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Best Rawhide Alternatives: A Complete Guide to Natural Dog Chews Your Pup Will Love

Why is rawhide dangerous? What are the best natural chews to give your dog instead? We've got the complete list of healthy and safe chews your dog will love.
rawhide alternative, dog chewing on bully stick

We all know most dogs just can’t resist the urge to chew – sometimes on anything and everything in sight! 

It’s our job as responsible pet owners to provide our canine companions with safe and healthy options to sink their teeth into. 

In this article, I’ll review why dogs of all ages need to chew,  how to choose the right chews, why rawhide chews are potentially dangerous for dogs, and the best rawhide alternatives to give your pup instead.

Why do dogs need to chew?

Dogs and their ancestors share the basic instinct to chew, so naturally there must be an evolutionary benefit.  

In fact, there are several ways that chewing can improve your dog’s physical and mental health. Providing your dog with appropriate treats to chew on can help to:

  • Reduce plaque build up for cleaner, healthier teeth and gums
  • Build strong jaw and neck muscles
  • Usher your puppy through their teething phase
  • Relieve stress, anxiety, and boredom for dogs of all ages
  • Burn excess energy 
  • Prevent destructive chewing  on inappropriate things such as furniture, shoes, etc.
  • Supplement your dog’s diet with nutrients and essential vitamins and minerals

What to look for when choosing a safe dog chew

Finding the right chew to fit your dog’s personality and taste can take some trial and error, but below are some key factors to guide you when deciding whether a chew is suitable and safe for your dog:

Your dog’s age: Puppies and senior dogs who have more fragile teeth are more likely to require softer chews. 

Your dog’s chewing style: German Shepards will have very different chewing styles from say Yorkshire terriers. You’ll learn over time whether your dog is a light, moderate, or aggressive chewer.

Hardness: Avoid chews that are too hard that can potentially fracture your dog’s teeth (more on that below).

Long-lasting: Some natural treats can withstand many hours of chewing even by aggressive chewers while others can be consumed in a matter of minutes.

Size of the chew relative to your dog: Avoid chews that are small enough to fit entirely inside your dog’s mouth because they can become choking hazards or cause intestinal obstruction if swallowed. 

Ingredients & sourcing: Look for natural chews made from free-range animals that are hormone, antibiotic, and chemical-free. Opt for natural, limited or single ingredient treats that don’t have added coloring, coating, or artificial flavors that could upset your dog’s stomach. 

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The Dangers of rawhide

Rawhide is made by chemically processing the inner layer of skin from animals such as cows. 

The chemicals used to clean and prepare rawhide can be toxic to dogs. Lye, hydrogen peroxide, bleach and artificial dies are just some of the commonly used chemicals that often end up in rawhides… and then in your dog’s stomach. 

Don’t be fooled by the fact that rawhide is made from animal products, it is not digestible

As it’s chewed, rawhide becomes soft and slimy making it easier for dogs to break off larger pieces to swallow. These pieces can cause choking or intestinal obstruction that may require emergency surgery to treat. Yikes!

In order to satisfy your dog’s natural urge to chew but still keep them happy and healthy, opt instead for natural, edible chews that not only avoid the dangers of rawhide but also provide many nutritional benefits.

Best Rawhide Alternatives for Dogs

Bully Sticks

Bully sticks (also known as pizzles) are chews made of a single ingredient: bull penis. 

Yes… you read that correctly. 

They are 100% dried beef muscle. Unlike rawhide, they are not processed with any harmful chemicals, making them a much safer rawhide alternative. This means they are healthy and easily digestible treats for your pup.

A standard 6-inch bully stick contains about 90 calories and is high in protein and low in fat. 

The ends of the stick soften and fray as they are chewed and can act like a toothbrush for added dental benefits.

bully sticks rawhide alternatives for dogs, natural dog chews

Quality bully sticks can be more expensive than other natural chews, but they’re relatively long-lasting and provide up to several weeks of chewing fun for puppies or light to moderate chewers. 

The time it takes a dog to go through a bully stick is of course highly variable and dependent on the dog’s size and chewing power. Some aggressive chewers can consume a standard bully stick in a matter of minutes to hours.

