To Chew Or Not To Chew? – The Great Rawhide Debate

With pretty much every family I meet that wants help with their dog, at some point I ask “Do you ever give your dog rawhides?”

I ask for any of a variety of reasons.

First of all chewing can keep a dog’s teeth clean, prevent decay and infection, and help cure bad breath. Rawhides exercise the jaws and can physically exhaust a pent-up dog, leaving him tired and happy. They provide a release of the canine urge to chew, rip, and destroy, that otherwise will surely be taken out on nearby shoes or (for some reason it seems) your most cherished possessions. Most dogs find chewing rawhides mentally stimulating, exhausting, and satisfying. Rawhides can be used to help prevent or cure boredom, hyperactivity, separation anxiety, and even exhibition of prey drive and resource guarding. And they can act as some of the most lasting and impactful rewards for good behavior, useful in obedience training of any sort.

Here are some of the most common answers I get to the question “Do you use rawhides?”:

 “There’s always food in his bowl.”

“We give him treats all the time.” 

“He has a million toys to play with.”

“Sometimes he chews his Kong.”

 “He destroys them in seconds.”

“We tried, but he doesn’t like them.” 

“I thought they’re dangerous!”

“Our veterinarian told us not to.” 

Rawhides are certainly not right for every dog in every situation, so I want to clear up what I see as some confusions and say my opinion about the rest.

Why do these always remind me of those
valentine hearts that say “Be Mine”?

First of all, FOOD is sustenance, for nourishment – nutrients, protein, fat, fiber, etc. Though it needs to be chewed, that isn’t its main purpose.

And “treats” serve a different purpose as well:  as I use the word, treats are delicious edible goodies that, thought they might not be as wholly healthy as the dog’s daily food, aren’t designed solely for release of chewing energy.

Not so yummy

The fact that your dog has many toys to play with does not mean he doesn’t crave or need rawhides to chew.

Probably not as enjoyable for Fido

Cloth toys, for one, are fun to throw or chase, and maybe mash on or squeak, but if your dog tries to chew them you’ll be at the store buying new ones in no time. And it can be dangerous to let your dog go to town on these, as the cloth and fiber fillings are usually indigestible.

Ok, now THAT’S a funny toy!

Rubber toys and chews such as Kongs and Nylabones are often recommended as healthy alternatives to rawhides. But you’ll likely find that your dog won’t chew them for nearly as long. First of all most rubber


toys – even the flavored ones – aren’t anywhere near as delicious to Junior as his rawhides. Second of all they’re not as satisfying to chew: most dogs want to wreak a trail of destruction as they chomp, and these things are engineered precisely to be virtually indestructible.

The classic Kong

In addition, every vet or trainer has met dogs who don’t know the word “indestructible”, and who have disintegrated these inedible objects. And that can be very dangerous, as poochie can’t digest rubber or plastic any better than we can.

Delish-filled bone

What about actual, genuine animal bones? We all know chicken bones are deadly because they splinter, but at any pet store you can buy relatively safe bones of other animals. These are tasty and usually do get poochie chomping. The reason these are often stuffed with some sort of delicious marrow-esque treat to lick out, however, is that Rufus probably won’t be able to chew the real bone any more than its indestructible synthetic version. And what’s worse, he can crack his teeth on it while trying. Unlike rawhides, real bones don’t expand and soften when moistened and chewed.

All of which is why rawhides were created – to be chewably tough but not too tough. Rawhide is the inner layer of cow or horse hides, split, washed, dried, and formed into different shapes. It is normally 80-85% protein, 10-12% fiber and moisture, and 1-2% fat. It comes in a variety of forms that run from easily chewed into little bits (better for light chewers and small dogs) to super-tough (suitable for aggressive chewers and bigger dogs).

