Ask The Experts: 7 Safe Rawhide Alternatives


Give that good dog a bone! But wait … what kind?

Sure, the image of a dog happily gnawing on a bright white rawhide bone may pop into your mind. But, by now, many pet parents are well aware of their dangers. These chemical-laden bones are linked to choking, airway obstruction, esophageal blockages, and intestinal blockages (among other things). In fact, my family stopped feeding rawhides about a decade ago when my mother’s toy poodle, Tina, experienced intestinal bleeding as a direct result of rawhide bones.

If your pooch adores chewing then you are likely left asking yourself the oh-so-popular question: “What are a few safe rawhide alternatives?” According to Cayley Bridges, an associate at the specialty pet store PetPeople:

“On average, for every shift that I work, I probably talk to half a dozen people about rawhide alternatives. A lot of people are interested in them, but don’t know where to go.”

I met Cayley during a trip to PetPeople in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was completely blown away by her knowledge of safe dog bones and chews. She’s a total expert! I had the pleasure of interviewing Cayley in hopes of answering some of your burning questions. Here’s what she had to say:


First Things First

The first thing that I like to talk about with customers is size. You want a bone that is size-appropriate for your dog. A general rule — you want to be able to see the chew sticking out of both sides of the dog’s mouth. When you do that, you can be pretty certain that you have a chew that is sized correctly.

Rawhide Alternatives

1. Bully Sticks

My favorite chew to recommend is going to be a bully stick because it’s single ingredient – it’s just beef. So if your dog has a reaction to it then you know exactly what caused the upset stomach.

It’s also softer than some of the other chews out there, so it’s little to no risk of tooth injury.

Depending on where you get them, they’re little to no odor. The odor is going to be caused by the length of the cooking process. So you want to make sure to get bully sticks that say “No Odor” because they’ve been cooked longer.

They come in several different forms. You’ve got your long straight bully sticks, braided bully sticks, rings, and twirly bully sticks for smaller dogs.

2. Antlers

These are one of the better-known chews out there, but it’s important to know that not all antlers are created equally. For example, in my store PetPeople, we sell elk antlers which are a little bit better than deer antlers for the simple fact that they’re less dense. So as far as tooth fractures go, they’re going to be less likely to cause issues.

I also prefer split antlers versus a whole antler because dogs don’t have to gnaw through the harder outer shell of the antler to get to the marrow inside, which is safer for their teeth. I used to use the whole antlers with my golden retriever and he fractured a tooth from one. So I have to be very, very careful what I give him — I learned the hard way.

If you really like the idea of an antler chew, but don’t like how hard they are then you can try a moose antler chew. They are the softest antlers that are available to dogs. They’re just a little bit harder to find.

An interesting tidbit about the antlers: When you’re looking at an antler, if the marrow inside is dark that means it’s fresher. So it hasn’t been sitting on the shelf as long and dogs tend to like those more.

3. Earth Animal No-Hides

These are a really good option for people whose dogs are used to rawhides and looking for something as close to a rawhide as possible. It behaves very similarly to rawhides, they just don’t have the same undigestable skin that a rawhide has. They’re also made in a USDA-approved facility and the factory they’re processed in cannot have any beef hides, pork hides, or anything like that. The No Hides are longer lasting. Made from brown rice flour, they have four protein choices — beef, chicken, salmon, or pork.

4. Himalayan Chews

When you’re talking about a long-lasting chew, you’re going to hear mixed thoughts about Himalayan chews. It takes my Border Collie mix about a week of on/off chewing to consume a Himalayan chew, but I’ve also heard people say their dog eats it within an hour. So it really depends on the dog and how they chew.

I do like them, though, because they’re limited ingredients. Most of the Himalayan chews that I’ve seen have four ingredients, which are cow’s milk, yak’s milk, salt, and lime juice. So there’s not a whole lot in there.

My only concern is they’re pretty hard. I’m not comfortable saying they’re a great chew for every dog. But if your dogs are okay with a slightly harder chew then they’re an option.

5. Ears

These aren’t going to give you the long-lasting effect of a bully stick, but they’re still wonderful chews to give. They have many, many nutritional benefits and promote clean teeth. I personally prefer lamb ears and cow ears over pig ears just because the fat content is lower. For older dogs who are prone to pancreatitis or liver issues, you want to watch that fat content. Also, for little dogs, a whole pig ear is a lot of fat — it can cause diarrhea or an upset stomach.

The ears you’ll find at PetPeople are oven roasted whole ears. They’re not treated with the same chemicals as rawhides and they’re more digestible.

6. Feet

Duck, chicken, and turkey feet are awesome, natural sources of chondroitin. They’re not going to be a lot of fat, like the ears, and they’re high protein.

Again, you want to make sure they’re sized properly. If you have a Saint Bernard, for example, you’ll want to go with a larger turkey foot versus a chicken foot. Poultry feet are generally good chews for a small dog and more of a snack for large dogs. Of course, you want to make sure your dog isn’t going to try to swallow it whole. So watch your dog carefully to see how they’re going to behave with it.

7. Sweet Potato Chews

If you want to go with something that isn’t animal-based then you can try sweet potato chews – they’re going to be either freeze dried or dehydrated. They’re a good alternative for dogs who have protein allergies.

They don’t pose the same risk of tooth fractures as antlers or digestive obstructions like rawhides.

They tend to be pretty long lasting, but it really depends on the individual dog. I know a Labrador who comes into the store and it takes him forever to go through the sweet potato chews. But I also know other dogs who can go through one in less than an hour.


A Little About Cayley

I’m Cayley and I’ve had a passion for all things dog for many years. I currently work at PetPeople, a natural pet store in Charlotte, NC and I’m attending UNCC finishing up my degree in biology. I have two dogs with whom I train and compete with in dog agility. When I’m not learning about animals or taking care of mine, I make dog collars on Etsy at buddyscollars.etsy.com!