There are a lot of people who will tell you that it's not safe to give your dogs rawhide chews. They say that rawhide is too difficult to digest, that it will splinter during chewing and digestion, or that they're just plain bad for dogs. Like other areas in the pet nutrition world, it's a swamp of misinformation out there. So let me tell you some of what I understand about rawhide chews. (My sources are listed at the end of this blog post for your reference.)
Rawhides are the byproduct of slaughtering livestock, whether it be pigs, cows or horses. The term hide refers to the outer layer of skin on any hoofed creature; this skin is split into two layers for two separate purposes. The outside layer is what we think of as leather, the thick part where the hair grows. The inner layer is softer, and is destined to become rawhide. The animal hides are transported from wherever the animals are slaughtered to the rawhide facilities, where they are cleaned (sometimes with chemicals and bleach), shaped, and dried. Every step in this process should be taken into consideration when you choose what kind of rawhide you want to purchase. It is the difference between a safe, natural product and a great risk for your pet.
Let's start with cows. Cows are the animal of choice for making rawhide, and should be given the same kind of consideration as if you were choosing the animal for it's meat. Does this farm provide safe conditions for it's livestock? Are the livestock treated with antibiotics, growth hormones, or fed with chemically treated feed? Federal agencies in the United States have yet to publish testing that proves whether or not drugs and antibiotics stay in meat after the animal has died. Even if our cows lived in safe conditions, they can be exposed to dangerous chemicals later in the process. When the inner hide is split from the leather, sometimes processes like sodium sulphur liming are used.
After the hides are split, they need to be shipped. If your company buys it's hides from a foreign country (Mexico and China are the big players), they can take up to six weeks to arrive at their destination. By comparison, hides that are from American farms are transported internationally, and arrive at their destination in 3-7 days, ideally in refrigerated trucks. Why refrigerated trucks? Because we are talking about skins that will begin to putrefy and acquire bacteria, mold, and insects if they aren't. It is that important. Hides that are putrefying have to be treated with chemicals and bleach to make them sightly and pliable enough to work into rawhide. As far as I'm concerned, bleaching does not make something sanitary enough to eat. Companies like Wholesome Hide get their hides in 3 days, and give them a gentle rinse in fresh water and only use peroxide to whiten. We will talk more about them later.
And finally, you should consider the way that the hides are "processed". Cheap companies split their hides into two or three layers so that they can get more out of what they buy, giving you a thin rawhide that is crispy. Thin and crispy is bad. If your rawhide is thin, it can break off into shards rather than being slowly softened by your dog's saliva and hours of chewing. These shards are a big concern to people who are anti-rawhide, because they can cut a dog's mouth and esophagus, and make digestion difficult and prone to blockage. Cheap companies also use fillers to supplement their thin rawhides, and these fillers are usually not listed on the packaging. They could be almost anything, and that's just gross. In short, what you want is a thick rawhide product that can be safely chewed down SLOWLY. Always supervise your pet while they chew. Manufacturers recommend that average chewers be allowed to have their rawhide chew for a few hours a day.
Don't be afraid to let your dogs chew rawhide. They are low calorie snacks and provide a good amount of teeth cleaning in addition to brushing. As an educated consumer, you can choose to pay more for an American rawhide company that will produce fresh, safe, and chemical free products instead of thinking that a cheap rawhide is just as good. At Animal Hut we stock Wholesome Hide products and J.J. Fud Inc No-Bull rawhide chews, made in America from American cows. Wholesome Hide's website is listed in the sources below, with a video that they have on how rawhides are made. Thanks for reading!