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The Dangers of Rawhide Dog Chew Toys
The downside of rawhide
Chew Bone

“I never buy at Wal-Mart, I only buy organic and nothing from China, ever!”

This is how Danielle Devereux, whose German Shepherd Sammy is a ravenous consumer of snacks, describes her treat-buying strategy. Sammy prefers his rawhide toys soaked in warm chicken broth first. “As you can guess, he’s a little bit spoiled.”

In Devereux’s remarks, I hear echoes of my own long search for the right dog chew toys. From the time my Shepherd was a wee pup, we combed the pet aisles looking for enticing substitutes for couch and chair leg. She quickly sniffed out her favorite section among the knuckle and femur bones: the bins where the rawhide is cached.

Promoted as an “all natural” treat, rawhide does keep dogs entertained, perhaps even more so in its many basted, twisted, even brightly colored mutations. It’s the equivalent of that gummy-worm-fortified cereal made with real oats that children howl for all the way down the breakfast aisle. Those looking to improve on the bone are like the clever marketers who expertly tune a child’s whining pitch. Your dog would like to convince you that rawhide is primal therapy for his carnivorous soul!

But if rawhide manufacturers were held to the same standards as drug makers, they’d be forced to add an equally long list of warnings to their labels: May cause stomach torsion, choking, vomiting, diarrhea, salmonella poisoning and exposure to various chemical residues.

The closer you look at the rawhide gravy train—its tentacles in China, typically, at one point or another—the more you may want to wean your dog off this dubious by-product.

The Dose Makes the Poison

“The most potent compounds for stimulating the taste buds in dogs, and presumably wolves, are amino acids that taste sweet to humans”—so goes the discussion of canid diet in Wolves, edited by David Mech and Luigi Boitani. Judging by an explosion of patents for flavored rawhide, which include “tastes” such as bubble-gum and hickory, chew-chefs have apparently done their research. However, in creating treats dogs will chomp for hours, they’ve also produced potentially more toxic products. The more dogs lick, chew and swallow the material, the greater their exposure to any contaminants it contains.

In the case of bubble-gum flavoring alone, 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. The FDA’s veterinary branch, the Center for Veterinary Medicine, checks into pet food additives only after numerous complaints about a particular chemical.

While chews made from rawhide, bone or other animal parts are consumable, and are therefore considered “food” under FDA law, as long as the label contains no reference to nutritional value (such as “high protein”), the agency advises that manufacturers “may not have to follow the AAFCO pet food regulations.”

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. Removing the hair from hides often involves a highly toxic recipe: sodium sulphide liming. A standard practice is to procure rawhide in the “split lime state” as by-products from tanneries, facilities that top the list of U.S. Superfund sites. In the post-tannery stage, hides are washed and whitened using a solution of hydrogen peroxide. And that’s just one step.

Other poisonous residues that may show up in rawhide include arsenic and formaldehyde. Even dog skin is a possibility. An ongoing investigation of the fur trade by Humane Society International, an arm of the HSUS, resulted in this information, as listed on their website: “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.”

Back to the Factory (Farm)

There’s no knowing where it’s been, and where it begins is also unsettling. Rawhide is a by-product of the CAFO—or concentrated animal feeding operation, the bucolic term for today’s industrial farm.

“Nasty, brutish and short” is how Ken Midkiff, author of The Meat You Eat, describes the life of the animals who give up their hides. He’s no expert on rawhide, but Midkiff says he knows far more than he cares to about CAFOs, where thousands of “sentient beings,” crammed together inside huge metal buildings, “never see the light of day until the truck comes to pick them up for slaughter.”

“There’s also a major problem with various drugs,” he adds, citing a CAFO cocktail of antibiotics, arsenicals and hormones used to boost production.“While the claim is made that these don’t remain in the meat of hogs or beef, that claim has not been tested by any federal agency.”

Pattie Boden, owner of The Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., where organic toy enthusiasts shop, doesn’t carry rawhide. Instead, she stocks free-range chews, bully sticks, and organic raw bones, from shins to lamb necks. Her purchasing-protocol (and philosophy) is one owners might apply in their own search for healthful treats.

