Rawhide Toys – Treat or Trouble?

Rawhide dog are very popular. Found in pet stores, grocery stores, and even dollar stores, they would seem like a safe bet. But that is not the case. As the saying goes, caveat emptor (buyer beware).

Rawhide offer many benefits. They are relatively cheap, dogs enjoy them, and they help with overall teeth and gum health. Multiple shapes and sizes are available, so the right type can be found for any dog, breeds and large working dogs alike. Because of these benefits – and the relatively low number of cases where dogs have been injured – many owners often give rawhide treats to their dogs.

If you choose to give your dogs rawhide treats, you should keep in mind that there are health risks. Rawhide is dried out animal hides, typically cow, horse, or bull hide. The material is cleaned up and processed into the chunks sold as rawhide . The processing includes two industrial steps, the first being to clean off the membranes, meat, fat, muscle, etc. from the skin. The second step is to clean off the hairs on the outside. According to Dusti Summerbird-Lockey this process typically involves the use of chemical solutions, with cocktails that include Ash-Lye or Lime and then a cleaning with a bleach solution.

In addition to the chemicals themselves, another issue that emerges with rawhide treats, especially when related chewable items like pig ears and beef jerky treats are included, are bacterial infections that can be picked up from handling the items. In 1999, the FDA released a warning to consumers regarding a medical problem occurring in Canada where humans had been showing signs of illness attributed to handling these items. The FDA cautioned that “These products may pose a risk of bacterial infection such as Salmonella infantis which can cause flu-like symptoms (e.g., nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea) in normally healthy people, but may cause far more serious – even life-threatening injury in immune-compromised patients.” Arsenic based preservatives are used by some manufacturers, though it is not legal to use for rawhide made within the U.S.

Assuming that the treat itself does not have any toxic chemical or bacterial traces, is it safe? Not necessarily. Rawhide treats pose a choking hazard and the risk of intestinal problems. When chewed the rawhide becomes wet and slippery, allowing the dog to gulp down more than he can swallow or digest. That creates choking risks as well as problems with GI blockage if the piece makes its way to the dog’s digestive track. GI distress is also reported both due to digestion difficulties as well as bacteria.

If you choose to give your dog rawhide treats, do so carefully. Make sure to buy products made in the US and to carefully monitor your dog’s chewing. Do not let him swallow large chunks of rawhide. Supervision of his chew time can increase his safety, but there are plenty of other toys that are just as fun and much safer, such as Kong chew toys that can be stuffed with flavorful treats even better than rawhide.

I work for Dog Academy an online training school for dog lovers, http://shop.dogacademy.com/dog-toys.aspx

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