Conclusion of the article:by Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS

Is Rawhide Digestible?

Short answer: No, rawhide is not digestible.

When your pet chows down on a rawhide chew, they soften and macerate it. When they weaken the main chew sufficiently they pull smalls chunks away, which the dog then invariably swallows as a prize.

Guess what? That chunk is not digestible and travels right through the digestive tract and is passed out in their poop.

Does Rawhide Dissolve in the Stomach?

No, rawhide does not dissolve in the dog’s stomach. In fact, the opposite is true — the rawhide swells up.

Far from being broken down, rawhide forces your dog to pass the pieces they swallow, making for a risk of bowel blockage. This makes it a matter of luck as to whether the dog gets a minor bellyache or a major blockage in their bowel.

This is no small matter. A foreign body lodged in the gut is a very serious, potentially life-threatening problem.

Not only can food not pass along to be digested, but if the rawhide chunk is big enough, it could damage the bowel wall, causing tissue death and serious sepsis.

The symptoms of this include:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Lack of energy
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Death

Early detection gives the dog a fighting chance, but the diagnostic work-up and subsequent surgical removal of the offending object are costly. The surgery is not without risk of serious complications, such as peritonitis.

The Dangers of Rawhide Chews: Choking

This isn’t just a scare story — it happens.

A client of mine, whose beloved dog was the last link to her deceased daughter, lost that priceless pet to a rawhide chew.

This cuddly bear of a dog was found dead in the morning. Overnight, she’d choked on a rawhide bone that was kept in her bed. She must have chewed the treat in the night and tried to swallow the knuckle end.

Tragically, the piece was too big to go down her esophagus, got stuck in her throat and blocked her windpipe. Unable to breathe, the dog asphyxiated and died.

Enough said.

Never leave a dog alone with a rawhide chew.

Tips to Reduce the Dangers of Rawhide Chews

I’m not being a killjoy for the sake of it. Make your own (informed) decision about what’s best for your dog. If you then decide to continue giving rawhide chews to your dog, at least do so as safely as possible:

  • Buy rawhide chews sourced from countries that source goods reliably and have high processing standards.
  • Wash your hands after handling rawhide chews. This is for your own sake, to reduce the risk of picking up a stomach illness — or worse, salmonella or E. coli. This is essential for people on chemotherapy or with weak immune systems.
  • Give the right-sized chew treat for the dog. For example, don’t give a puppy-sized treat to an adult dog — they may just try to swallow it whole.
  • Always supervise the dog while they’re chewing, and remove the treat when you’re not in the room.3
  • Remove the chew and throw it away once it’s small enough for the dog to swallow.

How Long Does Rawhide Take to Digest in a Dog?

Sadly, rawhide has the digestible qualities of shoe leather, which, we’ve agreed, isn’t digestible.

If you would worry that the dog swallowed part of your shoe, then apply the same logic — because rawhide chews aren’t a good idea.

At What Age Can Puppies Have Rawhide?

Yes, chewing is natural behavior, and yes, it’s important to give puppies chews. But rawhide isn’t the answer.

Those young, developing kidneys are especially sensitive, and early exposure to chemicals could potentially damage their development.

Rawhide Alternative

OK, so your dog loves a rawhide chew. Coming in from a long walk for a satisfying chew is what makes their tail wag.

Fair enough. You don’t want to deprive them of a good chew (it is, after all, a natural thing to do). But how about choosing a safer and more wholesome alternative than exposing them to the dangers of rawhide chews?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Vegetables: Crunchy-munchy vegetables such as carrots, green beans, apple or cabbage stalks make for a nutritious chew.
  • Nylabones: These synthetic chew bones are durable and a satisfying chew. They slowly disintegrate into rice-sized pieces that are digestible. However, avoid the dog swallowing one whole (it happens!), and remove the chew before it’s small enough to swallow.
  • Chew toys: There’s a great variety of chew-safe rubber chew toys these days. To make them extra tempting, try smearing the outside with a little peanut butter.
  • Yak chews: These innovative chews are made from yak milk, making them both safe and delicious. But the same rules apply: Remove small pieces that could be swallowed.
  • Puzzle feeders: The iconic KONG smeared with peanut butter or stuffed with wet food makes for a great chewing experience.
  • Rice chews: Most pet superstores stock a wide range of edible chews made from rice.
  • Dental chews: Again, these are safe as long as large chunks aren’t swallowed whole.

The Hidden Dangers of Popular Alternatives

What, there are no bones on the list of safe chews?

Actually, no.

Whether or not to give bones is a whole different argument — either way, bones don’t make it onto my “safe” list.

Other popular alternatives to rawhide include deer antlers and hooves. However, these have a different set of problems. They can be hugely damaging to the dog’s teeth.

Many veterinary dental specialists are seeing a huge upsurge in dogs needing complex dental extractions because of fractured teeth.

Happy and Healthy

Chewing is a natural activity. Your dog needs a safe outlet to express this behavior or risk them destroying soft furnishings and shoes.

But the emphasis is on “safe.”

Think carefully about how you satisfy your dog’s need to chew so they stay both happy and healthy.

Article published, with references and links at:

Fun Feature Image courtesy of Rochester Canine Academy


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