Rawhide: The good, the bad and the ugly
Pet owners are, thankfully, becoming increasingly more concerned about the food and treats they are giving their pets. It’s a topic I spend a large part of everyday discussing and educating owners about.
One name that comes up frequently is rawhide so I thought I would whip through the pros and cons of this popular treat.
Firstly, dogs love them. Why wouldn’t they? It’s made of animal skin (mostly cow but it can be other animals) and soaked for long periods in brine, a high-salt solution. It is then treated with lime to help separate the skin from the fat, and the hair is removed chemically. It’s like doggy pork scratchings – delicious.
Dogs will spend long periods of time chewing rawhide treats, which can promote gum health and reduce tartar build-up but this effect is different for different dogs – for instance a chihuahua will be a much softer chewer than a rottweiler. Puppies will often spend longer chewing than adult dogs as they move through the teething stage. Rawhides can also distract your pup from chewing on less desirable items like your best shoes, or the lounge furniture.
However, there is a really bad side to these tasty treats which I have come across many times during my career. Rawhide is a definite choking hazard. I have seen countless dogs with bits of chews stuck in their teeth, across the roof of their mouth, in their throat and around their noses. These events can range from mildly funny to extremely painful for the animal.
I have also removed many life-threatening pieces of rawhide from dogs stomachs and intestines. Large pieces get broken off and lodge in the digestive tract causing a serious blockage, which can only be removed in surgery.
I can’t count the number of gastrointestinal upsets that have been started with a rawhide treat, as many dogs just can’t handle the high fat and salt content. In severe cases this can lead to pancreatitis, which is very unpleasant for your dog.
And now to the ugly. Some rawhides, depending on where they are made, can contain deadly poisons including arsenic and formaldehyde. You should always take great care to look at where the rawhide originated and make sure it is from a country with high standards of food production. I know of at least one dog who was very nearly fatally poisoned by chewing on rawhide.
Ultimately the choice of treats is yours but it’s important to know what you’re giving your beloved pet. Always check with your vet if you are unsure whether your treats are good for their health. You’ll be surprised at how much damage the wrong treats can cause.
• Lucy Richardson graduated from Edinburgh University in 2005. She started CedarTree Vets in August 2012 with her husband, Mark. They live at the practice with their two children, Ray and Stella, and their dog, two cats and two guinea pigs. Dr Lucy is also the FEI national head veterinarian for Bermuda