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5 rawhide alternatives for dogs with pros and cons

rawhide alternatives for dogs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Most dogs love to chew. Although rawhide chews are a traditional choice, they do come with some health risks so you might also like to consider rawhide alternatives for dogs. We’ve put together our guide to what’s available, along with all the pros and cons.

Chewing is completely normal and both wild and domestic dogs spend hours gnawing. This helps to keep teeth clean and jaws strong. The act of chewing provides stimulation and can also help relieve anxiety.

Young dogs and puppies, in particular, love to chew while they’re teething as it helps them manage the pain of inflamed gums. As you may know to your cost, dogs (especially puppies) can sometimes chew on inappropriate objects ranging from furniture legs to shoes! 

It’s important to make sure they have plenty of safe and permitted items to help discourage them from finding alternatives around the house. Just like us, dogs are individuals and finding the best dog chew toy for your own dog might be a matter of trial and error. Here’s what to look for.

1.  Antlers 

Exactly as the name suggests, antlers are pieces of deer or elk antler that have been cleaned and treated to make them into a rawhide alternative for dogs. 

They’re very hard, so can be good for extreme or aggressive chewers as they can last for several months. They’re made of bone and have a slightly rough texture that’s great for cleaning your pooch’s teeth. Antlers for dogs are also a low-calorie option as unlike rawhide they contain no fat. 

On the flip side, because they are so very hard, they can cause dental problems such as broken teeth. If your dog bites off a piece and swallows it, it can cause intestinal blockages or even punctures so it's best to seek an alternative where possible. 

Antlers shouldn’t be given to very young or elderly dogs so they can cause too much pressure on teeth and jaws. 

If you do want to give your dog antlers, make sure you're there to keep an eye on them and that you dispose of the chew if it starts to look like a hazard.

 Big Sky Antler Chew, Large 

100% organic, naturally shed antler collected from the Rocky Mountains. 8 x 1 x 1.25 inches; 3.2 ounces, suitable for large breeds

Reasons to buy: Long lasting, all natural product

Reasons to avoid: May cause damage to teeth or guts if pieces are swallowed

2. Bones 

Bones may sound a tempting rawhide alternative for dogs. After all, they’re 100% natural, can often be obtained cheaply or for free and that’s what dogs would eat in the wild, right? In reality, feeding your dog bones can be a controversial subject. 

Some dogs eat them with no ill effects whatsoever, while others have problems. Small bones such as chicken bones can splinter and cause internal issues. Larger bones such as pig or cow may not splinter in the same way, but if your dog manages to gnaw off a piece and swallow it there’s a chance of a much bigger blockage. 

Raw bones can also be sources of bacteria, while cooked bones are more brittle and likely to splinter. To be on the safe side, many veterinarians don’t advise feeding bones at all and recommend safer alternatives.

Can dogs eat bones

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Beefhide 

Beefhide and rawhide are the same thing, right? Well, not quite. While all beefhide is rawhide, not all rawhide is beefhide. Rawhide can be made from a range of animal skins including horse, buffalo and pig while beefhide is always made from cows. 

Some owners prefer beefhide as they know exactly what their dogs are getting. Beefhide isn’t necessarily any better for your dog, though, and comes with the same pros and cons.

It can cause digestive upsets and vomiting and is also quite fattening – worth bearing in mind if you’re watching your pooch’s weight. Fairly new to the market are fish skin chews, which have advantages over rawhide. The rough texture is a great canine toothbrush, and they’re much easier to digest when swallowed. 

The Honest Kitchen Ocean Chews Fish Skins 

9 inch pressed, dried cod skin, suitable for medium to large breeds. 

Reasons to buy: Easily digestible, medium lasting

Reasons to avoid: Very strong smell

4. Dental chews 

As we’ve already seen, softer chews tend to be safer for your dog. They’re less likely to splinter and are more digestible and less likely to cause damage if they do. There are lots of specialty dog dental chews out there, but make sure you choose one that’s an appropriate size for your pooch. 

As with any chew, keep an eye on your furry friend while he’s chowing down in case he gets a bit over-enthusiastic and accidentally chokes. 

Chews with an irregular shape can be more beneficial in helping to clean your dog’s teeth – there are even some on the market shaped like toothbrushes!  These chews tend not to last as long as they’re softer, so if your dog is an energetic chomper then take a look at our guide to longer-lasting chew toys for more ideas.

Greenies Original Regular Natural Dog Dental Care Chews 

8 inches, suitable for medium breeds. A full range of size options are available.

Reasons to buy: Easily digestible, helps to freshen breath

Reasons to avoid: Not long lasting

5. Chew toys 

As already explained, the act of chewing is beneficial to your dog in itself. It causes the production of saliva, which helps wash bacteria away from the teeth. The repetitive act of chewing also releases serotonin, the so-called ‘happy hormone’, which can help aid stress. As long as he’s getting a healthy and balanced diet, though, your dog doesn’t need any extra nutrients from chewing. 

That means that a chew toy will give him the same benefits as an edible chew, as well as being safer. The downside is some dogs may refuse to engage with anything non-edible. 

If you have a very ‘chewy’ dog from whom no piece of furniture is safe, then a purpose-made chew toy could be the way to go and makes a great alternative to rawhide. Take a look at our guide to the best dog chew toys and choose one that’s appropriate for the size of dog and tough enough to last.

Goughnuts Durable Rubber Toy Dog Chew Toy Ring 

A full range of size options is available for different breeds. Made from high grade rubber.

Reasons to buy: Long lasting, safe, comes with a lifetime replacement guarantee

Reasons to avoid: Pricey