Chews aren’t just a fun treat for your favorite canines, they’re a necessity. Dogs, especially puppies, have an innate need to gnaw and nibble on a regular basis. Chewing strengthens your dog’s jaws and stimulates their minds, while the chomping action naturally prevents plaque and tartar buildup (think Mother Nature’s toothbrush).
For years, rawhides were the go-to dog chew, but pet professionals and owners have become increasingly aware of the health risks posed by these types of treats. We’ll help you get the facts on rawhides and introduce eight rawhide alternatives your pooch can enjoy.
What Is Rawhide Made Of?Rawhide is made from the inner layer of an animal’s hide — skin that’s been dried, treated, and prepared for humans to use — while the outer layer gets turned into goods like leather. Most rawhide chews come from cows (called “beefhide”), but you can also find options made from horses, buffaloes, pigs, deer, and more. The rawhide is pressed into different shapes and sizes, like bones and rolls, and sometimes flavored to become the familiar treats you see at the store.
Are Rawhides Bad For Dogs?Like other kinds of dog chews, rawhides promote dental health, stave off stress and boredom, help with teething pains, and give your dog a positive outlet for chewing so they steer clear of your shoes and chair legs. However, the risks of giving your dog rawhides may outweigh the benefits. According to WebMD for pets, there are some serious health concerns surrounding rawhide ingredients, digestibility, contamination, and overall safety.
Here’s an overview:
- Choking or intestinal blockages: As your dog chomps on rawhides, they become soft and stringy, making it easier to bite off and swallow large chunks. These pieces can get lodged in your dog’s throat or even cause life-threatening intestinal blockages. In some cases, abdominal surgery is needed.
- Digestive problems: Rawhides generally aren’t digestible, which is why swallowing them poses so many problems. Instead of being broken down like other food and treats, they can pass through your dog’s digestive tract in big fragments and last for months, leading to gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, diarrhea, obstructions, and more.
- Potentially harmful chemicals: To make rawhides, U.S. manufacturers use a variety of additives and preservatives. Lime, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and artificial dyes can all show up in rawhide chews. It’s vital to know where the rawhide was made. In some countries, carcinogens like arsenic and formaldehyde are used.
- Contamination: Subpar quality control can lead to bacterial outbreaks of E.coli and salmonella like other animal-based products, threatening both humans and animals.
The Best Rawhide Alternatives That Your Canine Is Sure To LoveIf you’re looking for a safer, healthier alternative for your pup, there are plenty of rawhide-free chews available. We’ll cover eight great options for pets of every age and size.
1) AntlersDeer and elk antlers are fantastic alternatives to rawhides for your pet. They have multiple benefits, like keeping your dog’s teeth clean and fresh and providing the essential nutrients their body needs to thrive. Antlers are chock full of potassium, zinc, calcium, and manganese to promote a healthy lifespan. Best of all, these challenging treats stand up to even the toughest chewers. Add a punch of flavor by soaking (not cooking) the antler in The Honest Kitchen’s Beef Bone Broth.
- Full of calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese
- Durable choice for heavy chewers and powerful breeds
- Can often be purchased in bulk
2) Sweet Potato ChewsSweet potatoes are the ultimate light, nutritious snack for your pup. When cooked properly, they can keep them busy while you bust out a quick load of laundry or wash the dishes. They’re high in fiber and provide many of the nutrients your dog needs to feel their best. When dried out in the oven, the rough edges scrub your buddy’s teeth and massage their gums.
- Easy to make at home
- Fiber and antioxidants support a strong digestive system
- Provides vitamin A, B, C, manganese, and potassium
3) Frozen CarrotsNeed an all-natural chew? Frozen carrots are a sweet, safe alternative to rawhide that dogs go wild for. These veggie sticks are already tough to chew through to begin with, but when you toss them in the freezer for a few hours, they become the perfect long-lasting treat. They’re also low in calories so you don’t have to worry about plumping up your pooch. Switch things up by freezing pumpkin, peanut butter, bananas, meat, and other whole foods.
- Simple DIY dog chew, just pop in the freezer
- Packed with vitamin A and lutein for healthy eyes
- Low-calorie, low-fat snack
4) Raw BonesRaw, uncooked bones can be a fantastic source of minerals and offer a powerful workout for your dog’s jaws. Go with a hip or femur bone from large animals like cows and bison, which are filled with nutritious marrow, for a chew that lasts for hours and hours. Place a towel under your dog as this chew can get messy. Always choose uncooked bones — cooked bones can splinter and perforate your pet’s stomach or intestines and cause severe injury or death.
- Bone marrow contains calcium, phosphorus, and other minerals
- Durable and all-natural
- Great for aggressive chewers
5) Venison EarsMany pet stores have sections filled with ear chews, most of which are pig ears or cow ears. Venison ears, on the other hand, are non-greasy and low in fat but still a tough and tasty treat. They’re perfect for dogs who can’t tolerate snacks from common protein sources like beef, pork, chicken, or fish due to allergies or medical conditions.
- Safe alternative for sensitive stomachs
- Low-fat, low-odor chew
- Don’t break or shatter easily
6) Fish SkinNo hide? No problem. Dried fish skins are a delicious source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help give your pooch their shiny coat. The texture of this single-ingredient snack ranges from crispy and crunchy to chewy and jerky-like, but all fish skin chews provide lean protein. Wolffish, cod, redfish, and salmon are all popular chew options.
- Omega-3s promote healthy skin and coat
- Lean, high-protein snack
- Easy to digest
7) Himalayan ChewsHimalayan chews (also called Himalayan cheese) aren’t always easy to find at the local pet store, but they’re a solid rawhide alternative for dogs with digestive issues. Made of yak and cow milk, along with salt and lime juice for flavor, most dogs have no problem with these in their stomach. They’re tough as most bones and, even if broken, typically aren’t a choking hazard.
- Great choice for sensitive stomachs
- Generally safe to swallow
- Gluten-free and long-lasting
8) Chew ToysWhile the other rawhide alternatives are made to be ripped up, eaten, or eventually retired, chew toys are designed to last. Beyond offering a satisfying chew, they can provide months or even years of entertainment and enrichment. Toys can be used for training, fetching, teething, and digging — without falling apart like the other options in our roundup. Some of our favorites are the KONG toy and Starmark Everlasting Bento Ball and Puzzle Ball.
- Long-lasting and reusable
- Can be filled with tasty treats
- Offers an extra level of mental stimulation