Rawhide chews are prepared from the internal coating of dried animal hides and molded into various shapes and sizes. Most have flavors like chicken, beef, or liver added. As chew toys and treats, they help to prevent plaque and tartar build-up on teeth. They also help to strengthen jaws. But the real question is, “Are they safe?”
The major concern is that dried rawhide can be hard to digest. This can lead to gastrointestinal (GI) issues and obstructions. GI obstructions can threaten a dog’s life and may require corrective surgery. Over time, the dog’s stomach can break down the rawhide in small increments. Unfortunately, when rawhide gets wet, it slowly regains its original size, making it hard to digest. Sheenam Hooda writing for the National Library of Medicine, led a study that included healthy female dogs given an ordinary diet and a rawhide chew. The study shows that the total gastric digestibility of these chews increased with time, but at a slow pace.
The research team found that rawhide treats were only 8% digested at 6 hours and 42% digested at 18 and 24 hours. This compares poorly to other chewable treats which were 55% digested at six hours, 76% digested at 18 hours, and 86% digested at 24 hours. The researchers conclude that the much slower digestion of rawhide treats and their general connection with GI obstruction incidents, suggests these chews are less safe than others.
All chews should be offered in moderation, as any chew can result in a GI obstruction. This is balanced by their teeth cleaning advantages. Dogs who wolf down chews without adequate chewing should be offered different treats in general.
S. Hooda et al., 2012. In vitro digestibility of expanded pork skin and rawhide chews and digestion and metabolic characteristics of expanded pork skin chews in healthy adult dogs. J Anim Sci online October 2012. Volume 90, Issue 12. Pages 4355–4361.