When I accepted that rawhide chews were dangerous for my dogs, I was disappointed. Rawhide chews were my saving grace when the weather sucked, when I needed to get some work done, or when I just wanted a peaceful evening.
What are Rawhide Chews?
The ones we've purchased are made of beef hide. They're spun in circles and dried, and if you look closely, they're held together with an adhesive (should our dogs be consuming this?). Some rawhide chews are flavored, but Rodrigo doesn't do well with the flavored ones, so we always just purchased the plain ones.
Dangers of Rawhide Chews
Rawhide chews come with a real risk of blockage. Our dogs sometimes swallow entire chunks at a time, and since they're largely indigestible, these can get stuck in a dog's throat (I've pulled many out) and intestinal tract. Rodrigo enjoyed rawhide chews until he had to pass a few sharp pieces. They passed right before he was due for a trip to the emergency vet and it was a painful process for him and terrifying for me.
Rawhide chews come with a risk of contamination due to the chemicals used to create them (remember the glue I mentioned?).
Rawhide chews can cause digestive upset. As I shared, Rodrigo can't handle the flavored ones; there are other dogs that have shown that they're allergic to the ingredients used to create the rawhide chews.
Rawhide chews can cause painful injuries. Along with the blockage mentioned above, veterinarians are seeing other painful injuries including broken teeth, broken jaws, and rawhide pieces stock in the intestines.
As a vet, my main concerns with rawhide chews are in their digestibility, their chemical processing and their ability to fragment.
Although dogs can usually digest rawhide, when a large chunk of rawhide is swallowed, it may not get digested by the stomach and intestines in time. Instead, it gets pulled through the guts as a chunk, inevitably getting stuck when the intestines start to narrow. This can cause extreme vomiting and may need emergency surgery to correct.
Secondly, when a dog chews on rawhide it can shatter and fragment. These sharp fragments can damage the mouth, stomach and intestines.
In addition, most rawhide chews are ultra-processed with hundreds of chemicals- I would not want to feed them to my dog on this alone.Dr. Joanna Woodnutt- Freelance Veterinary Writer
Why are Rawhide Chews Sold in Stores
I rarely shop in the big chain pet stores anymore because it's less expensive to shop online or through my local raw food co-op. But the times that I do venture into a Petco or Petsmart, I always wonder why they still sell rawhide chews if they're so dangerous.
Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, shared that the main reason rawhides are sold in stores is that pet parents are still buying rawhide chews.
Most people do not fully research things before they buy them for their dogs. They think that just because they are sold in stores that they must be okay for their dog. I strongly discourage owners about giving their pets rawhides. I do know some dogs who have been chewing on rawhide for years with no problems at all, but I do see all the problems that they can cause and recommend people use different things for their dogs to chew on.Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM
Alternatives to Rawhide Chews
This was an amazing discussion that I had in a LinkedIn group, and I was skeptical about some of the recommendations, but then I tried them out and was happily surprised.
1) Bully Sticks & Chews
Some people believe that bully sticks are no better than rawhide chews, but I disagree. Our dogs love these, and I buy them in bulk. They smell awful, even the ones that are “low odor” bully sticks.
Bully sticks can be expensive. We have discovered a great source of quality bully sticks; PawStruck.com. Yep, they still smell, but for the price and the joy it gives our dogs (and the quiet time for the humans), the smell is worth it. My favorites are the Monster bully sticks:
- Monster Braided Bully Sticks
- Traditional (Straight) Bully Sticks
- Braided Bully Sticks
- Bully Stick Rings
- Bully Stick Springs
- Bully Sticks Pretzels
- Bully Sticks Barbells
- Beef Gullet
- Beef Tendon
- Pork Ears
- Lamb Ears
- Cow Ears
- Duck Feet
- Turkey Feet
- Beef Trachea
- Lamb Tail, Barkworthies
- Kangaroo Tail, Barkworthies
2) Fruits & Vegetables
We have two apple trees. I buy organic fruits and vegetables from a local market and most years, I grow vegetables in a small garden. While the following fruits and veggies aren't chews, they are healthy snacks. I started giving my dogs fruits and vegetables as treats because I'd toss them a bite when I was cooking. They loved them. Of course, fruits and vegetables don't have the long chewing time of a bully stick, but they're healthy, save, and if you freeze them in the summer, they can be a great treat on a hot day.
