What are the dangers of rawhide chew sticks?

Updated July 20, 2017

Dogs love rawhides. A toy and a treat wrapped into one, a rawhide chew stick will send any canine into tail-wagging bliss. But the joy that a rawhide chew stick provides to a dog could come to an abrupt end if its owner isn't careful. Serious injury, even death, can be the result of an improperly ingested rawhide treat. In fact, the safety issues surrounding rawhide chew sticks leave pet owners split on whether these treats are worth the risk.

Ingredients (or Lack Thereof) Can Be Deceiving

Rawhide chew sticks are typically made from cured cowhides, but they can also come from other sources like lamb or pig ears, or beef tails. Two types of rawhide exist: naturally cut treats, and cowhides that the manufacturer presses into shapes, like bones or sticks.

Even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers rawhide treats to be food, manufacturers are not required to follow certain regulations if their products are not advertised as having any nutritional value. That means that some rawhide chew stick products may not include any ingredient lists or nutritional values. Chemicals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead have been found in some rawhide products---elements that are dangerous for dogs, and humans, to consume.

Bacterial Potential

The FDA, in the past, has issued recalls of some rawhide products due to potential salmonella contamination. In 2009, the FDA recalled Carolina Prime brand rawhide bones because they contained peanuts that were potentially tainted with salmonella. A year before that, the FDA recalled Hartz Chicken-Basted Rawhide Chips because of a threat of salmonella.

Salmonella can cause serious infection in dogs, which can lead to diarrhoea, loss of appetite, vomiting and even death. Cross-contamination from canine to human exists as well.

Improper Ingestion

Rawhide chew sticks, if the dog consumes them in irregular pieces, can pose dangerous risks to dogs, including death. Pressed pieces of rawhide can expand inside a dog's stomach, where they can sit undigested. Sticks can splinter as a dog chews on it, and small pieces could scrape a dog's insides if the dog swallows them. Larger pieces could be choking hazards or clog a dog's stomach or intestines, which could require surgery.

Veterinarians suggest that rawhide chew sticks be at least 2 inches larger than a dog's mouth so that it can't swallow it. Pet owners should also keep an eye on their dogs as they are enjoying their treat.

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About the Author

Kim Nguyen is a former reporter of "The Associated Press," "The Colorado Springs Gazette" and "Rocky Mountain News." Her coverage included Colorado politics and the statehouse, the Jon Benet murder case and the Ted Haggard scandal. Nguyen grew up in Colorado and is a first-generation Vietnamese American. She makes her home in Denver with her husband Thom and cat Max.