Keeping your dog’s teeth clean and their breath… tolerable, is easier when your dog has natural chews to remove bacteria and food that is hiding in between their teeth. Rawhide has long been touted as a superior dental cleaning chew, but concerns about the safety of the chews may have you looking for an alternative to the classic treat.
Rawhides are cheap, widely available, and long-lasting. We can’t deny the dental benefits of rawhide chews too, but there are many concerns about the safety of feeding your dog these “less-than-natural” chews.
In this article, we will explain just how dangerous rawhides are, and how you can choose a safe rawhide alternative that will support your dog’s dental health
What is Rawhide?
We all know what it is, but really, what is rawhide? Where does it come from? How is it made?
Rawhide is made from the inner layer of skin or hide of an animal, typically a cow. They go through a manufacturing process similar to the outer hide that is used to make leather. The same leather used for furniture, purses, and belts.
The process of separating the inner and outer layers requires some harsh chemicals. Lye is also used to help remove hair, fat, and any other tissues that are attached to the hide. This process already raises some red flags, and we are just getting started.
Once the rawhide is separated, a solution using hydrogen peroxide or bleach is applied to sanitize and whiten the hide. Whitening the hide is for our benefit, not our pets. We prefer the look of a clean crisp white rawhide to the yucky colour of it's natural state.
From here the hides are flattened, cut, and shaped into a variety of rawhide styles. To make them more appealing to dogs (and to us), rawhide chews are often coated or painted with artificial flavouring and colours.
Does this sound like something that you want to feed your dog?
Is Rawhide Actually Bad for Dogs?
If the variety of chemicals used to make rawhide chews isn’t scary enough for you, we have yet to even touch on the number one reason that rawhides could be dangerous for your dog: intestinal blockages.
We’ve heard countless horror stories of dogs choking or getting intestinal blockages from swallowing a large chunk of rawhide and having it get stuck somewhere along the digestive tract.
A blockage is life-threatening and will require expensive surgery to clear. In some cases, the blockage is caught too late, or the surgery is too risky for the blockage to be fixed in time.
Of course, many dogs have been eating rawhide without issue for their whole lives. When properly chewed, a dog with good digestion will likely not have any major problems from eating rawhide chews, but why take the risk?
The issue is in the texture of the rawhide. It starts as durable, dense chew and quickly softens into a slimy, gummy mess. It’s easy to soften but not to tear apart. Many dogs will swallow pieces that are too big to breakdown quickly enough.
The glob of pressed rawhide will expand in the stomach juices. From here it can get lodged in the stomach, or move into the smaller passage of the intestines where a blockage is much more likely.
So... Is rawhide bad for dogs? Do the risks outweigh the benefits? That's up to you to decide. You can stick to shapes and sizes that are better suited to your dog’s chewing habits to reduce risk, or you can check out some of our safer rawhide alternatives instead.
Safe Rawhide Alternatives to Care for Your Dog’s Teeth
We spelled out the dangers of feeding your dog rawhide, but what else can you give them to care for their dental health? Here are our 10 favourite rawhide-free natural chews for dental health.
1. Bully Sticks
In recent years, bully sticks have become one of the most popular, natural chews for dogs. They love the taste, and the texture is ideal for safe chewing and dental cleaning. It softens as they chew, and can aid in removing bacteria that hide in the back of their mouth and at the gumline.
They are offered in different lengths, thicknesses, and shapes to suit each individual dogs chewing style. They are suitable for dogs of any size and are a safe chew for seniors and dogs that have fewer chompers than they should.
Bully sticks are a great options for teething puppies as well. As they soften, they will massage the gums and help to work baby teeth out. For more teething chews, check out 9 Natural Chews for Puppies.
One of the ways that we manage our dental health is by flossing. If you feed tendons to your dog, then they can floss too. The stringy texture of the tendon will allow the chew to sink between teeth as it softens.
Tendons are fully digestible and are suitable for all dogs. Choose the size and protein that is best for your dog. The most common types of tendons available are beef, bison, and lamb.
3. Tripe Twist Sticks
Another great flossing method, tripe twist sticks is a stick of 100% green beef tripe that is twisted into a layered chew stick. Unlike a rawhide that is tightly pressed together, tripe twists will soften and be chewed apart much easier.
