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A lurking danger to your pets

From Raw Hides to Rawhide Treats

By Dusti Summerbird-Lockey

I am an Oglala Lakota artist and craftsperson. I have been doing Traditional work such as making rawhide, tanning leather, beadwork and quillwork for over 30 years.  It is because of my knowledge of making rawhide and my deep love for all four legged creatures, most especially my Great Danes, I felt compelled to write this article for you. Hopefully it will help save lives.

We see them in all the pet stores, the grocers, the feed stores. Everywhere. So we assume they are safe for our pets. They must be, they are sold everywhere. Right?

Think again.

 Rawhide treats are a danger to your pets, and to your children if swallowed.

Rawhide is just exactly what it says, a raw dried out animal hide. This includes not only the rawhide bones & chews but also pig ears, pig snouts, bull tails, cow ears, lamb ears, choo-hooves, etc.  The vast majority of rawhide pet treats are not made in the United States. But even those marked “Made in the U.S.” are a hazard.

A piece of rawhide purchased as a treat for your pet is a hide, usually bull, cow or horse obtained from slaughter houses, that has been scraped clean of all vestiges of meat, fat and hair. Rawhide, however, can be made from just about any animal. For Native Americans and early Europeans, it was the sheet metal, nails and binding material of the day.  Rawhide was used to repair items such as horse gear and broken gunstocks. It was used in cabin construction as door hinges, windows and truss bindings and Mandan Indians used rawhide in the construction of their boats. As you can see, rawhide is a very strong, durable, heavy-duty item that does not easily break down

Still want to give it to your pets?

How is it made? Rawhide is made for commercial use from bull, cow and horsehides obtained from slaughterhouses as a byproduct of the meat industry.  The flesh side is scraped clean of all remaining meat, membrane, fat, etc. Traditionally this is done by hand, using a drawknife and scraper. Modern day tanneries use a form of a band saw to speed the process up and make a nice clean piece of leather. Commercial manufacturers of rawhide products have machinery to do this.  Once the flesh side is cleaned, the hair must be removed. There are two traditional ways of doing this. One is to “dry scrape” by hand. This is extremely time consuming, not to mention the amount of good ol’ fashioned elbow grease! Commercial makers of rawhide do not use this method.

The other method is to soak the fleshed hide in either an Ash-Lye solution or a Lime solution. The Ash-Lye involves covering or soaking the hide in a mixture of wood ash and water, which creates Lye. The hide soaks for approximately. 3 days in the Lye solution, then as much of the hair as possible is scraped off. The process is repeated until all hair is removed. 

The Lime solution is the quickest and most often utilized by manufacturers. This utilizes ordinary builders powdered (hydrated) Lime. The hide soaks for 1-3 days and the hair is scraped off. This process is highly caustic but the most efficient for mass production.

To remove all traces of the Lime solution and to sanitize the rawhide product, commercial makers then rinse the hides in a bleach solution before creating whatever shape is to be used. The bone and other shapes used to attract you and your pet are created while the hide is still wet.  The “treats” are then either dried or sent for “smoking” to further entice the unsuspecting owner and pet. A processed rawhide can shrink up to half its original size when dried.

If the chemicals used to make these “treats” haven’t convinced you to stop, please consider this:

When rawhide is again wetted, usually when your pet salivates over this chew you have provided, it will slowly regain its original size. When your pet tears off and swallows a piece, that piece then has the potential to swell inside your dog’s stomach. Your dog’s gastric juices WILL NOT break down the rawhide. Once swollen, the piece then has the potential to cause anything from mild to severe gastric upset, to death.

Been giving rawhide treats for years with no problems?

My friend, you have been extremely lucky. But your luck WILL run out one day.

Are you certain that you want to gamble with your beloved friend’s life?

Don’t believe me?

Take the rawhide challenge. Cut varying sizes from different rawhide products and set them in a bowl of water to soak before going to bed. In the morning you will see the sizes that they have grown to. They will vary, but the increase should be noticeable.

What should you give as a chew treat?

The following products are all digestible and safe for your pets.

Budda Chew Products- all digestible chew bones and treats

Muscle Chews- all digestible, contains no hide product.

Bull Pizzle Chews- all natural alternative to rawhide.

Healthy Edibles- all natural health chews, completely digestible and contain no sugars or fillers. Available at www.drsfostersmith.com

Raw shank or knuckle bones- these should be given only under your supervision and with some knowledge of RAW or BARF feeding methods.  Contact Jacque Jordan at

214 529 8355 for more info on RAW feeding or visit  www.barfdiet.com  to learn more.

Kong rubber products are great chew toys, which can keep dogs very busy, especially when a little peanut butter and dog biscuits are wedged inside for them to work out.

Distributed as a courtesy by Great Dane Angel Network Enterprises, Inc. 

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