In order from lightest to toughest, that list goes:

1.  Granulated or extruded rawhide 
Granulated / extruded

2.  Rawhide flips, chips, sticks, and strips
Rawhide sticks
3.  Rolled or knotted rawhide bones

4.  Compressed rawhide

Varieties of compressed rawhides
There are three main dangers or risks associated with rawhides.
Some dogs with sensitive digestive systems are allergic or react negatively to rawhides. It can cause them diarrhea, vomiting, or other illness and can be unpleasant and even life-threatening. 
In my experience, this is very rare; but in addition to testing your dog yourself with small samples of rawhide and seeing how he reacts, you can have your dog allergy-tested by your veterinarian. This is something you should probably do anyway, as many dogs turn out to be allergic to very common food ingredients like chicken and rice.   
Chemical additives:
In the process of splitting, washing, drying, and treating rawhide, sometimes chemicals are used or added in the process. General opinion is that rawhides made in the USA are safer, as chemicals like arsenic, chrome, lead, and mercury have been found in lower-quality rawhides manufactured in other countries. 
You still can’t be as certain with rawhides (or even dog treats) as you can with dog FOOD, since only what’s designated as “food” is governed by the FDA. With health and safety thus in mind, my recommendation is to buy “natural” products as much as possible, for instance those sold by Merrick. (No I’m not a paid spokesperson.)
Choking and blockage:
Dogs can choke when a large foreign object gets stuck in their trachea (windpipe), and they can get sick with diarrhea, vomiting, and life-threatening digestive distress when a blockage occurs in their  gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, or intestines). Small dogs are particularly at risk for these dangers. 
To limit the risk of choking and blockage, try to choose a rawhide that your dog will chew for a long time (not devour instantly or in big gulps) and that he’ll chew down into little pieces before swallowing (not bite off big hard chunks). The longer he chews, the wetter and more digestible the rawhide becomes; and the smaller the pieces, the less chance of choking or blockage. 
Also, know your dog. When you first try a new kind of rawhide, be there to watch and supervise from start to finish. Only leave your dog chewing a rawhide unsupervised if you know him and his tendencies very, very well. Separate your dog from other pets so he or she can relax while chewing, especially if Rover is very territorial around food. And each time, wait a day to see how your dog’s intestinal system responds.
Finally, pick up the rawhide when he gets near the very end, so he won’t swallow the final big chunk all at once. I recommend that when you do that, you substitute a delicious treat in its place…well, because I’m a softie, but also it should keep him from wanting to scarf it down quicker and quicker once he learns it’ll be taken away.
No treats, toys, or chews are entirely safe for every dog. With that in mind, every individual should weigh the benefits against the risks in his or her own particular case. For instance, if you give your little Pomeranian Kiki a 12-lb. knotted rawhide bone, she’ll never even get her mouth around it enough to start chewing. Granted, she won’t choke. But neither will she get to enjoy it very much; it won’t tire her out, won’t keep her busy while you’re gone, and so forth.
I am also a big fan of natural animal chews that aren’t officially rawhides – for instance “Wishbones” (those are the Achilles tendon)
“Texas Toothpicks” (tails)
and “Bully Sticks” (um…I won’t say what part of the cow this is).
Bully Sticks
These are all delicious (so Spot tells me), they usually take a decently long time to chew, and they’re “all natural”. 
They’ll also help you keep your wallet nice and slim, believe me.
I’ll end with two especially well-rounded and informative links that I’ve found on the matter:

Remember, a dog needs to be psychologically healthy as well as physically.
Happy chewing!


  1. May 21 at 1:03 AM - Reply

    I’m all for marrow bones. They don’t splinter and provide hours of entertainment. Best part is us humans get to enjoy them first. Just about every restaurant that serves them will pack them up in a doggy bag for you.

  2. Anthony May 21 at 8:54 PM - Reply

    Great tip, thanks!

  3. Cody Ozz July 20 at 5:44 PM - Reply

    Hey thanks for sharing the link to this article yesterday on twitter. I really appreciate the content this article and the balance of the arguments. I will share this post with my peeps on our Twitter/FB networks! Have a great day and let me know if there is anything else you would like me to share with my dog peeps at Camp Bow Wow. 🙂

  4. David May 8 at 11:40 AM - Reply

    The problem with my dog is that she won’t chew bones. For the amount of time I had her she has only chewed two bones out of the bunch I have given her. She has developed the habit of hiding them where we will find them like in our beds under some blankets. And now her teeth are suffering from it even though brush them regularly more than twice a week. So if you have any ideas to fix this please help.

    • Anthony May 9 at 10:18 AM - Reply

      You can’t really make a dog like chewing, if they aren’t a chewer. Any more than you can make them love “fetch” “tug” or any other kind of play. Try more delicious teeth-cleaners like “Greenies” . . . or really, if you’re brushing twice a week that should be way better than the average dog-breath! 🙂

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