It all depends on whom you’re listening to. The question “how long does rawhide take to digest in dogs?” can give you anything from mild discomfort to full-on mid-life crisis.
On a more serious note though, the pet community seems to be divided on just how digestible rawhide is and whether, therefore, it is safe for dogs to consume.
In this post, as we work to answer the question — “how long does rawhide take to digest in dogs?” we will touch on every important conversation that has been had on this. In the end, it would be left to you to decide whether or not rawhide is something you’re comfortable with your dog chewing and ultimately ingesting.
What Is Rawhide?
Rawhide comes from cows, cattle, and other bovine animals.
You can find them in pet stores around you both online and offline and it can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. From rolls to braids to twists to sticks, these are just some of the shapes that rawhide can come in.
Companies who advertise their rawhide say it’s great for your dog’s teeth and some experts agree too. According to this school of thought, rawhide can help to scrape away plaque and control the buildup of tartar. Additionally, rawhide is said to be great at improving doggie breath not to mention keeping your dog occupied for hours unending.
To learn other ways to keep your dog’s pearly whites in pristine condition, click here to read our article on dog dental care.
Rawhide Digestibility Dogs — One Perspective
Is Rawhide Digestible In Dogs?
According to Dr. Pippa Elliot (BVMS, MRCVS) in her article on Petful.com, rawhide is about as easily digestible as shoe leather which, of course, isn’t very digestible. In fact, she says it swells in the stomach when digested and causes intestinal blockage being that it isn’t digestible.
So, here’s how she describes the process of digesting rawhide in dogs.
When your dog chews a rawhide toy, he softens it by macerating it and mixing it with his saliva. When the hide softens up a little bit, small chunks of the rawhide fall away which your dog then proceeds to swallow.
According to this school of thought, the rawhide does not dissolve and instead gets passed out in his poop.
While in the stomach, rawhide is said to swell up rather than break down. This then has to get forced out through your dog’s rectum which increases your dog’s risk of getting bowel blockage, that is if your dog gets it bad. Hopefully, things don’t get bad, and your dog gets away with a minor stomach upset.
Bowel blockage, on the other hand, is a big deal as it could become life-threatening. It’s not just that food can’t pass. If the offending chunk is large enough, it could even damage the walls of the bowel while your dog tries to pass poop, leading to the death of surrounding tissues as well as sepsis.
Symptoms of this would include continuous vomiting, lethargy and weakness, collapse, and sudden death.
In truth, if the condition is detected on time, your dog might have a fighting chance. However, even the diagnosis and surgical procedure required to restore your dog to health are costly and risky. Sometimes, dogs end up with peritonitis even after a “successful” procedure.
Check out this video where Dr. Campbell makes a list of safe and dangerous pets for dogs. He mentions rawhide as dangerous treat for dogs and explains why too.
How Long Does Rawhide Take To Digest In Dogs?
According to this school of thought, rawhide is just as digestible as shoe leather. So, in summary, rawhide doesn’t get digested in your dog’s gut and you should be about as worried about your dog swallowing rawhide as you’d be if your dog swallowed part of a shoe.
Rawhide Digestibility In Dogs — Another Perspective
First, A Video…
Before we begin, you might want to chew on the information from this video first (no pun intended). It should help put things in perspective as we go on in this section.
Now, The Story… How Long Does Rawhide Take To Digest In Dogs?
Another school of thought on this matter, of which the American Kennel Club is a member, is less alarmed about rawhide and its digestibility in dogs. Although they agree that rawhide isn’t easily digested in dogs and might take longer than normal food, they definitely do not subscribe to the idea that it is not digestible at all.
In this school of thought, how rawhide digests in dogs is dependent on a number of factors and only poses a risk if the dog swallows a huge chunk at a time. Like the first school of thought asserts, the AKC believes that swallowing a huge chunk of rawhide at a time could cause intestinal blockage.
If it, indeed, happens that your dog swallows a huge chunk of rawhide bone, they advise that you manually dislodge the chew before your dog can digest it.
If the dog swallows it, this chunk of rawhide can cause either intestinal or esophageal blockage. But even worse, this chunk would remain in the stomach for months at a time and this would definitely cause grave gastrointestinal issues.
While these are heavy consequences, this school of thought assures dog parents that as long as their dog takes their time to chew the rawhide first before digesting it, they shouldn’t have any gastrointestinal issues.
Plus, they also mention that manufacturers of rawhide, these days, use more digestible ingredients when making their chew toys. Though these chew toys do not last as long as real rawhide, they are a safer alternative as your dog is less likely to come down with any health complication when chewing such.
Here are the factors AKC lists as affecting how your dog digests rawhide.
Factors Affecting Rawhide Digestibility In Dogs
1. Chewing Style
Dogs are different and, therefore, chew differently. You wouldn’t expect a Chi and a Rott, for instance, to chew the same way. The Chi would definitely chew much more daintily than the Rott.
