Rawhide is sold in just about every pet store – often in many different varieties. It’s a staple in most households with pets. Yet many blogs, organizations, and veterinarians warn that rawhide could not only be dangerous, it could actually be lethal. Here’s what you need to know before you give your dog rawhide.

What is rawhide? According toPet Planet, a franchise that prides itself on being well-versed in canine health, rawhide is the tough inner layer of bull, cow, water buffalo and horse hides. It is essentially a byproduct of the meat industry.

What are the dangers of rawhide? First of all, rawhide is not considered a food item. Thus, it is not covered by any labeling, processing, or content laws, and it may contain chemical preservatives. According to Associated Content, imported rawhide chews often contain toxins including arsenic, lead, titanium oxide, formaldehyde, chromium salts, mercury, cadmium and bromine. Even with the use of these highly questionable preservatives, the FDA reports that Salmonella has been detected in some of the imported chews. In the US and Canada, refrigerated trucks provide safer transport and the hides are generally only treated with hydrogen peroxide and a water rinse.

In addition to the chemical risk, rawhide can swell up to four times its original size in your dog’s stomach and cause life-threatening blockages. And dogs can chew off and swallow large pieces of rawhide which can get stuck in their esophagus, stomach, or intestines. This almost always requires surgical removal. In the terrible light of realizing too late, many dog lovers have postedwarnings and alternatives on their websites, like The Northeastern Boxer Rescue who lost a gorgeous dog named Maxwell because of a blockage caused by a rawhide chew.

The worst tragedies are the ones that can be prevented. If you must give your dog rawhide, make sure it was made in America. Choose one of the higher end brands and make sure it compliments your dog’s proportions and habits. For safety, monitor the chewing. Throw away the small, chewed down pieces.

Alternatives to rawhide: Or better yet, consider alternatives to rawhide like beef chews or rubber toys like the Kong (a delicacy when stuffed with peanut butter) or even the ingenious Antlerz, a chew made of deer antlers. They are long lasting, rich in minerals, and will not splinter during digestion.

Chewing is a very natural behavior for dogs. It helps keep the tartar from collecting on their teeth (preventing periodontal disease and dragon breath) and gives them immense satisfaction. There’s no need to take that away.

Do, however, chewse (you must have seen that coming!) wisely.