Right up there with welfare reform and religion, rawhide chew toys are a controversial topic. Some people give their pets rawhide, while others argue rawhides are dangerous. Enlist the expertise of your vet to weigh the pros and cons. He can recommend a certain brand, shape, flavor or product that he considers best for your dog. He might say "no rawhide."
What Rawhide Is
Rawhide is basically dried cow skin, with flavorings and preservatives sometimes added. According to the Whole Dog Journal website, rawhide is considered a byproduct of leather. The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, says rawhide and other chews made from animal materials are food, since pets consume them. Generally speaking, though, regulation is limited so "buyer beware."
Rawhides fill the natural chewing need all dogs have. If you buy rawhides in the shape of toys -- such as balls or shoes --- you can also satisfy the play instinct. Some dogs need to chew more than others; providing rawhides may keep your furniture, your shoes and even your remote control safe. Chewing hard foods like rawhide helps remove plaque and tartar from the teeth.
Rawhide pieces are choking hazards. This is especially true in the case of dogs who chew the rawhides only partially and swallow big chunks of it at once. These big chunks can cause blockage in the intestines, as digestion is slow and the chunks might not move through if they are too big. According to WebMD, such blockages can be serious enough to require surgery. The choking hazard is just as legitimate for rawhide toys as for any other rawhide chew.
Rawhide presents more risks than that of choking. WebMD says two common problems with rawhides are contamination and digestive irritation. While the rawhide itself is a natural product, a number of additives are added during processing. Some of these additives can be toxic and cause allergic reactions in some dogs. On top of that, improper processing presents the risk of salmonella contamination. It's a risk of rawhide bones and toys made in Third World countries, where the process might not be well-regulated.
Alternatives to Rawhide Toys
Non-edible chew toys are available in a number of materials, sizes and types. Rubber is a common alternative to rawhide -- and a great alternative if you have a heavy chewer. Many chew toys come flavored to make them more attractive, even though most of them are not meant to be consumed as rawhide is. In fact, most chew toys are just for chewing, so you should throw them away and replace them once they start to wear down or break apart. Other options to rawhide toys include squeaky toys, tennis balls, rope and other tugging toys and toys you can stuff with treats -- such as Kong-brand toys or similar ones. Edible toys and chews made without rawhide take up plenty of display space at the pet store.