Age also affects chewing styles. Puppies and seniors are generally softer chewers than mature adults. So, you could say that over the course of your dog’s life, his chewing style would be in correspondence to the point he’s at in his life. This, therefore, means that chews considered safe at one point in your dog’s life might not be considered safe at another stage of life.
But back to rawhides.
The way it was intended, rawhides are supposed to be long-lasting chew toys. So, it’s supposed to be that the rawhide only breaks off after a long time of chewing during which the rawhide must have softened and disintegrated into tinier bits.
While this is the ideal situation, we do have aggressive chewers, especially among the larger breeds as we’ve seen. These dogs are able to break the rawhide into large chunks in a few tries. Of course, these chunks can constitute a choking hazard or could even block the intestine.
To prevent this from happening, you are advised to give your dog a rawhide size that’s commensurate to his own size. However, if your dog is a particularly aggressive chewer, then it might be best to avoid them altogether.
Soft chewers, on the other hand, usually do well on rawhide.
Following many articles on websites and journals, dog parents are becoming understandably concerned about the ingredients that go into the manufacturing of not just rawhide but dog foods and treats in general.
When you look at many rawhide chews, you find that the manufacturers advertise them as natural and digestible. Well, true. However, a bigger question than whether or not your rawhide chew is made is where it is made, AKC explains.
If you’re getting rawhides made in America, then you might be safe. Those are usually much safer even though they are generally pricier.
As we saw in the argument of the first school of thought, rawhide is a byproduct of leather manufacture.
In many companies, they simply pick up these hides from the floors of slaughterhouses and then place them in high-salt brines. This helps to slow down the process of decay.
Now, most rawhide chews you find are made in China and before these brined hides get to the tanneries where the final step of manufacturing occurs, it could take weeks, sometimes months.
Upon arrival at the tannery, the hide is then soaked in lime to take out the fat from the skin. Chemical and physical processes take out the hairs. Then they rinse the hide finally.
Sadly, even high-salt brine isn’t enough to prevent decay.
How Long Does Rawhide Take To Digest In Dogs? — Scientific Research
Of course, we can’t share every bit of the research for want of space. However, we will give you the most important aspects of the research as well as the conclusions.
So, in this research, the researchers compared the digestibility of sample products from 6 different classes of dog treats.
The products used for the test were from Hartz Mountain Corporation and the study was also funded by said company.
The second study pit just pork skin against beef rawhide chews to find out how they both digest in dogs. This is going to be our focus today.
For the pork skin, the researchers tested this using the feeding trial method with dogs. However, rawhide was not tested using the feeding trial method and reasons for that weren’t mentioned in their paper.
Here’s a summary of the results.
First, pig ears seemed to digest more easily in the small intestine than in the stomach. So, when swallowed, they appear to pass through the stomach to the small intestine without event but pretty much in the same consistency and size as they entered into the stomach.
On the other hand, rawhide digests very poorly even when it enters the small intestine. Researchers observed that dogs who swallow large risk intestinal blockage.
Next, after 6 hours in the alimentary canal, while pork skin was over half-digested, rawhide had only digested roughly 8%. Note that it takes about 6 hours for a meal to get completely digested in dogs (Click here to read our article: how long does it take for a dog to digest food? )
In the end, it took about 24 hours for rawhide to digest up to 85% while pork skin was already 100% digested at the 24-hour mark.
Finally, researchers observed that when dogs ate one pork skin chew alongside their regular diet, overall digestibility improved. Sadly, same could not be said of rawhide.
Why Rawhide Might Be Dangerous For Your Dog
1. It Constitutes A Choking Hazard
The story is told of a dog owner who lost her dog to a rawhide chew toy. The most painful part of this story, however, is that this dog was her last link to her daughter who had died.
So, she comes out in the morning to find her beloved dog dead. How?
Well, apparently, there was a rawhide chew toy kept in her bed. This particular night, the poor dog decides to chew on it (probably like she always did) only that this time she chokes on it.
From what the vets say, the dog must have tried to swallow the knuckle end of the bone but unfortunately, it was too big and won’t go down.
So, you guessed it, the piece got lodged in the throat, blocking her windpipe and cutting off her air supply.
Since she couldn’t breathe, the dog died from asphyxiation not too long after.
Yeah. super sad story.
2. Many Are Made Using Dubious Means
Many rawhides, especially those from China, are made using toxic chemicals as we explained earlier.
One time, jerky treats from said country were observed to have some links to Fanconi syndrome in pets — a fatal kidney condition. This would cause anyone to worry about the overall quality and safety standards over there.
Another worrying statistic is that between 2008 and 2011, a space of 3 years, the FDA recalled rawhide chews from different companies 6 times for salmonella contamination.
