A big thank you to BarknBig for guest writing this blog, as part of our monthly Business Partner Program. BarknBig manufactures premium canine treats and chews, and is located in Loveland, CO. They can be reached at Barknbig.com and (970) 663-4561.

As we bond with and care for all of our canine companions, we naturally want to give them the best of everything the best beds, the best toys, the best food, the best treats, and even the best of us. Often, we care for our pets the way we were taught by our parents which can include giving them rawhide. Dogs instinctively need to chew. Puppies chew because, well, they’re puppies but they also use the act of chewing to help incoming teeth break through their gums. Depending on what puppies chew, they can also be establishing good dental health habits. Chew toys help to alleviate boredom and lessen anxiety in both puppies and dogs. Rawhide has been around for a long time. It is relatively inexpensive, it can be found in almost any store or online, and most dogs really like it. We believe, however, that the best chews for puppies and dogs are bones raw or cooked, real beef or bison bones that don’t contain any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Buying U.S. made bones comes with peace of mind because the U.S. FDA highly regulates the pet industry. The delicious taste and hard surface of real bones provides mental stimulation for dogs and is  effective in keeping tartar on dogs’ teeth under control. Does this mean that rawhide products are NOT good for dogs? It depends who you ask. What is rawhide? While rawhide is made from  natural animal parts, the end product is anything but natural. As its name suggests, rawhide comes from the hide of an animal, usually cattle, deer, elk, pigs or bison. Once all the fur, fat and meat have been removed, hides are divided into two layers. The top later is tanned and used to make things like shoes and purses. The inner layer is stretched over a frame where it is dried and becomes translucent…and is ultimately used to form rawhide dog chews. As with natural bones, sometimes rawhide is packaged in its natural flavor. Other times it is basted with any variety of flavor  enhancers: beef or chicken, and even peanut butter. Unlike natural bones that are served as, well, bones, rawhide can be re hydrated and then shaped and formed into a variety of shapes and sizes including braids, jumbo knots, donut shaped rings before being re dried and hardened.

Rawhide: Caveat Emptor

As humans, we know that eating  foods in their natural state is far better than consuming processed imposters: A single ingredient food like a potato is healthier than prepared mashed potatoes. That same thought process applies to dog chews: a single ingredient bone is better than a processed  imposter. But why? It helps to start with some of the benefits of bones and then see how rawhide stacks up.


Bones are naturally hard and they help keep tartar on dogs’ teeth at bay. In addition to being mentally stimulating for dogs, bones are filled with vitamins and minerals that help promote healthy skin and coats. Dogs have different chew strengths and every dog chews their bones differently. The wide variety of natural bones that are available on the market allow pet parents to customize the bones they select for their dogs.


Rawhide, once it’s processed, becomes hardened. In its hardened state, it can help scrape teeth to control tartar. Unfortunately, rawhide easily absorbs liquids and dog saliva and then becomes pliable and gooey. In this softened state, rawhide’s effectiveness in fighting tartar build up is inferior.

There are four primary risks associated with rawhide

  1. Choking
    As with bones, toys, or even off limits items found in most family homes, small pieces of anything can pose a choking hazard. Puppies tend to gulp or inhale things they chew on. Persistent chewers are often successful in breaking off smaller pieces of a larger chew. Rawhide pieces can easily block an airway especially once the rawhide is gooey.
  2. Digestive Problems
    Some say that rawhide is “considered” digestible. That’s not exactly a ‘Yes or ‘No’ to a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question. Because of their training and hands on experience, many veterinarians discourage giving rawhide to dogs because their digestive systems aren’t able to properly digest it. Rawhide doesn’t break down in a dog’s digestive tract which means that every piece they swallow must pass through their system intact If all goes well, it will come out later in roughly the same size and shape that it went in. Small pieces of rawhide can get stuck together and cause a blockage. Large pieces can individually get wedged in a dog’s digestive tract and cause a blockage. If the rawhide is still hardened (with spikey points when it’s swallowed), it can scrape and potentially even puncture the inner layer of the dog’s gut which can lead to irritation, inflammation, and the release of gastric fluids inside your dog’s body. Because rawhide absorbs fluids like dogs’
    saliva or, worse, a lot of water that dogs drink after gnawing on rawhide, there is a tendency for it to swell in their stomachs. Aside from being uncomfortable, this can lead to intestinal
    blocks. Regardless of the new and improved methods of processing rawhide to make it less dangerous for dogs, it’s still rawhide the same material that rehydrates and then expands, poses choking hazards, and leads to digestive problems.
  3. Chemical Contamination
    While it’s true that rawhide itself is a natural product, a number of toxic chemicals in unacceptable levels have been found in rawhide chews. Some of the chemicals are purposefully used to process the rawhide; others are unintentional carryovers from the animals that the rawhide was made from. The toxic chemicals often found in rawhide include: arsenic, mercury, lead, chromium, and formaldehyde.
  4. Bacterial Contamination
    Salmonella and ecoli present some risk to dogs, but they’re actually a greater risk to the humans who handle them, and that risk exists whether the chews are new and still hardened, or gooey from being chewed. Batches of rawhide chews have been recalled because of bacterial contamination.

Rawhide Alternatives

Rawhide packaging often includes terms like ‘natural’ or ‘premium grade’. Regardless of how state of the art a rawhide processing plant is, or the cute shapes and braids that it can be turned into,  at the end of the day, it’s still rawhide. With the increased risk of pain and suffering for our canine companions, combined with the unintended consequences of hefty vet bills that can result from  consuming rawhide, we say “pass”. There are plenty of other canine chew options that don’t contain chemicals so why take the chance? So what can you give your dog instead of rawhide?  Fortunately, there are a lot of rawhide alternatives that your dog will enjoy and you will feel good about giving.

Nature offers some great options! Single ingredient, all natural bones and chews lead the pack. Raw (frozen) bones are especially refreshing on a warm, sunny day. Cooked bones naturally cater to a dog’s palate just be sure to confirm that they are slow roasted to minimize the chance of splintering, and that they don’t contain any added colorings, flavorings, chemicals or preservatives. On  the whole foods front, there are also hooves, ears, antlers, tendons, steer sticks and bully sticks. Natural starches that mimic the look and chewing sensation of rawhide can be found easily, and
synthetic chew toys which can be filled with peanut butter or other canine favorites are now widely available. Braided ropes are fun chew toys and they also help to clean in between dogs’ teeth.
Regardless of which chew options you pick for your dog, be sure to actively supervise them while they’re enjoying their special treat so that you can remove any small pieces that could come loose.  Also, as bones and treats are gnawed down, they eventually become small enough to pose a choking hazard and should be discarded. At BarknBig, we will continue to provide 100% U.S. made,  single ingredient, all natural bones and other chews to our canine customers and let rawhide be better used for saddles and belts.