Animal nutrition and welfare experts have issued warnings about the risk of rawhide chews for dogs this Christmas, saying the popular treat is a serious “choking hazard” filled with toxic chemicals.
Supermarkets and pet shops are stocking and selling the treats dressed as festive items for the upcoming season.
Vets have urged pet owners to reconsider giving their dogs the products because of the choking risk they carry. Bulldogs and pugs are among the breeds particularly at risk.
Rawhide treats are made from the inner layer of cow or horse hides that are cleaned and pressed into shapes, such as bones with twists on the end.
The products are sold in Coles, Woolworths and Kmart. As Christmas approaches, some retailers have introduced festive-themed chews.
Corey Stefan, dog co-ordinator at Happy Tails Animal Rescue based in Brisbane, said he was aware of three incidents of dogs choking after eating rawhide treats.
“One of the dogs, a shih tzu, was chewing on rawhide and it then caused an obstruction and sadly choked her to death,” Mr Stefan told The New Daily.
In the other two cases, the rawhide had to be wrangled out of the dog’s throat, and in the second, the treat had become lodged, causing internal tears and bleeding.
Mr Stefan also said some rawhide products contained dangerous ingredients.
“The products contain nasty ingredients such as arsenic, formaldehyde and butylated hydroxyanisole – a carcinogen,” he said.
Melbourne veterinarian Dr Bob Cavey reiterated that the products contained toxic ingredients, with many manufactured overseas.
Dr Cavey advised pet owners to supervise their dogs if they fed them rawhide, due to their choking risk.
“When dogs chew on rawhide it becomes soft, chewy and rubbery, leading to the knots becoming undone, which can actually cause a choking hazard,” Dr Cavey told The New Daily.
“Christmas is coming and everyone will be putting them under the tree for their dogs.”
He said breeds such as bulldogs, french bulldogs and pugs especially found the treats hard to chew, presenting the risk they can become lodged in the animal’s throat, causing a blockage.
Dr Melissa Claus, lecturer in small animal emergency and critical care at Murdoch University, said she had seen four cases of dogs choking on rawhide in the past 12 years.
She also reminded pet owners of the risk of dogs choking when chewing on animal bones.
Dr Glen Walker, lecturer in animal nutrition at James Cook University, said the way rawhide treats were preserved made them “extremely tough”.
“The dogs and puppies will chew them up into pieces but once those pieces are swallowed, it can go down without a lot of saliva sometimes, and they don’t break down all that easily,” Dr Walker told The New Daily.
‘Mandatory regulations needed’
Currently, the pet food industry in Australia is self-regulated. The Australian Standards for the manufacturing and marketing of pet food are voluntary.
Dr Cavey said rawhide treats with nasty chemicals were being in sold in Australia because manufacturers were getting away with the fine print.
“Pet food is going through a bit of change and hopefully in the future there will be mandatory regulations. But at the moment anyone can make pet food and sell it. It’s very easy to do,” he said.
The Pet Food Industry Association of Australia has no powers to force manufacturers to comply with standards.
‘Better recall powers’
Choice spokesman Patrick Veyret said the consumer action group was calling for three main improvements: Mandatory standards, an independent regulatory body, and the bolstering of recall powers.
“Our current state with recall powers right now is voluntary and we want to see what happens with the consumption of regular food,” Mr Veyret said.
The decision now rests with Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
A Senate inquiry in October recommended introducing compulsory rules for the standards and labelling of pet food in Australia.
A ministerial spokeswoman said the agriculture senior officials committee had formed a working group, which held its first meeting on December 6, to consider the Senate inquiry recommendations.
The group will report back to the committee within a year.