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What is Rawhide?

What is Rawhide?

Rawhide is one of the most popular and well-known chews for dogs, but it has caused a divide among dog owners. Many claim the dental health and behavioral benefits of giving their dogs rawhide, while others blame the product for a number of illnesses.

Before you can make an informed decision on whether rawhide chews are right for your dog, you first need to understand what rawhide is and how it’s made.

Read on to learn more about rawhide.

If you’re interested in a particular topic, feel free to jump ahead:


What is Rawhide Made Out Of?

Basically, rawhide is made from the skin of animals, typically cattle, buffalo, or pigs. It can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some rawhide also has added flavor to increase its appeal to dogs.

Although rawhide is a single ingredient chew, it has gotten a bit of a bad rap due to the chemicals used in its production.

Since rawhide is generally a by-product of the leather industry, many lower quality producers cut corners, which can result in an unhealthy or even dangerous product. For this reason, it’s important to by rawhide only from reputable manufacturers.


How is Rawhide Made?

Rawhide production techniques vary by country of origin, due to differences in local laws. In the United States, hides are typically collected from the abattoir and shipped to the processing facility in a refrigerated truck. In less developed countries, chemicals are sometimes used for preservation instead.


After the hides arrive at the processing center, they are split into inner and outer layers. The outer layers are used for leather products such as shoes, clothing, and upholstery. The inner layer is used for rawhide chews.

After splitting, the rawhide is then washed with detergents and degreasers to help remove any remaining fat.

A hydrogen peroxide or bleach solution is then used to further wash, whiten, and sanitize the hide.From there, the hides are ready to be dyed, basted with flavor, and molded into bones, rolls, rings, and other popular shapes.

Coloring and Shaping

Once the sheets of whitened hide have been cleaned, they are basted with flavors, smoked, or dyed. Some producers may coat the hides with titanium oxide, which helps to whiten them even more.

After being dyed or flavored, the sheets are then cut to size and shaped. As you may have seen at the pet store, rawhide comes in a number of shapes. Bones, twists, and sticks tend to be the most popular, though simple squares of rawhide are also common.

Some rawhide chews are made from shreds of rawhide, rather than a sheet. These shreds are held together by a collagen-based binding agent or other adhesive so that they can be molded into sticks, patties, and other shapes.


After the sheets of rawhide are molded into the desired shapes, they are sent to the drying room where they are laid out to dry at a specific temperature.

Drying is an essential part of the production process as improperly dried rawhide can decay or encourage bacteria growth. Exposing the rawhide to high temperatures at this stage can also cause it to melt or deform.

Properly dried rawhide will have a nearly unlimited shelf life, provided it is kept away from moisture. Rawhide stored in humid climates may not last as long as it would in dryer areas.

Once the drying stage is completed, the rawhide chews are given a final inspection and are packaged up before they are shipped to retailers across the country, and in some cases, around the world.

Benefits of Rawhide

Chewing is a great way to keep dogs busy and can help dogs coping with stress or boredom. Many dogs resort to chewing inappropriate items such as shoes and furniture, so rawhide can be a less destructive option.

Not all dogs are interested in toys, but most are food driven, so edible chews can give them an outlet to exercise their jaws and appease their appetite.

Long-lasting chews, like rawhide, can be high in calories, but since it takes time and effort to consume those calories, overweight dogs can chew without too much concern.

This is especially important for high energy dogs or those suffering from separation anxiety. Not only is the action of chewing calming, but’s a great way to distract a dog from a stressful situation.

Additionally, chewing is a great way to entertain dogs with mobility problems. Older dogs, or those with physical limitations, can exercise their mind and body without putting too much strain on their bodies.

During the teething stage, typically between four and six months of age, puppies experience a lot of discomfort from their teeth and gums. Chewing can help relieve that soreness and loosen puppy teeth.

Again, giving your puppy a safe chew to focus on will help keep him out of trouble and discourage him from chewing on slippers and electrical cords.