It’s not the longest-lasting chew on our list, but it is absolutely a fan favourite due to its meaty flavour. Tripe twists are low fat, and easy to digest. They don’t expand in your dog’s stomach, so don’t be alarmed if your dog begins to crunch away at this dental chew.
4. Chomper Sticks
For dogs that love to chomp, this natural chew provides a satisfying crunch for powerful jaws and a long-lasting chomp session for more delicate chewers. Chompers come in sticks, braids, and strips.
They are made of beef esophagus, so they are high protein, low fat, and easy on the tummy. Beef esophagus has a stronger odour than the rest of the chews on our list, so we recommend this as an outdoor treat or at least feeding it in another room.
5. Raw Bones
Feeding raw bones fights bacteria on two fronts. The action of chewing will loosen bacteria, especially in the harder to reach areas at the back of their mouth, and the enzymes from the raw meat will fight off bacteria and freshen your dog’s breath.
Not all raw bones are safe to feed though. Stick to edible bones like chicken necks, or softer recreational bones like beef ribs. Check out our Guide to Feeding Raw Bones to Your Dog to learn more about which kinds of bone are right for your pet.
6. Yak Snaks
The toughest chew on our list is the Yak Snak. It’s a thick stick of hardened yak cheese that will be best suited for tough chewers. It will provide plenty of abrasion to remove bacteria from their teeth and will last longer than most natural chews.
The Yak Snaks aren’t suitable for every dog. Puppies, seniors, and dogs with dental issues should avoid chewing on hard chews like this to reduce the risk of damaging their teeth. For adult dogs with strong teeth, they are a low-fat chew with loads of flavour.
7. Cow Ears
Cow Ears are made of cartilage and are a tasty fun treat for removing plaque and tartar from your dog’s teeth. For bigger breeds, a cow ear won’t be super long-lasting, but it will still stand up long enough for their teeth to benefit.
Cow ears are inexpensive and low in calories, and they are a great daily chew that won’t contribute to unnecessary weight gain.
8. Lamb Horn
Lamb horns are made of Keratin, not bone. While keratin is hard, it is less dense than a bone and does not pose the same risk to your dog’s teeth as a harder chew would. As your dog chews, the horn will begin to breakdown into small digestible pieces.
Icelandic+ Lamb horns are fibrous which allows the chew to brush the teeth and gums as they chew. Unlike antlers that are very hard, lamb horns have some give, so they are suitable for dogs of all ages and sizes.
9. Tartar Bones
This smoked bone is made from the kneecap of a cow. It’s round, solid, and covered with yummy cartilage. This is a recreational chew, so avoid letting your dog eat the whole thing. Your dog will enjoy cleaning off the bone, and they won’t even know that they are cleaning their teeth at the same time.
Like any cooked bone, there is a risk of tooth damage, so tartar bones are not suitable for puppies, seniors, and dogs with dental issues that could crack or chip their teeth while chewing.
10. Chicken Feet
Although small, chicken feet are a great option for dogs. In some ways, they are like the doggy toothpick. They will clean hard to reach places near the back of the mouth and scrape away plaque and bacteria near the gum line.
Chicken feet are not suitable for larger breeds, as they can easily be a choking hazard. They are ideal for small to medium-sized dogs, puppies, and even cats. You can feed chicken feet either raw or cooked. There is very little bone, and lots of cartilage in the foot, so splintering is not a concern.
Know the Risks
No chew is without risk. No matter the type, any chew that is not properly chewed, is swallowed whole or is not the appropriate size for your pet can be a choking hazard. When selecting a size for your dog, you can never go to big, but it’s dangerously easy to feed a chew that is too small.
Dog’s that tend to gulp treats, or have digestive conditions, should take extra care with natural dental chews. Large pieces may not breakdown or could risk damaging the softer tissues along their digestive tract.
Always feed chews in moderation. Even low-fat chews add calories. Make sure you are balancing dental chews with their regular diet and exercise. This will prevent your dog from packing on the pounds or running into digestive issues.
Lastly, never leave your dog unattended with a chew. Monitoring them ensures their safety and also helps you understand how they chew so that you can offer the safest and best natural chews to improve their dental health.
What's your dog's favourite dental chew? Share your top picks in the comments below!
Posted by Krystn Janisse
Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channelling some crazy cat lady vibes with her five lovable, but rebellious cats.