Rawhide and Rawhide Alternatives for Dogs
Chewing is a natural instinct for many dogs, which can result in a lot of damage and frustration for owners. Rawhide chews and alternatives offer solutions that not only save furniture, but also sanity.
Let’s face it: Destructive chewing—the thing that makes table legs, door jambs, shoes or couches fair game—can drive pet owners crazy. Banishment to the backyard isn’t always an effective or desirable solution, and it’s not as if the dog intentionally misbehaved—it just really wanted to chew.
Rawhide chews and alternatives can help curb this unwanted behavior, allowing dogs to satisfy their urge to chew while protecting furniture, relieving anxiety, offering mental stimulation and providing a variety of health benefits.
Rawhide can act as a “natural toothbrush,” preventing tartar and plaque build-up and contributing to overall gum health and better breath, explains Steve Duensing, president of Wholesome Hide, Inc.
Beef hide, in particular, promotes bone health through a high amount of collagen, glucosamine and chondroitin.
At The Source
Pet specialty retailers should be aware of how transparent manufacturers are about where their ingredients are sourced and made.
“A lot of chews today have been sourced from international markets and have been subject to long transportation times with added chemicals and irradiation,” explains Alan Snyder, COO of Diedrich Pet, LLC. The Milwaukee-based company offers chews that are made and sourced in the U.S. and feature just two ingredients—beef and filtered Lake Michigan water.
Wholesome Hide, located in Dolton, Ill., specializes in U.S.-sourced and -made rawhide and collagen-based dog treats. The company makes traditional rawhide rolls and bones using natural processing techniques that eliminate the need for chemicals. It also features a line of bones and rolls utilizing U.S.-sourced pork skin, as well as collagen chews, which are blended with U.S.-sourced vegetables, duck, chicken and pork.
“When pet owners choose a U.S.-made, U.S.-sourced beef hide treat, they’re also assured the products meet basic U.S. quality and sanitation requirements that simply don’t exist in products exported from Mexico, South American, Vietnam and China,” explains Duensing.
Lindsay Tracy, director of product development and new business for Redbarn Pet Products, believes that in addition to responsible sourcing practices, retailers must also be aware of the manufacturing process. Some companies create their products with harsh—even toxic—chemicals and bleaches.
“Manufacturers that can be completely truthful and 100 percent transparent with their sourcing and production processes can help [fight] the misperceptions out there today,” says Snyder. “Pet specialty retailers can address this by doing their due diligence and really vetting the products they’re carrying and by asking the important questions.”
Tracy explains that a common misconception around rawhide chews is that they’re “inherently dangerous” to every dog—a stance that doesn’t take into account the different chewing styles. This “chewing personality” is one of the most important things dog owners must consider. Owners also need to understand that chewing style is likely going to change over time as the dog ages, Tracy adds. She breaks chewers down into three categories:
• Light chewers, or “nibbler” dogs, who aren’t all that interested in chewing. If they are, they do so slowly, savoring the experience.
• Moderate chewers, often the hardest to identify since they may completely “obsess” over a favorite chew and then ignore the next one.
• Power chewers, who have a strong urge to chew anything and everything.
“Rawhide may be suitable for light-to-moderate chewers who will be enticed by the flavor but won’t be able to break it into pieces,” Tracy says. “Power chewers may not wait for the rawhide to soften, turning this long-lasting chew into a quick, not-so-bite-sized snack.”
To combat the risk of choking or blocking, it’s important to make sure that the chew is larger than the dog’s mouth, explains Tracy. She continues that rawhide chews are meant to be long-lasting, breaking down into smaller, softer pieces over time as the dog’s saliva softens it. Power chewers may rapidly break the hide apart, which is where it could get dangerous.
Long Beach, Calif.-based Redbarn offers Puff Braids, a rawhide alternative for light chewers, puppies and seniors, and, for dogs with more force to their chewing, Tripe Twists, an all-natural beef chew sourced from free-range, grass-fed cattle.
Pet specialty retailers should understand that “enormous amounts” of misinformation around rawhide is derived from anecdotal accounts or “highly-edited and cherry-picked data from a handful of university studies,” explains Duensing. He claims that most of these studies were paid for by a company that makes a rawhide alternative in an effort to discredit its competitors. Duensing takes particular exception to one oft-quoted study questioning the digestibility of rawhide chews.
“This showed that one type of highly-processed dog chew is much more digestible than rawhide chews,” he says. “Reading the actual study results shows that almost all categories of commercially available treats, with the exception of cooked bones, had high levels of digestibility. This includes rawhide chews, which were comparable to biscuits.”
Additionally, Duensing continues, a Harvard Medical School study demonstrated that rawhide chews were able to clean a dog’s teeth better than any of the treats tested.
Retailers can counter this bad press by working closely with their trusted suppliers to educate pet owners about all the positives that come along with rawhide and rawhide alternatives. To that end, Duensing advises manufacturers to ensure their retail partners are knowledgeable about the various studies that demonstrate the safety and benefits of these chews, and to be sure they know exactly how they products are made and what they’re made of.
“Pet retailers need to be aware that surprisingly enough, dog chews are generally categorized as a ‘pet toy’ by U.S. regulators and, as such, are not considered a consumable product,” explains Duensing. “Therefore, they’re not subject to much regulation at all. Consequently, retailers need to be wary of claims made by manufacturers.”
Consumers are more educated than ever about brands and those they can trust, says Ahdee Abramson, founder/CEO of North Hollywood, Calif.-based Pet ‘n Shape, Pet Ventures, Inc., manufacturers of a wide variety of natural treats and chews, including the Pet ‘n Shape Chicken Hide Twists and Long Last Chews.
Abramson explains that every dog is different, making it important for pet specialty retailers to gather information on each specific pet—size, age, breed, activity level, feeding habits and the pet’s level of chewing aggression—so pet and product can be carefully matched.
Customers should be reminded to always monitor and supervise the pet while it is interacting with rawhide and rawhide alternatives, advises Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets. Located in Cranbury, N.J., the company offers a range of products and accessories for dogs and cats, as well as all natural treats.
As for retailing rawhide chews and alternatives, Abbey suggests that since many customers bring their dogs into the stores when they shop, putting these products where the dogs can sniff them out is a smart move. He also recommends in-store education about the heart healthy benefits of lean proteins, as well as implementing training and education programs for store associates, which is especially important in addressing some of the concerns around rawhide products.
A “huge selling point” is product simplicity and responsible manufacturing, says Snyder.
“The pet industry is seeing a smarter, more knowledgeable and thorough consumer these days,” he explains. “They want to know what the product is, where it came from, what the ingredients are and, ultimately, is it safe for my best friend?” PB