“I’m not going to be the most financially successful pet store,” Boden says, “but I feel confident in the products I select, and I can sleep at night.”

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 49: Jul/Aug 2008
Sheila Pell is a journalist and contributor to The Bark.
CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Anonymous | December 10 2009 |

So what's a good bone to feed our dogs?! I normally feed bully sticks, is that considered raw hide?

Submitted by Anonymous | January 3 2010 |

bully sticks are not raw hide, believe it or not a bully stick, or
pizzle stick is nothing but dried bull .. "neither regions"
aka the reproductive organ of a male bull. They are just fine
for consumption, while the gross out factor is high,, thats
why they named them bully stick, they are perfectly safe

Submitted by Brenda | August 8 2012 |

Wouldnt the same be true about bully sticks as rawhide though? At least as far as hormones and products that the bull eats would be in the tissue as well. I don't know how they are processed though and however it's done cant be as bad as the way they process rawhides?.

Submitted by quirkybleu | January 29 2013 |

You may think that bully sticks are processed the same way as rawhide, but they are not. Research and find the best manufacturers, but like antlers, and other naturally occuring animal parts, bully sticks are for the most part natural and naturally occurring. There is no other "processing" except for drying and cutting that is done with the product once harvested. I really like this website that offers 100% Made in America bully sticks made from grass-fed cattle: http://www.bestbullysticks.com/home/bbs/page_12156/what_are_Bully_Sticks.... But my best suggestion is to do your own research/homework. I did, and my two chihuahuas and two labradoodles are very happy. Good luck!

Submitted by karina | July 1 2013 |

Amelia my 3 year old chihuahua-min pin swallowed a rawhide minibone.. she choked on it untl she swallowed it...I didn't realize what was hapenning so I took her to the vet and the xrays showed the mini bone in her stomach.
The rawhide bone , was removed fron her stomach with surgery.
I call the company that distributes this rawhide in the usa before the surgery to ask if that thing will be digested cause I didnt want amelia to go thrugh surgery ifit wasnt really necesary.
the !the company did not have an answer for me at the time....no information on the product..they told me that safety info must be in the bag...i went to read it and there was no info at all on what size of bone for what size of dog , and not warning at all !!
those raw hides should not be on the market and I am going to sue them.

Submitted by Marg | July 27 2013 |

I hope your little dog is OK!

Submitted by Hummingbird | November 19 2013 |

Anything you give your dog, whether it be rawhide or bully sticks, they always have to be larger than your dogs mouth, otherwise they can choke to death if they swallow it. /Dog Obedience student

Submitted by Anonymous | July 16 2010 |

I am a fan of freezing yogurt in a kong. It keeps my dog busy for a good 45 minutes and I know it's safe.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 9 2013 |

What is a kong?

Submitted by rescuemom2 | June 19 2013 |

Be careful with kongs too..had a dog get his tongue stuck inside one and it swelled up and would not come out..had to go to vet and he had to have a portion of his tongue removed.also a piece of king inside a bulldogs tummy had to be surgically removed..almost did not make it..with all things supervision and smart choices are the key.

Submitted by Meira Frankl | June 24 2013 |

I have heard of this happening with small toy balls, but never with a KONG.

Submitted by cynthea anderson | September 9 2013 |

I read of this also and the dog had his tongue removed but the owner stressed that it was a ball with only one hole and therefore suction was created so the dog couldn't get his swollen tongue out. I was not a Kong product.

Submitted by D Stevens | May 27 2014 |

My dog destroyed a Kong, so I went looking for something else, eventually went with a http://amzn.to/SNhTCZ and haven't had to buy anything since. Same concept just fill it with something that interests them and let them enjoy :).

Submitted by Anonymous | August 14 2011 |

Bully sticks are not rawhide and are safe to give to your pet.

Submitted by Bernie | June 20 2013 |

But they are bull penis and the ones I gave my dog before I knew what they were stunk!

Submitted by Lynda | September 25 2013 |

Not always safe. I know of a chihuahua mix that swallowed part of one and it stuck and she died. Being organic, it apparently did not show up clearly on the xray and by the time they figured out what the problem was, it was too late.