To meet the chewing needs of any dog, bully sticks come in a large variety of lengths and thicknesses. Some are even curled or braided to help them last longer for more aggressive chewers.  

That being said, if a small piece of a bully stick is swallowed whole, it can still be a choking hazard or cause an intestinal obstruction.

It’s essential to closely monitor your dog anytime they’re enjoying a chew. Bully sticks should be taken away and discarded once they get to be small enough to fit entirely in your dog’s mouth.

There are several bully stick holders on the market. These toys secure the bully stick and prevent your pup from swallowing the small leftover end of the treat. My personal favorite is the Bully Buddy by Bow Wow Labs.

Photo courtesy of Bow Wow Labs

While most dogs just can’t resist bully sticks, the same can’t always be said about dog owners. This is often because of one thing – bully sticks stink… literally!

If bully sticks are not cooked for long enough or fully dried out, they can retain some of their natural odors, which unfortunately can resemble that of a dead animal or urine. Not the most pleasant odors to have wafting through your home. 

So what’s a pet owner to do?

Thankfully, many brands offer “odor-free” bully sticks that have been cooked for longer to reduce their moisture content and smell. Of course, these are not truly odorless chews, but they’re more tolerable and a huge improvement over traditional bully sticks.

PROS

  • Dogs love the taste
  • High protein, low fat
  • Comes in many shapes and sizes for every pup
  • Bully stick holders for added safety

Cons

  • Can be expensive
  • Strong odor but odor-free options are available
  • May not be long-lasting for aggressive chewers

Yak Cheese Chews

Yak cheese chews are another popular, long-lasting chew for pretty much any dog.

They are made from simple ingredients: yak or cow’s milk, lime juice, and salt, and contain no artificial flavors, colors, chemicals or preservatives.

The milk is boiled then smoked and dried over several weeks to produce hard, durable chews that are high in protein and low-fat. They are also rich in calcium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. 


yak cheese chew rawhide alternative for dogs

Don’t worry if your pup is lactose intolerant. Because of how they’re processed, these treats contain little or no lactose, making them easy to digest for most dogs.

While nutritious, yak cheese chews are also high in calories. One medium size chew for a 20 to 40 pound dog averages about 350 calories. It is best to give these treats in moderation so as to prevent unhealthy weight gain.    

Treats and chews should not exceed 10% of your dog's daily caloric intake. You should take into account these extra calories and reduce the amount of food you feed your dog accordingly.

Like with other chews, you should take it away once it gets down to a nub that’s small enough to fit in your dog’s mouth. But you don’t have to throw it away!

Small pieces of these cheese chews can double as a delicious puffed treat. Simple soak them in warm water for 5 minutes and then microwave for 45 seconds. Once cooled, you’ll have a tasty, easy-to-chew treat that is perfect as a training reward or snack. 

yak cheese chew puffed treat

While most natural dog chews made from animal products tend to smell, one major benefit of yak cheese chews is that they’re essentially odor-free and won’t create a mess in your home.  

I highly recommend the original Himalayan Dog Chews. This brand sources milk from free-range, grass-fed cows yaks in Nepal. These animals have never been exposed to unnecessary hormones or antibiotics so you can rest assured your pup is getting the highest quality ingredients in their chews.

Yak cheese chew rawhide alternative

PROS

  • Dogs love the taste
  • High protein, low fat
  • Virtually odor-free
  • Long-lasting
  • Doubles as a puffed treat

Cons

  • High in calories

Fish Skin Chews

When it comes to chews, you can’t get much healthier than fish skins. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids which help support your dog’s eye, skin, heart, and brain health.

fish skin chews rawhide alternatives natural dog chews

Commonly used fish for dog chews include cod, salmon, pollack, and wolffish.

The skin (including scales) from these fish are dehydrated and formed into jerky-style treats of all shapes and sizes including cubes, sticks, twists, and braids.


Different types of fish skin chews, rawhide alternatives natural chews for dogs

Before purchasing fish treats, it’s important to find out where and how the fish are sourced. Reputable brands use wild-caught fish and support sustainable fishing practices. For this reason, fish skin chews are often pricier than other natural dog chews. 

