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Dog Digestion & Rawhide: 7 Signs of Intestinal Blockage

We all know dogs go crazy over rawhide, so they’re a popular treat dog owners buy.

However, a piece of rawhide bone or chunk of rawhide can be a choking hazard in your dog’s throat or cause bowel obstruction in your dog’s intestinal tract and other problems.

Here is important information about dog digestion, 7 signs of intestinal blockage, and good alternatives with safe treats for your canine companions.

Why do dog owners love rawhide?

Rawhide seems to last for a long time for most dogs. Dogs can chew them for hours on end, keeping them busy. They are inexpensive and even seem to help clean their teeth.

However, they are only durable at first. As the dogs chew on the rawhide, it goes from hard and stiff to soft and chewy. It then becomes a hazard for dogs.

What’s wrong with rawhide?

Pet stores sell a huge assortment of dog treats. There’s also a variety of rawhide from rawhide chews to rawhide bones for different sizes of dogs as well as for dainty dogs or chomping canines alike.

But first, it is important to understand how rawhide is made into dog treats. They are in fact products of the leather industry, not the meat industry. That makes all the difference.

Dog rawhide is made by the splitting of cattle hide and the inner portion after the top grain is given to dogs.

But before then, the hides undergo treatment in tanneries with high-salt brines of ash-lye or sodium sulfide liming to delay decay, strip hair and fat, and puff up the hide for splitting into layers.

The inner layer is then washed and whitened with hydrogen peroxide and/or bleach, artistically painted with artificial dyes and flavors, and treated with toxic chemicals and glues to give them a long shelf life.

The hazard for dogs here is low-dose, slow poisoning.

The chemicals used on the hide are FD&C Red 40, a carcinogen; sodium benzoate, a preservative; and toxic chemicals including lead, arsenic, mercury, chromium salts, and formaldehyde.

That’s not all, either. Other hazards for dogs rawhide treats cause are:

  • choking from large large pieces of rawhide in the dog’s mouth, or sharp edges getting stuck in the dog’s teeth
  • intestinal blockage from large chunks in the small bowel or other parts of the digestive tract
  • digestive irritation or gastrointestinal issues
  • food poisoning from bacteria, including salmonella and e. coli
Intestinal blockages in dogs can be deadly

What is intestinal obstruction?

Intestinal obstruction means partial or complete blockage of food and fluid flow through the small bowel.

It’s very painful for dogs and dangerous if left untreated. Dogs cannot easily digest rawhide and since they tend to be indiscriminate eaters, can swallow large chunks whole.

Some dogs are known for swallowing things that cause intestinal obstruction, especially if they are fast eaters or gulp down what they eat.

Items that vets commonly remove from their digestive tracts include:

  • marbles
  • balls
  • underwear
  • tampons
  • buttons
  • stones
  • socks
  • parts of toys
  • coins
  • sticks and bones

Blockages can occur anywhere along the dog’s digestive tract, including the esophagus and stomach. It’s important to recognize such a hazard which can be a common problem in some dogs.

The following are 7 signs to look out for that will tell you it’s the issue, especially in combination.

7 Signs of Intestinal Obstruction

  1. Vomiting
  2. Excessive drooling, burping, swallowing, lip licking or lip smacking
  3. Diarrhea or bloody, tarry stools
  4. Straining during bowel movements or inability to defecate
  5. Lethargy
  6. Loss of appetite
  7. Abdominal pain (praying position)

It takes 10-24 hours for whatever the dog eats to move through his digestive tract. For that reason, intestinal obstruction symptoms typically show up within 24 hours. If the blockage is earlier in the digestive tract, symptoms will show sooner.

Signs of Blockage According to Location


Licking or smacking lips, swallowing, burping, drooling a lot, or regurgitating food shortly after eating. The dog will also panic, paw at his mouth, and be unable to swallow food or water. The vomit is oblong and tubular in shape with large pieces of undigested kibble.


Vomiting a few hours after eating because the pylorus is blocked.

