Rawhide is the inner layer of the hide of any hoofed animal. Dog ancestors have been chewing on these in the wild since the beginning of time. But this age old chew toy has been getting a bad reputation recently. It basically boils down to two complaints:
1. Ingested pieces cause intestinal blockage
Rawhide is tough and hard to digest. If Fido tears off a particularly large piece and swallows it, you could be facing an unpleasant and expensive surgery to remove it.
2. Harmful chemicals
While rawhide is natural itself, since it’s animal skin, the typical commercial processing it goes through is definitely not natural. Rawhide is basically a product of the early stages of the leather making process. In order to make leather, the animal first has to be skinned. The skinned hide is then washed, removed of hair and tissue, and tanned. Rawhide is what you get before the hide is tanned. In commercial leather making, a lot of chemicals are used in the process, especially in the hair/tissue removal and tanning stages. These chemicals, such as sulfur derivatives, chromium salts and formaldehyde are indeed as nasty as they sound – some have been shown to be carcinogenic.
Moreover, skinned hides that have to be transported long distances to the processing facility have to be preserved somehow, usually by refrigeration, or again using harsh chemicals. And for those hides that were not refrigerated or preserved properly, and arrive rotten, guess what – they have to be cleaned with harmful chemical based cleansers. In order to make the final rawhide product more visually appealing, they are often whitened (e.g. with bleach) or dyed as well. Some unscrupulous manufacturers also add fillers and scraps to add weight to the final product.
So bad reputation deserved?
All of this makes raw hide look like a bad toy indeed. My opinion is that it is by itself a very good chew toy, because it is natural and tough. Yes it can cause intestinal blockage if large pieces are swallowed, but that is true of any toy! The plastic or rubber toy which your dog chews on could equally cause the same problem. Plastics also contain harmful BPA and phthalates. Which is why you should always be vigilant and supervise your dog when it is chewing something, to ensure he doesn’t swallow a big piece.
Unfortunately, the processing the raw hide goes through makes it full of harmful substances. I have come across only a few American sourced and made rawhide brands that claim and are trusted to use no chemicals in manufacture. Sourcing is essential because a lot of the skinned hides used to make raw hides in the US aren’t necessarily sourced from there. They most likely come from faraway places like China or Brazil, and as mentioned if they arrive rotten to the US processing plant, they have to be treated. Being sourced from the same place means there’s less chance the hides will arrive rotten.
But even with the sourced and made in USA rawhides, these companies do not own and control the entire process. Meaning the hides are delivered to them already removed of hair and tissue. From that point, while they claim no chemicals are used to process them (except for a highly diluted hydrogen peroxide solution to wash), unfortunately we have no idea how those hides were treated before being delivered to them.
So in a nutshell, we would love to give the dog a raw hide chew, but unfortunately we have not yet found a completely natural one out there! The search continues…Got a question? Ask Robin via firstname.lastname@example.org