Submitted by JEFF | March 20 2014 |

these sticks killed my dog. i had to have him put to sleep because of what they did to his insides.

Submitted by NANCY LEVINE | May 21 2014 |


Submitted by Rachael | September 28 2014 |

Bully sticks are just as bad as rawhide chews. Dogs have gotten sick an even died from them.

Submitted by stephen | February 26 2010 |

to economize I find myself ordering a couple of beef ribs once, maybe twice a week, from the local Tony Romas (rib eatery)sans BBQ sauce. costs me about 5 dollars per rib VS. the ten dollar 12 inch bully stick. My labs will go through a bully stick in about 20 minutes. The meat on the rib last about 10 seconds but the gnawing on the bone will last close to 45 min.

Submitted by Anonymous | September 8 2013 |

You should never give your dogs cooked bones. they can splinter and cause real problems. Better to buy your ribs from your local butcher and give them to the dogs raw. I learned the hard way - believe me, cooked bones of any type aren't a good idea.

Submitted by hj vachon | June 28 2011 |

For our german Shepard we avoid any toys from china -- if they would use lead in childrens toy?? Instead we give him a empty gallon ice cream container . As he puchers the plastic it cleans his teeth. Five years old and his teeth are shinning white.

Submitted by Anonymous | August 15 2011 |

Elk/deer antlers are by far the best things I've found for my dogs to chew on.

Submitted by Melissa Sorci Taft | July 2 2013 |

We, too, give our dog deer antlers which are her favorite things to chew and last forever!

Submitted by Linda Taylor | December 4 2011 |

My Maltese Bodhi almost died from eating chicken chips from China in 2005. Hours of throwing up and impacted gut were the result. His throat is still scarred from the vomiting and impacts his breathing when exercising or excited.

I now read labels and buy nothing made in China.

Submitted by Bob | January 8 2012 |

Two of my Labradors would have died if I had not been home when they became paralyzed from the toxins caused by campylobacter jejuni, a bacteria they got from rawhide bones that had been basted with chicken broth by the Mexican producer. The rawhide bones were in packaging that had "American" printed across the face of the bag. Both dogs received quick medical attention from our veterinarians and survived. I will not purchase anything for my dogs that is from any foreign country and I make a meatloaf for their daily ration.

Submitted by Holly | February 21 2012 |

Wow, I am feverishly searching for healthy treats for my girls now!!!!

Submitted by AnonymousSadie | April 23 2012 |

Thanks for this great site.

Submitted by Anonymous | May 4 2012 |

We buy rawhide, only 'Made In USA'. The only place we can find it here now is at Target. They get one a week on Sundays, and they are the smaller size. And they are supervised. Happy to say, we've not had any problems. We will not buy any consumable treat for our dogs that comes from any other country.

Submitted by Debbie | September 21 2012 |

Make sure you call the company and ask where their ingredients are "sourced." They may be "manufactured" in the USA but their ingredients may be "sourced" from other countries. I do that with every treat I buy for my dog.

Submitted by Ellen | June 24 2013 |

Those 'made in the USA' rawhides at Target are actually sourced from China. Unless you buy directly from the maker, you cannot be certain where the actual product is being manufactured.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 16 2012 |

I make homemade chicken jerky!You can use any meat - so it's great for allergic dogs - and you can break it up for smaller dogs! I also buy roasted pigs ears and lamb ears but only the ones made in New Zealand where we live. Chinese stuff is OUT!!!

Submitted by Tracy | June 30 2013 |

Could you post the process you use? This would be a wonderful option for my allergic dog. I could use pork, lamb and all kinds of things.

Submitted by Stefanie Skye | July 18 2012 |

At this point in time we only buy products for our dogs to chew on from Merrick as it's all harvested in the US.

Our boys especially love the pig snouts. And the other plus is that it breaks down easily so that 2 of our 3 dogs do not choke on it like they tended to do when inhaling big rawhide pieces (they never learned to chew properly apparently as pups...one was a stray pup we adopted at approx. 11 weeks of age and the other was an adoption from the family who originally raised him).

