Having a dog that needs a lot to chew on takes a lot of work. In my lifetime with dogs, I have spent countless hours towards shopping for things to keep my dogs busy. Chewing in particular has always been the most costly aspect of owning a dog, especially when my breed of choice are highly intelligent working dogs. Every time I’m looking for good chews, my eyes skim over the “variety” of choices at the pet stores. I pass colored discs and balls that light up and glow in the dark, ropes of all different colors and shapes, and many other things that my Border Collie would demolish in a matter of seconds. The next aisle is where I tend to wander, with the more natural chews such as buffalo horns and antlers. Undoubtedly there are more rawhides than there are other types of chews in this particular aisle, all with different colors, shapes, and fancy packaging. My eyes try to avoid them the best they can.
Chances are, you’ve heard about rawhides. They are among the most popular chews for dogs all around the world. On the surface, they are a long lasting chew that can entertain a dog for hours. There is a darker side here, of course...
There are thousands of horror stories that circulate over social media. Expensive surgeries, choking, and even...death? In spite of this, they have no problem selling on pet store shelves and are a national favorite among dog owners everywhere. Packaging markets to a wide variety of owners, boasting words like “all natural” and some even come with veterinarian endorsements proudly displayed all over the labels. So what’s the problem? Well, let’s take a look at what “raw” hide really is and how it is made.
It’s Not Meat. It’s Leather.
That’s right, you heard me. Many would believe that rawhide is a by-product of beef. Technically, rawhide is a by-product of the leather industry, and because of this, rawhide is actually a leather chew.
“Producing rawhide begins with the splitting of an animal hide, usually from cattle. The top grain is generally tanned and made into leather products, while the inner portion, in its “raw” state, goes to the dogs.” TheBark.com
Step 1: The Tannery
Normally, cattle hides are shipped from slaughterhouses to tanneries for processing. These hides are then treated with a chemical bath to help “preserve” the product during transport to help prevent spoilage.
Once at the tannery: the hides are soaked and treated with either an ash-lye solution or a highly toxic recipe of sodium sulfite liming. This process will help strip the hair and fat that attached to the hides themselves.
These hides are then treated with chemicals that help “puff” the hide, making it easier to split into layers.
STEP 2: More chemicals!
Now that we have the inner layer of the hide, it’s time to go to the post-tannery stage! Hides are washed and whitened using a solution of hydrogen peroxide and/or bleach; this will also help remove the smell of the rotten or putrid leather. If the bleach and peroxide aren’t strong enough, other chemicals may be used. In countries outside the US, arsenic and formaldehyde usage is A-Ok!
STEP 3: Make It Look Pretty
Now, the hides need to look pretty and taste delicious!
“Basted, smoked, and decoratively tinted products might be any color (or odor) underneath the coating of (often artificial) dyes and flavors. They can even be painted with a coating of titanium oxide to make them appear white and pretty on the pet store shelves.” – whole-dog-journal.com
“…the Material Safety Data Sheet reveals a toxic confection containing the carcinogen FD&C Red 40, along with preservatives like sodium benzoate. But tracking the effects of chemical exposure is nearly impossible when it’s a matter of slow, low-dose poisoning.”– thebark.com
Ok, now that these hides have been painted, it’s time for the final process.
STEP 4: Getting It To Last Forever!
When tested: Lead, Arsenic, Mercury, Chromium salts, Formaldehyde, and other toxic chemicals have been detected in rawhides.
So it’s safe to say that any sort of glues can be used to hold them together as well!
Finally, it’s time to package and attach all the glorious marketing labels to the product.
Check out the fine print warning that’s attached to some of these rawhides:
“Choking or blockages. If your dog swallows large pieces of rawhide, the rawhide can get stuck in the esophagus or other parts of the digestive tract. Sometimes, abdominal surgery is needed to remove them from the stomach or intestines. If it isn’t resolved, a blockage can lead to death.”
(Oh, how lovely…)
And there it is! It’s now ready to be shipped to store shelves where it can be purchased for our loving animal companions.
How do proactive veterinarians feel about these chews?
Here is veterinarian Doctor Karen Becker’s take on the matter: “The name ‘rawhide’ is technically incorrect. A more accurate name would be processed-hide, because the skin isn’t raw at all. But the term “rawhide” has stuck.
Rawhide chews start out hard, but as your dog works the chew it becomes softer, and eventually, he can unknot the knots on each end and the chew takes on the consistency of a slimy piece of taffy or bubble gum. And by that time your dog cannot stop working it — it becomes almost addictive.
At this point, there’s no longer any dental benefit to the chew because it has turned soft and gooey, and, in fact, it has become a choking and intestinal obstruction hazard.”
P.S. Ready for the jaw dropper?
An investigation by Humane Society International stated in their report, “In a particularly grisly twist, the skins of brutally slaughtered dogs in Thailand are mixed with other bits of skin to produce rawhide chew toys for pet dogs. Manufacturers told investigators that these chew toys are regularly exported to and sold in U.S. stores.” – dogingtonpost.com
It is safe to say for me that rawhides will never find a place in my home. There are plenty of wonderful alternative options to keep our pets happy and healthy. Consider more natural chews such as raw meaty bones or air dried bones. Know where your chews come from. If you are unsure about a product, don’t hesitate to reach out to the manufacturers to see what they know about their products!
Sources: https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/rawhide-dangerous-for-dogs/ https://thebark.com/content/dangers-rawhide-dog-chew-toys https://www.caninejournal.com/rawhide-bones/ http://www.dogchewsrawhide.com/rawhide-chews-made.htmhttp://www.dfs-pet-blog.com/2010/09/rawhide-for-dogs/