This time, the problem is not limited to your dog alone as you could also come down with salmonella infection.
This becomes especially serious if the person affected is a child, an elderly person or someone with a weak immune system.
3. Rawhide Is Composed Of Collagen
Collagen is a structural protein and is also a primary component of most connective tissues in the body. It’s not only found in rawhide, it’s also found in pigskin, bully sticks and pig ears as well.
However, collagen digestibility varies depending on the product you’re considering as we’ve seen from the results of the research we talked about earlier.
However, highly digestible or not, chews made from collagen are not exactly nutritious treat options. This is because, though they are proteins, the amino acids they contain are mostly the non-essential type which is of no use to your dog.
(To learn about better treats for your dog, click here to read our article on dog treats).
So, even if rawhide contained digestible collagen, it still would be a waste as your dog derives nothing by way of nutrition. Plus, there are better alternatives to rawhide which are digestible and still nutritious.
4. Poor Quality Rawhides Can Affect Your Dog’s Dentition
Rawhides that are dry and thin are bad for your dog’s dentition as they could break your dog’s teeth. If this happens, your dog will end up in severe pain and you’d have to part with a lot of Franklins to get that fixed.
5. Flavored Rawhide Can Cause Intestinal Issues
You might want to avoid flavored rawhide chews as those are known to cause gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea and vomiting. This is especially important if your dog has a sensitive stomach.
Benefits Of Rawhide
With all that’s said, it’s easy to conclude that rawhide is a treat from hell and should never be fed to dogs. All the same, PetMD says that there are still a few benefits of feeding dogs rawhide chews.
Firstly, it helps channel your dog’s instinct to chew more positively. If your dog does not chew on a chew toy, he might chew on something that could bring you tears like your expensive shoe or furniture.
Plus, when chewing, dogs are adequately engaged and stimulated and less likely to develop anxiety.
Another benefit is that chewing is great exercise for your dog’s jaws. So, his jaws are strong but not just that, his teeth are also kept clean and his breath comes out a bit fresher. Yeah, don’t get your hopes up that doggie breath isn’t going anywhere.
Making Rawhide Safer For Your Dog
If you still feel like you want to give your dog a rawhide toy with everything you now know about the chew, you might want the following steps to make rawhide safer for your dog.
- Consult with your vet to confirm just how many rawhide chews your dog can have. Generally, the smaller the dog, the fewer the chews. Also, only give one at a time, especially the first time, after which you want to monitor your dog for symptoms.
- Whenever your dog has to chew, make sure he is alone. If he’s with other pets, he might get excitable and chances that he’d swallow a huge chunk would naturally increase.
- Rawhide chews differ, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your dog till you find the right one. What’s more important is for you to supervise your dog with each treat to be sure that he is taking well to it. If he isn’t, try a different type or a different chew altogether.
- Once your dog has reduced the rawhide to the point that it’s possible to swallow it whole, then it’s time to take it away and give him a different one.
- Make sure you buy your rawhides from safe sources. Preferably, buy made in America rawhide chews only. Although more expensive, these treats are safer for your pet in the long run.
- If you’re not in the room, don’t allow your dog to chew on rawhide.
- Avoid flavored rawhide chews at all costs to prevent your dog from developing sensitivity to the different flavors.
- You want to get rawhide chews that are long and cylindrical as they are generally safer.
- Rinse the chew in water thoroughly first before offering it to your dog. Also, make sure you wash your hands after handling rawhide.
Signs Your Dog Has Swallowed Rawhide And It’s Doing Damage
If your dog has been chewing on rawhide and suddenly begins to show any of the following symptoms, contact your vet immediately.
- Trying to regurgitate the swallowed piece.
- Swallowing repeatedly.
- Diarrhea, bloody or not.
- Any sign of pain.
- Weight loss or loss of appetite.
Alternatives To Rawhide
Here are a few experts recommend.
Nylabones are synthetic chews. They last long like rawhide and are also quite satisfying. Most importantly, when they disintegrate, they do so slowly and into pieces the size of rice grains
However, just like with rawhide, monitor your dog so he doesn’t swallow one whole (it’s not impossible). Also, once the chew is small enough to swallow whole, replace it.
2. Chew Toys
Another option might be to go for chew-safe rubber chews. To make them more appealing, you can smear the outside of the chew with peanut butter.
3. Yak Chews
Yak chews are made from yak milk, so they are safe yet delicious. As with all chews, remove small pieces and ensure that your dog only chews when under your supervision.
4. Puzzle Feeders
Here you’re using good old KONG either stuffed in canned food or smeared with peanut butter. Always makes a great chew.
5. Dental Chews
Another fantastic alternative as long as large chunks are not swallowed whole.
(For more information on safer dog chew alternatives, click here to read our article on dog toys).