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Rawhide vs. Beefhide: Which is the healthier option?

A black and white puppy eating a rawhide bone
(Image credit: Getty)

Rawhide vs. beefhide - is one healthier than the other? If treats and chews form a part of your dog's daily diet, it's a question you may have found yourself pondering. Treats are not subject to the same labeling requirements as pet food, which can make it difficult to determine what ingredients are present in the treats you’re giving your dog. Although many dogs enjoy these types of treats, it’s important to know the risks of rawhide before letting your dog chow down.  To help you choose the best dog treats, we’ve broken down the pros and cons of rawhide vs. beefhide treats for your dog.

What is rawhide?

Rawhide is just what it sounds like: raw animal hide that has been processed into a chew treat for dogs. Many dogs love rawhide, because it’s tasty, long-lasting, and stimulating to chew. Rawhide can be made from the hides of many different animals, but beef, pork, buffalo, and horse hides are the most common. The hide is typically sold in strips or sheets, and treat manufacturers make the rawhide into twists, braids, or other shapes. Flavoring is often added, to make rawhide even more appealing to your dog. Some rawhide products are sold as whole pieces, such as pig ears or bully sticks (beef pizzles).  

Rawhide vs beefhide: What's the difference?

All beefhide products are rawhide, but not all rawhide products are beefhide. Rawhide can be made from any animal hide, or even a combination of hides. Beefhide, on the other hand, is specifically made from cow hides. Rawhides and beefhides are both made in exactly the same way.  

Manufacturers of rawhide chew treats are not required to list the source of the hide on the treat label. Therefore, some pet owners feel more comfortable purchasing beefhide treats so they know exactly what type of hide they are getting. However, it’s important to note that beefhide is a rawhide product, and has all the same pros and cons as any other rawhide treat for dogs.

Pros and cons of rawhide products

Many dogs love rawhides. They’re flavorful, satisfy a dog’s natural inclination to chew, and can help alleviate boredom. Rawhides tend to last longer than other treats, so they can be used to keep your dog busy and provide mental stimulation.  Some rawhide treats are treated with enzymes to break down plaque and tartar, which can help improve your dog’s dental health. It’s important to note, however, that this is not a substitute for daily brushing. No treat will be quite as effective as a toothbrush for oral health!

Despite their benefits, rawhide and beefhide treats do have some drawbacks.  Many dogs experience digestive upset, such as vomiting and diarrhea, from eating rawhide treats. Large chunks of treats that are swallowed can pose a choking hazard or obstruct the digestive tract, requiring emergency veterinary care. Hard rawhide chews may cause fractured teeth or damaged enamel, requiring general anesthesia and professional veterinary dentistry to address the problem. Rawhide treats are also a significant source of calories, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Rawhides don’t just pose a risk to dogs, either. Studies have shown that rawhide treats can be contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Clostridium difficile (C. diff).  These pathogens can not only make your dog sick, but they have also been associated with illness in pet owners who were handling the contaminated rawhide treats.  These findings are particularly concerning for households with young, elderly, or immunocompromised family members who may be more susceptible to such infections.

rawhide vs. beefhide

(Image credit: Getty)

My dog got sick from rawhide – What should I do?

If your dog is sick after eating rawhide treats, take away any remaining rawhides and place them out of your dog’s reach.  Most dogs that experience illness after eating rawhide show symptoms of digestive upset such as vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. In most cases, symptoms should resolve within 24-48 hours of stopping the rawhide treats. 

If the symptoms don’t resolve within 24-48 hours, or your dog has other signs (such as lethargy or abdominal pain), it’s time to seek veterinary care. Your veterinarian will perform a full physical examination and may recommend additional testing, such as abdominal radiographs (x-rays) to ensure the rawhide has not caused a bowel obstruction or evaluation of a fecal sample to rule out parasites as the cause for your dog’s symptoms. Your veterinarian may also prescribe medication to treat your dog’s nausea and diarrhea symptomatically. In most cases, your dog will be feeling better within a few days with treatment.

Choosing the best chew treats for your dog

Although rawhides can help keep your dog occupied, they may worsen behavior problems in some dogs. If your dog has shown signs of resource guarding behavior – such as growling, snapping, or trying to keep treats away from other dogs or people – then you will want to limit your dog’s access to long-lasting treats. Instead, give treats that can be immediately consumed so that your dog will not be inclined to guard them.

For dogs that like long-lasting treats but can’t tolerate rawhides, there are a number of other options to satisfy their need for chewing and mental stimulation. Fill a puzzle toy or slow feeder with your dog’s favorite treats or kibble to keep him occupied. Learning how to use kong toys designed to dispense treats are another great option. Some dogs even enjoy crunching on frozen carrots or celery sticks in place of their usual rawhide chews! For dogs that prefer more traditional treats, look for products labeled with the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) seal, which ensures that the treat will prevent plaque and tartar formation. These treats provide dental health benefits in addition to satisfying your dog’s treat cravings.

How often can dogs eat rawhide?

It’s best to limit your dog’s intake of rawhide to no more than a few times per week.  Too much rawhide may give your dog an upset stomach and cause gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence. Save rawhide as a fun treat for your dog.  

Rawhide should only be given under direct supervision, to minimize the risk of choking and other hazards. Take rawhide away from your dog when it becomes small enough for your dog to swallow.  

How much rawhide can I feed my dog?

We’ve all seen the giant rawhide treats at the store, especially around the holidays. If it’s bigger than your dog, it’s too big! On the other hand, a rawhide that is small enough for your dog to swallow is especially dangerous, because this can cause choking or an intestinal obstruction, requiring expensive emergency surgery to fix.  Make sure the rawhide you feed is appropriately sized for your dog.  

Remember, rawhide contains calories and can cause weight gain if fed in large amounts. Treats, table scraps, and chews – including rawhide – should make up no more than 10% of your dog’s daily calorie intake. Any more than this and your dog risks obesity and an unbalanced diet, which can lead to further health problems long term. If you can’t find calorie information on the rawhide packaging, try contacting the manufacturer to find out how many calories there are in each rawhide treat.

Is rawhide bad for dogs?

Many dogs chew rawhide treats throughout their entire lives without a problem, so it’s tough to claim that all rawhide treats are bad for all dogs. However, rawhide and beefhide treats do carry significant risks and it’s important to be aware of the tradeoffs involved in giving your dog rawhide.  

If you decide to feed your dog rawhide or beefhide, make sure you supervise your dog closely to ensure he doesn’t swallow any large pieces.  If your dog develops any health concerns, like digestive upset or dental problems, consult your veterinarian and consider switching to one of the alternative treat options discussed above.  With so many fun and tasty chews and treats on the market, you’re sure to find something your dog will love!

Dr. Elizabeth Racine is a small animal general practice veterinarian covering all things pet health and wellness.  Her special interests include veterinary behavior, nutrition, and internal medicine.  As a freelance writer, Dr. Racine has written content for major companies in the industry such as the American Kennel Club, Merck Animal Health, Bayer PetBasics, Elanco, and CareCredit.  In her free time, Dr. Racine enjoys playing trampoline dodgeball, hiking with her beagle Dasher, and spending time with her three mischievous cats.  Dr. Racine can be found at www.theveterinarywriter.com and at https://www.linkedin.com/in/eracinedvm/