They also do not last as long compared to other rawhide alternatives because of their brittle, flakey texture. On the flip side, this also makes them excellent chews for puppies and senior dogs with more fragile teeth.

Not surprisingly, one should be prepared for some fishy odors with fish skin chews.  

They can also be a bit messy and leave crumbs or scales on your floor, but most dogs are more than happy to nibble these little bits up.  

Fish skin chews rawhide alternative

PROS

  • High in omega-3 
  • Easy to digest
  • Dogs love the taste
  • Gentle chews for dogs with brittle teeth

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Not as very long-lasting
  • Can have strong fishy odor
  • Leaves behind crumbs or scales that are messy

Other Meat Chews

There is a large variety of animal products that can be made into single-ingredient, all natural dog chews. 

Most of these rawhide alternatives are widely available online or in most commercial pet stores, but some may be harder to find unless you peruse smaller, boutique specialty dog stores.

Below is a review of the most popular natural meat chews for dogs. 

Warning: the following contains information and images of animal byproducts that may not be suitable for the faint of heart. 

Tendons

Beef tendons are rich in collagen, glucosamine, and chondroitin to support joint health. While they are generally hard, durable chews, they fray and soften as they’re chewed and help brush away plaque from your dog’s teeth. 

Tendons are certainly not limited to beef. Some more exotic options you may find include osterich, bison, and kangaroo.

Beef Trachea & Esophagus

While these sound and look like unusual chews for dogs, dried trachea and esophagus actually have many health benefits. They are made up of mostly cartilage so also supplement your pup with plenty of glucosamine and chondroitin. 

These chews are softer than bully sticks or tendons making them excellent options for puppies and older dogs. 

Pig & Cow Ears

Pig and cow ears contain mostly cartilage and are also great for your dog’s joints.

The high fat content in pig ears can cause digestive upset and diarrhea so these chews should be used with caution if your dog has a sensitive stomach. 

Tripe

Tripe is the stomach lining of any grazing animal. This may not sound appetizing, but tripe makes for very healthy treats for your dog.

These air-dried, twisted treats are easy to chew but not long-lasting. Most dogs and average chewers can consume one in about half an hour.

 

PROS

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin for joints

Cons

  • Harder to find in stores
  • May not be long-lasting for aggressive chewers

Raw Bones

Dog have a natural instinct to gnaw on raw bones. Before processed chews were around, your dog’s ancestors would chew on many kinds of raw bones and reaped all of the health benefits.

Raw Meaty Bones

Raw meaty bones and marrow contain essential minerals such as calcium and phosphorus to help support healthy bones. 

raw meaty bones rawhide alternative

Common bones that can safely be given to your dog include pork or lamb ribs, knuckles, oxtails, rabbit heads, etc.

Be cautious of weight bearing bones (i.e. femurs) from large animals such as cows and bison. They are structurally very dense and too hard, which increases the risk that your dog could fracture a tooth when gnawing them. 

What’s equally important when choosing the right bone for your dog is the size. Bones that are too big can be tough for smaller dogs to tackle. Bones that are too small can be swallowed whole and become lodged in your dog’s throat or intestines causing obstruction.

A good rule of thumb for sizing bones is to pick one that is the same size or larger than your dog's head. This will ensure that it is not too small to be swallowed. Of course, it's always necessary to closely monitor your pup anytime you give them a chew.

A final word of advice: it’s a good idea to let your pup enjoy raw bones outside or on a towel as they can get quite messy. The last thing you want is to end up with bits of raw meat and bone all over your carpet and furniture. 

Chicken & Duck Feet / Turkey Necks

An alternative to raw meaty bones – particularly for smaller dogs – is poultry. 

Poultry bones are smaller and hollow, making them much easier to chew and digest.

Chicken and duck feet are considered delicacies in many parts of the world, so naturally, they also make for delicious chews for our dogs. Turkey necks are also an excellent option.

They can be given raw or dehydrated (but never cooked – more on that later). 

Warning: It should be noted that all raw bones and poultry carries the risk of bacterial contamination. 