- Green Beans
And check out naturally dried sweet potato dog chews by Snook's Pet Products. I haven't tried these yet, but they're on our 2020 bucket list because they look like they last and last.
3) Raw Bones
We just started buying raw bones for our dogs. Little Riley loved her bone, and I smile whenever I remember her going at it with gusto. There are cooked bones at the pet store – avoid these – cooked bones can splinter and wreak havoc on your dog's intestinal tract. They can also break your dog's teeth (just learned this one recently from an unhappy dog owner).
It's important to know our dog's chewing habits so I always give bones under supervision so that I can take them away if they begin to splinter or one of my dogs tries to swallow a big piece.
I order their bones through a local raw food co-op and their favorites are:
- Raw Meaty Bones – Duck Necks
- Raw Meaty Bones – Lamb Necks
- Recreational Bones – Beef Knuckle Bones
- Recreational Bones – Beef Knee Caps
Order your raw bones and healthy chews from Raw Paws Pet Food.
I don't believe that it's a good idea for me to leave bones in the yard for later, because of (1) resource guarding, (2) wild animals, and (3) the bones get harder over time. I also avoid weight-bearing bones; they're harder than the raw bones I prefer, which makes me worry about one of my dogs breaking a tooth.
Himalayan chews are healthy, all-natural, long-lasting, and tasty chews made from Yak's milk and our dogs go NUTS for them. I don't recommend starting with a monster chew because you want to see how your dogs do with this dairy product first. In the beginning, these chews gave our dogs diarrhea if I gave them one whole chew (just the regular size). So I only allowed them to enjoy these chews for 15-20 minutes at a time – keeping my dogs occupied while I take a call or clean the living room.
5) Real.Dog Subscription – Chews Only
I was introduced to a company called Real.Dog and they offer treats via a monthly subscription service. I haven't been very impressed with subscription services for pet parents, but this one caught my attention because everything in the box was something I loved for my dogs.
Real.Dog offers a treat-option and a chews-only option; we receive the later every month and it has the perfect amount of treats for a multi-dog home. And it's right within my budget at less than $25 a month.
What About Deer Antlers?
I‘ve read that deer and elk naturally shed their antlers every spring, and those naturally shed antlers are gathered, cleaned, cut to create a great option for strong chewers. I used to buy antlers for my dogs but we stopped giving our dogs antlers when they started breaking them down quickly. For a couple of our dogs, deer antlers don't last as long, and I was worried about broken teeth.
What About No-Hide Chews?
No-Hide Chews by Earth Animal are another chew that is raised in discussions – many people jumped onto these chews after they were marketed as a safe alternative to rawhide chews. I was excited about them too until people began questioning the ingredients, the sourcing, and their safety. Now, to be honest, no chew is 100% safe – I only give my dogs chews when I'm in the house to monitor the dogs. With five dogs in the house, I've worried about choking hazards as a dog rushes to finish their chew because they want another one or they're worried that it'll be taken away. That being said, are No-Hide chews safe? I'm not sure, but with so many other options on the market, I decided to leave these off the shopping list after reading a few articles by The Truth About Pet Food, a site that I trust.
- Is No-Hide Dog Treat Actually Hide
- USDA says No-Hide Treats are “NOT” Made Under Inspection
- No-Hide Rebuttal Brings More Questions
- Is it No-Hide or Rawhide from China
Fans of Rawhide Chews
There are plenty of people who believe rawhide chews are perfectly safe for dogs and I was one of them until Rodrigo nearly ended up at the emergency vet. Today, I no longer believe that these chews are natural or safe. While they did an amazing job of occupying our dogs' time, the risk is greater than the benefit.
Bully sticks and the other chews I recommend don't last as long, however, I've found that a great substitute is a long walk before settling our dogs down with a natural chew and a nap. Works every time.
Read More About Dog Treats
- Can Dogs Eat Chicken Gizzards?
- Safe Alternatives to Rawhide Chews
- 10 DIY Thanksgiving Dog Treat Recipes
- Natural Chews for Raw Fed Dogs
- Obsessing About Better Dog Treats
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