Small intestine

Signs that your dog has a blockage in the small intestine include:

  • Vomiting
    Abdominal pain
  • Distended abdomen
  • Fever

Gas builds up and distends the belly, causing pain, and the dog goes into the praying position where he’s on his elbows in front and standing in the back.

The dog may also experience fever and weight loss, eventually going into shock as the blood supply cuts off and causes tissues to die, perforation of the outer layer of the dog’s stomach, or peritonitis

Near the end of the small bowel:

Vomiting and diarrhea 7-8 hours or more after eating.

Treatment for intestinal obstruction

Dogs paw at their mouths when they have something stuck in their teeth, like a piece of rawhide.

If your dog is choking, you can give care right away by opening his jaws and pressing his lips over his teeth to protect yourself from bites, and remove the rawhide.

Sweep your finger at the back of his throat to feel for any pieces or bones.

If there’s rawhide lodged deep in his throat, do not remove it.

Instead, call the vet or emergency clinic right away. He’ll need to be sedated there to safely remove the rawhide. The vet will give your dog barium and do an endoscopy.

If you can’t see anything in his throat or he is unresponsive or unconscious, do the heimlich maneuver. Never pick up big dogs.

intestinal blockage in dog

The following steps are for large, adult dogs:

For a dog that’s standing you’ll want to put your arms around its belly, join your hands and make a fist to push firmly upwards behind the rib cage, then lay the dog on his side. Check his mouth.

For a dog that’s lying down on his side, put one hand on his back to support it, and with the other, press against the belly upwards and towards the spine.

Check his mouth

Small dogs and puppies need a different heimlich maneuver. For a small dog, lay him on his back and press against his belly upwards and towards the spine.

For a puppy, lay him up with his back against your stomach and put a fist under the soft spot under his ribs to thrust and pull up two or three times.

Safe alternative treats for dogs

Now that you’ve learned about the dangers of rawhide, what edible chews can you give your dog?

Some chew treats boast traditional rawhide made in the USA with digestible ingredients, such as chewable tablets and dried tendons.

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But if you want to totally do away with rawhide, either one of the following is a good alternative:

Dental treats and chews have several different types and brands that are available. Some come in different flavors.

Himalayan/yak chews are all-natural chews made from yak’s milk where a Nepali method makes them thick and hard but yielding. They have no risk of smell, bacteria, digestion issues, or choking.

Antlers come from elk or deer antlers, which have grooves and rounded edges to clean your dog’s teeth. They don’t split or smell much.

Kongs are oblong rubber toys that are indestructible and have a hole to allow you to fill them with treats. Peanut butter is a very popular filling that dogs love and will keep them busy.

Pig ears are made from the dehydrated natural skin and cartilage of pig ears. Some have added flavoring but that’s not necessary, because pig ears are already very flavorful from being naturally high in fat.

Marrow bones can be found at your local butcher or grocery meat counter. Make sure they are raw — never give cooked bones to your dog, because they splinter easily.

Bully sticks are made from bull pizzle, and they don’t have any hazard of choking or digestion issues. The downsides are that they have a risk of bacteria and they are messy, stinky, and high in calories.

Dog chews are an important part of keeping dogs happy and healthy and your belongings safe from damage. Rawhide is popular but the risks to your dog’s life outweigh any benefits.

Even so, there are several good alternatives to suit your dog’s preferences and chewing habits.

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Before you leave, you may want to check out some of these posts:

Are Acorns Poisonous to Dogs? 5 Signs of a Medical Emergency

7 Common Reasons for Nighttime Diarrhea in Puppies

17 Quality Pet Treats for Dogs With Pancreatitis

Why is my Dog’s Stomach Making Noises?


The last thing you want is for your dog to develop a dangerous blockage. Some dogs will chew on rawhide without any trouble. It’s not that rawhide is inherently bad. It’s just risky in some dogs. This post was designed to give you some safety tips while offering better alternatives for your dog.

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