Submitted by Bruce Skakle | August 14 2012 |

We are so fortunate here in Maine to have a wonderful pet store that carries healthy Maine-made treats. Like any healthy treats they cost a bit more but you can be assured that they contain nothing that will harm your pets. The TriPom Chicken Jerky is made from the same chicken that we would buy for ourselves at the supermarket or co-op. I am a loyal customer and not otherwise affiliated in any way to this store. Just trying to support a local business that has only the best in mind when it comes to my dogs and cats. They even sell naturally shed Maine Moose Antlers!



Submitted by Anonymous | February 6 2013 |

My beloved westie just passed away in the night, in a crate, at the vets, post surgery to remove the end of a raw hide that had lodged and expanded in his stomach. The raw hide came out - it has expanded to over 75% of his stomach. He didn't survive the night .
It has broken my heart.

Submitted by Dellora Stritt | August 30 2013 |

I'm so sorry. I can't imagine your heartbreak :( I have been trying to find out calorie content of rawhides, which my vet said are safe and low in calories. My dog is on lowfat food, gets exercised everyday and is fat. He's a 6 year old rottweiler and for a large dog, that means he's about 54 years old. He's having trouble with hind legs giving out. After reading your story, I have decided NO MORE RAWHIDES!

Submitted by Phrede | June 19 2013 |

Be aware that the "drying" process of many products, including bully sticks, can be a problem. Sometimes formaldehyde is used to accelerate the process. Remember the Chinese chicken jerky problems? Same thing.

Submitted by Bernie | June 20 2013 |

But Bully sticks are made out of cow penis. They smell and the very thought of what they are made of is disgusting. I will try other suggestions but not the bully stick!

Submitted by Maria Bright | June 24 2013 |

I didn't know bully sticks are made of a bulls penis. That doesn't bother me. It's true they have an unpleasant odor. I don't give them to my dog all the time, when I do he is supervised. I like the Merrick brand also since it was recommended at the pet store when my Maltese/Bichon was a puppy. I want the best for my Bandit even if it costs a little more. I will only purchase USA products.

Submitted by Sarah | June 24 2013 |

How about antlers or himilayan dog chew (really hard cheese that lasts a long time)

Submitted by Diane | August 11 2013 |

Really?? A COW PENIS??? Highly unlikely.

Submitted by Brenda | September 8 2013 |

Yes, they are made from a bull's penis. You can look it up online. Some are called "bully sticks" and are made of cartilage which are not true bully sticks.

Submitted by Lynda | September 25 2013 |

lol, I caught that too. (A cow is a female)

Submitted by Debbie | June 20 2013 |

I buy all my dog's bones at the local butcher shop. He often has them in bags for a real cheap price. I will never ever buy anything but USA made anything. And, even then, I will check it to see what is on the label.

Submitted by evervigalent1 | June 20 2013 |

Never, ever buy food or chew products made in China. Our dog periodically went lame for a day or two after eating rawhides from PetTime, purchased at Walmart. After $500 worth of blood tests and Xrays for Valley Fever, which all turned out negative, we finally realized the symptom only occured after the rawhides. China uses lye, arsenic, formaldehyde, and chlorine bleach to make these terrible products! Fortunately our dog is fine now. For your household's safety, boycott China food products.

Submitted by besd moore | June 24 2013 |

It is very hard to buy treats made in the USA! Even in Pet Stores, it's all from overseas! I refuse to put my dogs at risk! So sad!! Why is this??

Submitted by Tracy | June 30 2013 |

Check in the organic treats. I only buy those due to allergies in my dog, and they are made in the US often. I too am careful to not by treats made elsewhere.

Submitted by Erica | June 24 2013 |

Make sure the treats are made in the USA. So many treats are made in China, Mexico or somewhere else.

Submitted by Sue | June 24 2013 |

We give all our dogs moose antlers from Acadia Antlers (you can find them online www.acadiaantlers.com). They are naturally harvested in the United States from yearly "moose sheds" so the moose aren't even harmed by giving these up. They last a really long time, even with our big chewers (we have mostly Pit Bull types) and they really love them.

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