Salmonella is a bacterial intestinal infection associated with raw poultry that can lead to diarrhea and sometimes severe illness.

If you plan to give your pup raw or dehydrated meat or poultry, be sure to purchase fresh or frozen products from reputable sources with sanitary processing facilities as this will help to minimize the risk for contamination.

PROS

  • Most natural chew
  • Good source of calcium for healthy bones

Cons

  • Can be very messy 
  • Raw bones can be too hard for smaller / senior dogs
  • Risk for contamination and salmonella

Fruits & Vegetables

A refreshing alternative to all of the animal-based rawhide alternatives for dogs are whole or dehydrated fruits and vegetables. 

Mix up your dog’s routine every once in a while with carrots, apples, or sweet potatoes. 

Whole fruits and vegetables are not only extremely inexpensive and low in calories, they also supplement your dog’s diet with healthy vitamins and antioxidants

They are also a good option for dogs with allergies to protein or certain animal products.

 

PROS

  • Inexpensive
  • Low in calories
  • Rich in vitamins
  • Good for dogs with protein allergies
  • No mess or odors

Cons

  • Not as enticing for most dogs
  • Not long-lasting
  • Low in protein

Dental Chews

Dental chews are flavored treats designed with grooves and ridges to help clean your dog’s teeth as they chew. 

They’re most commonly made from plant-based ingredients with animal byproducts, artificially added meat flavorings, vitamins, and minerals. 

Many of these products are high in carbohydrates and contain corn, wheat, or soy. They are not ideal for dogs with any gluten or soy allergies. 

rawhide alternatives dental chews for dogs

While not the most nutritious or long-lasting treats, dental chews are formulated specifically to be consumed and easily digested making them very safe, clean, and odor free treats for your dog.

PROS

  • Safe, clean, odor free
  • Huge variety of shapes and sizes for every pup

Cons

  • High in carbs, low in protein
  • Can contain corn, wheat, soy so not ideal for dogs with allergies
  • Not long-lasting

Rawhide Alternatives to Avoid

In addition to rawhides, there are several other types of chews that are best avoided (or at least given with extreme caution) if you want to keep your canine companion safe and healthy. 

Below is a list of potentially dangerous dog chews and their associated health hazards.

Cooked Bones

Yes, I just raved about all of the health benefits of raw bones, but cooked bones are a completely different beast.

Bones become more brittle after cooking so they are more likely to break and splinter as your dog chews on them. These splinters can cause serious injury if they puncture your dog’s mouth, gums, esophagus, stomach, or intestines.  

Bone fragments that are swallowed can also cause constipation and intestinal obstruction, which can require costly surgery to treat.

Furthermore, cooking can remove some essential nutrients from bones that make them so healthy in the first place, so you’re getting less benefit with added risk – not ideal. 

Wood & Sticks

Similar to cooked bones, wood chews or sticks can easily splinter and injure your dog’s mouth or digestive tract.

Dogs cannot digest wood, so small pieces that are swallowed can lead to intestinal obstruction.

Furthermore, certain types of wood, such as pine, can be toxic to dogs. If ingested, they can cause upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Antlers, Horns, and Hooves

Antlers, horns, and hooves are popular natural dog chews that are widely available at most pet retailers. 

Unfortunately, they can be much too hard even for the most aggressive chewers. 

Think of it this way: antlers and horns have been evolutionarily designed to withstand the force of another animal’s blows during battle so they can certainly do some damage to your dog’s teeth. 

Dogs can easily chip or fracture a tooth when chewing on antlers, horns, or hooves. This is both a painful experience for your dog and an expensive injury to treat. 

Even split antlers that have been cut in half to expose the softer marrow inside can pose a significant risk for tooth injury.

To determine whether a chew is soft enough to be safe for your dog, use the thumbnail test. If you can't indent the chew with your thumbnail, then it's too hard for your dog's teeth.

Final thoughts

I hope this article has inspired you to introduce your pup to some new, all natural chews. Leave a comment below with recommendations on your dog’s favorite rawhide alternatives!

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All natural chews your dog will love. Best rawhide alternatives.
Safe and healthy all natural dog chews. Best rawhide alternatives for dogs.

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