Rawhide can also help prevent the buildup of plaque and tartar. While the dog chews, the rawhide scrapes and rubs the teeth and gums, cleaning them in the process. Remember, cleaner teeth mean fresher breath.

Of course, rawhide isn’t a replacement for regular dental care, but it can be a great addition to your existing doggie dental care routine.

Since rawhide is made from a single protein source, it can be helpful for dogs with food allergies or sensitivities. Since rawhide is typically made from beef or pork, it can be a great option for dogs allergic to other proteins or grains.

Rawhide Risks

Since rawhide is a by-product of the leather industry, not all manufacturers prioritize the safety of their production process and quality of their rawhide. Unscrupulous producers may use toxic chemicals to clean and preserve their rawhide products.

Regulations vary according to country of origin, but some rawhide products have been tested and found to contain trace amounts of dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde.

Though these compounds may only be present in small amounts, they can build up over time and cause serious illness.

Additionally, rawhide that has been improperly dried or stored may contain large amounts of dangerous bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella. Dogs’ digestive systems can typically handle some bacteria in their food, but too many bacteria can cause illness.

Bacteria can also put dog owners at risk, especially if there are any elderly people, children, or immunocompromised people in the home. Safe handling is essential in preventing the potential spread of bacteria.

Although many high-quality rawhide products do not contain dangerous chemicals or bacteria, they can still cause digestive upset in some dogs. Rawhide is not a highly digestible product, and some dogs have more sensitive stomachs than others.

It’s also important for dogs to chew their rawhide treats carefully. Rawhide is meant to be chewed into small pieces before swallowing, but not all dogs are thorough chewers. Some dogs may attempt to swallow large pieces, which can put them at risk of choking.

If the dog manages to swallow large chunks of rawhide, these pieces can wreak havoc in the digestive system and potentially cause a blockage. Intestinal blockages require immediate veterinary care and surgery can be expensive.

Rawhide Safety

When it comes to any chew, supervision is essential. Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, so it’s important to be there to intervene if necessary.

Although many dog owners give their dogs rawhide to entertain them until they return home, it’s best to be present while your dog is chewing so that you can prevent a dangerous situation from developing.

It’s important to know your dog’s chewing style before giving him chews such as rawhide. If he frequently attempts to swallow large pieces of rawhide, you may want to consider other types of chews.

If you’re worried about your dog swallowing chunks of rawhide, be sure to buy larger products and take them away once your dog chews them down. It’s always best to give your dog a chew that’s too big to swallow, rather than one they may try to swallow immediately.

Rawhide is not safe for every dog. Some dogs can go their entire lives without an issue, while others may need rushed to the vet after their first time. The key is to know your dog and his preferred chewing style and provide him with the best type of chew for his unique needs.

Rawhide is not always the best choice for dogs with gastrointestinal disorders or sensitivities. If your dog follows any kind of therapeutic diet, it’s best to ask your vet for advice before giving your dog any rawhide chew.

If you do choose to give your dog rawhide, it’s important to purchase it from reputable sources. Many brands of rawhide are produced in China or South America, where they are not held to the same standards as American products.

American-made rawhide tends to be a bit more expensive than foreign products, but the difference in price is well worth your dog’s safety. It can be difficult to find in some pet stores, but higher quality products are worth the trouble.

Not all foreign-made products are subpar, but it’s important to choose carefully. Companies that use Brazilian beef hides claim that their cattle are grass fed and raised with fewer hormones, pesticides, and medications than their American counterparts.

When feeding your dog rawhide, it’s also important to keep track of how long he’s been working on a single chew.

Many dogs can finish a rawhide chew in a single session, but some may prefer to take their time. Rawhide can collect dirt and bacteria over time, so it’s best to replace your dog’s chew after about 5-7 days.

