RAWHIDE - A NO NO!
- Most people are surprised to learn that rawhide is a by-product of the leather industry, not the beef industry. It might seem logical that, in a beef-producing and beef-eating country like the United States, we’d be practically rolling in rawhide for dogs; in fact, there is currently a glut of beef hides produced here. But U.S. produced rawhide is in very short supply. How can this be? As I said before rawhide is a by-product of the leather industry; its production starts in a tannery and tanneries are rare in the United States today. One rawhide company representative I interviewed estimated that there are about 30 in the whole country; Mexico, in comparison, may have in excess of 3,000.
- Tanneries use an enormous amount of water -and thereby create an enormous amount of waste water to process beef hides. The cost of all that water, in addition to environmental laws, neighbor complaints, and the relatively higher cost of a relatively unpleasant business have all contributed to today’s shortage of tanneries in this country. According to Cattle Network, an information resource for the cattle industry, the U.S. exports more than $1 billion worth of hides annually to China alone; we are China’s largest source of hides from cattle, sheep, and pigs. Hides from American cattle fetch top dollar; the breeds of cattle here and our seasonally cool climate combine to produce a thick, consistent hide that, in turn, produces top-quality leather.
- Avoid buying chews like these, which were made out of shredded, pressed bits of rawhide bound together with who-knows-what material. Also, these contain artificial colors – a completely unnecessary ingredient in a dog chew.
- Of course, exportation takes time and though the brining process helps slow decay, it can’t prevent it forever. Hides sent to China are typically trucked to ports on the West Coast, where they are packed into containers and loaded onto ships. It may take weeks or months for the hides to reach the tanneries in China and continue the process that turns them into chews for our dogs.
Once at the tannery, the hides are soaked, treated with lime (which helps strip the fat from the hide), de-haired (through physical and a chemical process), and then de-limed (accomplished by numerous water rinses). They are then treated with chemicals that help “puff” the hide, making it easier to split into layers. (“Full-grain” leather is made from unsplit hides.)
Rawhide: The Outer Layer
The outer layer of the hide is further processed into leather goods; car seats, clothing, and so on. The inner layer is the source of rawhide (and collagen, which is made into gelatin, cosmetics, and glue, among other things). Very thick hides may be split into three or more layers (hence the global popularity of thick American cattle hides).
- Truly fresh hides -those that have been iced and refrigerated and delivered to the rawhide manufacturer within a few days of the source animal’s slaughter require far less processing with chemicals than aged (and preserved) hides. “Sanitizing” in this case generally means some time in a bath of hydrogen peroxide. Exported hides require more extensive interventions.
Even though the brining process inhibits decay, it doesn’t arrest it altogether, and most exported rawhides are literally black with rot by the time they arrive at the rawhide processor. That means, at a minimum, they have to be bleached to improve their appearance and aroma; if the decay is advanced, they may also be treated with other chemicals and even painted with a coating of titanium oxide to make them appear white and pretty on the pet store shelves.
- The global recession has slowed the demand for leather luxury goods; even the formerly strong market for leather for car seats has diminished as car sales have dropped to record lows worldwide. As a result, tanneries are buying fewer hides and producing less leather -which means they have less rawhide to sell to the makers of rawhide dog chews. It’s a bit ironic that these manufacturers are now scrambling to secure rawhide, even as containers of cattle hides have begun to accumulate all over the globe.
These rawhide rolls are made with a small sheet of rawhide wrapped around a bunch of chunks and fragments of rawhide. When the outer sheet loosens with the dog’s chewing, the small chunks inside could pose a choking hazard, or even perforate the dog’s esophagus or intestines.
- Most dogs swallow any chunk of rawhide they can chew free, whether it is soft and safe or sharp and dangerous!