Raw Food for Cats and Dogs
Just as eating habits and diets in people are continually being scrutinized and refined, it should come as no surprise that pet nutrition is subject to its own trends. Many pet owners have at the very least heard mention of the unusual-sounding “B.A.R.F.” diet, but are unsure of what it entails and why one might even be interested in making the switch from commercial pet foods.
What is all the B.A.R.F. hype about anyway?
Strange as it may sound, B.A.R.F. is actually an acronym, standing for “Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods” as well as “Bones and Raw Foods.” It is based on the idea that dogs and cats are naturally carnivores in the wild.
If they succeeded throughout evolutionary history eating carcasses and the like, B.A.R.F.ers claim it is not far-fetched to assume that today’s pets would be healthier if they ate more like their ancestors did.
Followers of the B.A.R.F. ideology believe that raw meat on the bone, as well as raw vegetables, are preferable to processed foods because cooked items lose nutrient and enzyme content. In addition, they want to avoid feeding additives, preservatives, and other ‘unnatural’ chemicals to pets. Some B.A.R.F.-based diets advocate the use of supplements to round out pets’ nutrition, while others shun supplemental foods or product altogether, maintaining that a proper B.A.R.F. diet should be nutritionally complete on its own merits.
What do most B.A.R.F. diets entail?
Protein figures prominently into these diets, in the form of raw meat (chicken, beef, pork, or lamb), preferably still on the bone. Therefore, owners feed their dogs either patties of meat or carcass-like parts such a chicken necks. Organ meat may also be included in these diets. Liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines, and intestinal contents are mentioned in many B.A.R.F. diets, since they as thought to simulate the diet of wild dogs and cats, adapted to feed on entire carcasses of their prey. Whole vegetables and even fruits are part of these diets as well, often in the form of a mash or pulp to increase digestibility. A notable exclusion from the B.A.R.F. regime is grain and grain products. Most followers see grain as a modern, and therefore biologically inappropriate addition to pets’ diets. The mantra is clear throughout: if their wild ancestors didn’t eat it and yet managed to survive for thousands of years, modern pets shouldn’t it eat either.
What are the benefits of feeding my pet based on the B.A.R.F. philosophy?
There is a lot of work that has yet to be done on the efficacy of B.A.R.F. diets versus commercially made, nutritionally manipulated but complete, pet foods. Scientific evidence that B.A.R.F. diets lead to significantly healthier pets is still in its infancy, and at present, clinical trials with repeatable results are lacking for the most part. This is not to say in any way that B.A.R.F.ers’ claims are invalid; in time, evidence-based medicine may prove very much the opposite. For the time being, however, the benefits are largely anecdotal and theoretical.
According to B.A.R.F. followers, a diet for pets that closely mirrors their natural feeding habits leads to dramatic improvements in dental and gastrointestinal health, immune functioning, muscle condition, and growth and corresponding decreases in degenerative and other diseases. Advocates of B.A.R.F. praise its emphasis on variety, rather than the traditional repetitive bowl of pet chow. Chewing on bones, B.A.R.F.ers say, not only mimics natural behaviour but is a highly effective means of cleaning teeth and stimulating gums.
What are the downsides of feeding my pet a B.A.R.F. diet?
Detractors of B.A.R.F. diets take issue with a number of different facets of the program.
Firstly, there is the issue of meal preparation. Aside from the fact that raw carcass products may be more difficult to procure than a prepackaged bag of kibble, B.A.R.F. meals have the potential to take longer to prepare. Ingredients need to be mixed and menus should ideally be well thought out ahead of time. Raw foods, particularly meats and meat products, cannot be kept for longer than a day or two, and they always have to be refrigerated. Food safety is also a very important concern here. Raw chicken and beef carry an almost inherent risk of Salmonella or E.coli contamination. Handwashing before and after preparing B.A.R.F. meals is of the utmost importance in keeping the human members of your family free of food-poisoning bugs. Questions have been raised as to the wisdom of feeding pets raw foods for the same reasons. Cooking may destroy some of the nutrient content of certain foods, but it also kills of potentially harmful bacterial loads. This trade-off needs to be considered by pet owners.
Another concern with B.A.R.F. diets centers on the fact that carcass-based meals may be more likely to physically damage the gastrointestinal tract than traditional pet chow. Bones, especially chicken bones, have the potential to sliver and poke through the esophagus, stomach, or intestines, causing serious problems, often requiring hospitalization and surgery to fix. Choking may also be encountered if bones become lodged in the throat.
Yet another issue with B.A.R.F. has to do with its emphasis on variety and its avoidance of commercially made foods. Whereas pet foods’ nutritional content is increasingly well-characterized and therefore consistent if fed on a daily basis, B.A.R.F. diets trade consistency for variety. B.A.R.F. diets feature different arrays of nutrients, vitamins, and mineral with each meal, which on the surface seems like a good idea. However, without a way of being able to quantify the nutritional content of each B.A.R.F. meal (particularly if it is homemade), it becomes difficult to say for certain that the dietary requirements of the pets are being met. Dogs and cats do not have uniform dietary requirements throughout their lives. Young puppies have different needs than pregnant bitches, and diabetic cats have different needs than otherwise healthy, middle-aged ones. Knowing a food’s specific nutritional make-up is often an important first step in matching it to a pet’s particular needs. Otherwise, disastrous effects can result. For example, many pet owners are surprised to hear than excess calcium and vitamin C given to puppies can cause serious growth defects, especially in large breed dogs. Until chicken necks come with the same nutritional details as commercial kibble, this concern is likely to persist.
So what’s the verdict?
What you choose to feed your pet is becoming as personal a decision as what you choose to feed yourself. Pet owners intrigued by the B.A.R.F. philosophy are encouraged to seek out more information from other pet owners, as well as from their veterinarian. The B.A.R.F. diet may not be appropriate for all ages of animals, and certain disease conditions, such as kidney problems, make B.A.R.F. a less than ideal choice for your pet. If preservatives and additives are your primary concern, check with your local pet food supplier or vet about your options. Whatever you decide, commend yourself on taking a proactive, thoughtful approach to caring for your pet…your pet would thank you if he could!
There is a lot more information available on this topic located in the Dog and cat food forum on Pets.ca http://www.pets.ca/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=53
One thread (of many) on that topic from that forum is located here:
A recipe on how to make your own dog food is located here:
An article on dog bones is located here:
By Rebecca Greenstein – Pets.ca writer