Finally, when handling any type of animal-based treat or chew, hand washing is crucial, especially if you or any of your family members have a weakened immune system. Although not all high-quality rawhide contains bacteria, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

How to Choose the Best Rawhide Chew

When it comes to rawhide, not all chews are created equally. Rawhide can be a great chew for many dogs, but it’s important to choose wisely to make sure your dog is getting the right product for his unique needs.

Country of Origin

The first factor to consider when shopping for rawhide chews is the product’s country of origin. Rawhide chews made in the USA must be produced in accordance with USDA requirements, so you can be sure that you’re getting a safe chew.

As previously mentioned, chews produced overseas are not made with the same safety guidelines, so it can be difficult to discern whether you’re buying a quality chew. Some rawhide producers use hides from


When shopping for a rawhide chew, it’s important to consider the thickness of the rawhide for two reasons.

First, a thicker piece of rawhide is going to last longer. The more time it takes for your dog to consume a chew, the less time spent on more destructive boredom related behaviors.

For dogs that tend to gulp their chews once they reach a certain size, thicker chews are also preferred. An appropriately sized chew made of thicker rawhide can help discourage a dog from trying to swallow the rawhide whole.

The second reason to consider the thickness of rawhide is also safety based. Some rawhide products are made from thinner pieces of rawhide that may be glued together to create a thicker chew.


Though the size of a rawhide chew rarely reflects its quality, it’s still an important factor to consider for safety. Giving your dog a rawhide chew that’s too small could encourage him to attempt to swallow it, which could put him at risk of choking or developing an intestinal blockage.

In most cases, larger rawhide chews will be more expensive than smaller ones, but if you have a large dog, you’ll need to splurge on the larger product.

A good rule of thumb when deciding which size is best is to choose a chew that’s around twice the size of your dog’s mouth. That size is typically too big to swallow, but not so large that your dog will have trouble chewing it.


For many dogs, texture should also be considered when shopping for chews. For more aggressive chewers, most rawhide chews won’t last long, so pressed rawhide is recommended.

Pressed rawhide is made from thin layers of rawhide compressed together to make a harder, more durable chew. As discussed previously, the layers are most often held together with a collagen-based binding agent.

For more delicate chewers, including small dogs and those with dental issues, a softer product is recommended. Smaller chews made from thinner rawhide will be easier for sensitive dogs to consume as it will soften more quickly with chewing.


Rawhide is a natural product, so color should be considered, especially if your dog has a sensitive digestive system. Extremely white or colorful chews are often bleached or dyed with artificial coloring or chemicals.

Off-white or light tan is the natural color of rawhide after processing, so choose this color if you’re trying to avoid artificial ingredients.


Like people, dogs have different preferences, and some are pickier than others. Many dogs are happy to chew on any piece of rawhide, but others may prefer their rawhide to be flavored a certain way.

Unflavored and undyed products will have the most natural flavor and are appealing to most dogs. However, some manufacturers may choose to smoke or baste their products with flavor to enhance their appeal.

As always, if your dog has a sensitive stomach, it may be best to avoid fancy flavors and colors in favor of a more basic rawhide product.

Rawhide Alternatives

There’s a reason that rawhide is one of the most popular chews for dogs, but it’s not always the right choice for every dog.

Fortunately, there are many healthy and safe alternatives to choose from.

Bully Sticks

Bully sticks are another long-lasting single ingredient chew that have risen in popularity. They have the same great benefits of rawhide with better digestibility. Bully sticks are also available in a range of sizes and thicknesses to accommodate dogs of all sizes and chewing abilities.

Some bully sticks do have a stronger odor, so if you have a sensitive nose, you may want to look for low or no odor bully sticks.

Collagen Sticks

Collagen chews are another great rawhide alternative. Like rawhide, they are made from a layer of skin, but tend to be more digestible. Rawhide is made from the epidermis, while collagen chews are made from the corium.

Unlike rawhide, collagen chews are easily broken down by the digestive system. The resulting peptides and amino acids are then used by the dog’s body to help reduce inflammation, improve skin and coat health, and improve bone and joint health.

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