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rawhide270A great number of rawhide alternatives have been popping up on the market in recent years as pet owners continue to turn away from traditional rawhide-based chews, looking for safer and healthier alternatives.

This is primarily due to the rise in concerns surrounding this popular chew product, ranging in degree of danger from mild digestive issues, intestinal blockages, and even death.

Rawhide has been a popular dog chew for decades, as it definitely has some desirable qualities. First of all, rawhide can be a great way to help clean some of your dog’s teeth. Many rawhides are also reasonably durable, so they can last a while, even up against the toughest chewers. Rawhide comes in all sorts of different shapes, sizes, colours, and even flavours. Best of all, rawhide is affordable, making it pleasing on pet owners pocketbooks.

So what exactly is rawhide, and how is it made?

Basically, rawhide is made from animal hide, usually beef. It is considered to be a byproduct of the leather industry. This hide comes from slaughterhouses, where it is placed in a brine or preservative bath, to stop it from decaying until it is sold to a pet industry manufacturer.

In order to produce rawhide, manufacturers start by separating the layers of leather, so that only the inner layer remains. Next, the hair needs to be removed, which is done in a chemical bath that usually contains sodium sulphide. It is then whitened using chemical whiteners, and is often given a bath in a chemical preservative as well. Next, some manufacturers will add a colour enhancer or artificial flavouring before the final step, which is to roll and press it into fun shapes. Sometimes, rawhides are glued into place, depending on the manufacturing practices being used. Delicious, right?

What are the potential dangers of rawhide?

First of all, let’s be clear that there is virtually no nutritional benefit to rawhide, although it does contain, albeit difficult to digest, some crude protein and fiber. While this snack is considered somewhat lean, rawhides do contain calories, and without proper portion control this can contribute to unwanted weight gain.

With that said, the biggest risk of rawhides is choking. The expectation behind rawhides is dogs will carefully chew on their leathery treat, breaking off into small, somewhat malleable pieces over time. However, every dog chews differently, and many dogs are gulpers. If a dog attempts to swallow a whole piece of rawhide, it is very likely choking will ensue. This happens far more often than you may think. If a dog is fortunate enough to survive a choking episode on rawhide, they may still have lingering injuries, like tearing the lining of their esophagus, among other things.

The second biggest risk of rawhides is digestive distress and the potential for blockages. Rawhide is very difficult to digest, and as a result, larger pieces can become lodged along the digestive tract. Blockages can cause vomiting and diarrhea, and can also cause more life-threatening illnesses such as pancreatitis. Rawhides may prevent other consumables from digesting properly, and can permeate in the intestinal lining, causing infection and other gastro-intestinal tract issues. In some cases, blockages and obstructions can only be surgically removed.

What are the best alternatives to rawhide?

Thankfully, there is no shortage of rawhide alternatives to choose from. While they look, feel, and chew in similar fashion as traditional rawhides, these are made from much healthier ingredients, such as sweet potatoes. You may also consider other popular natural chews, such as bully sticks, chicken feet and necks, turkey necks, himalayan cheese chews, and more. Not only do these treats satisfy your dog’s need to chew, they’re also much healthier and safer. It’s smart to rotate your dog’s chews regularly. This not only keeps Fido’s interest piqued, it can be lots of fun watching your dog try out new things and tasting new flavours.

Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years' experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit www.CanadianPetConnection.ca.