BARF Diet for Dogs: A Comprehensive Guide
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You’ve probably heard of the BARF diet and maybe even chuckled a bit at the name, but it’s not as odd as the name implies. BARF stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, and its goal is to maximize your pet’s health and longevity and minimize health concerns. Experts explain the pros, cons, and how to feed a BARF diet to your dog.
What Is the BARF Diet?
The BARF diet is a popular type of raw dog food diet, which consists of fresh, uncooked meat, bones, fruits, vegetables, and sometimes herbs, dairy, whole grains, minerals, and supplements.
Raw dog food diets contain more protein than most commercial pet foods. They also skip all the processed meat, produce, and grains common to many commercial dog foods. Going raw can significantly improve your dog’s health, from resolving digestive problems to reducing allergies to helping your pet maintain an ideal weight.
Raw food diets mimic the diet dogs ate in the wild, before becoming domesticated. Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst helped popularize raw pet diets with his 1993 best-selling book Give Your Dog a Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs for a Long Healthy Life. Since then, the diet has steadily gained the support of veterinarians, nutrition experts, and pet owners worldwide.
Types of Raw Food Diets
Dr. Peter Dobias, who has 30 years of veterinary experience and has advocated for raw pet diets since 1995, says there’s no contest between processed dog kibble in a bag and a raw diet that mirrors what dogs’ ancestors ate. He adds, “The closer we get to what canines eat in nature, the better.”
Several varieties of raw food diets exist:
- Raw Meat-based Diets (RMBDs): These diets typically consist of uncooked animal muscle, organs, and bones and can be homemade or commercially prepared. Not all RMBD meals on the market are nutritionally balanced; some require owners to add other food or ingredients.
- The “Prey Model” Diet: This diet replicates what a dog would eat in nature. Owners who adhere to this diet feed their pets entire prey animals, such as rabbits, chickens, and game hens. The idea is that dogs derive all the nutrients they need from prey animals and the food this prey has eaten.
- The BARF Diet: Short for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, this diet adheres to a specific ratio of animal to plant-based ingredients and is nutritionally balanced. If you don’t want to prepare BARF diet meals for your dog, you can purchase commercially prepared meals
Benefits of a BARF Diet for Dogs
Dogs are facultative carnivores, which means they thrive on a carnivorous diet but can subsist on a diet that isn’t meat-based. Raw diets, which tend to include fresh meat and more closely match how dogs fed in the wild, provide a more natural and nutritious way to eat.
Processed, grain-based commercial kibble and canned food, on the other hand, don’t offer nearly the same health benefits as a raw diet. In fact, they can have an adverse effect on your dog’s well-being, Dr. Dobias says.
“From my experience, if people feed a raw diet, they will increase their dog’s lifespan by 25 percent,” Dr. Dobias says. “Generally, raw-fed dogs are so much healthier. The changes are profound.”
The numerous ways a raw diet can improve your dog’s health include the following:
- Eliminate Allergies: A raw diet can help get a dog’s dermatitis and other allergies under control.Dogs who eat a raw food diet tend to have healthier skin and a shinier coat. Hot spots, itchy skin, dry skin, hair loss, and ear problems all can improve with a raw diet.
- Boost Dental Health: Dogs eating raw food also tend to have cleaner teeth, less inflamed gums, and better overall dental health. And less tartar means fewer professional cleanings, which saves owners money.
- Stabilize Weight: A raw diet can help overweight dogs slim down without losing muscle mass and can help them maintain a healthy weight. Diabetes is extremely rare in dogs that eat a raw food diet, Dr. Dobias says.
- Prevent or Eliminate Digestive Problems: Dogs that suffer from constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, and malabsorption may not be eating a balanced diet.Switching to a raw diet not only resolves many digestive problems,but it also results in smaller, less smelly stools.
- Increase Energy Levels: As dogs eating a raw diet start to feel better, you may notice that they have more stamina and appear livelier and more playful.
- Improve Behavior: A raw diet can even help combat stress, anxiety, aggression, and other behavioral and mental health issues in dogs, says Dr. Michael Dym, who practices holistic and integrative veterinary medicine.
“The gut is the biggest window to the rest of the body,” Dr. Dym explains. “Eighty percent of the immune system lives in the gut.” And, he adds, a diet that falls short in nutrition or creates a gut imbalance can lead to all sorts of systemic problems for your dog.
What’s in the BARF Diet for Dogs?
It’s important to get the proportions right when feeding a raw diet so that your dog gets the right blend of nutrients. Typically, raw diets follow this formula:
- 70% uncooked muscle meat
- 10% raw, edible bone
- 5% liver
- 5% other secreting organs
- 10% vegetables and fruit
A raw diet may include these proteins:
- Fresh, raw, high-quality muscle meat, which you can give to dogs right on the bone. Choose lean cuts. Although beef is most common, you also can use turkey, pork, and other meats, depending on what your dog tolerates.
- Organ meats, such as liver and kidney
- Whole or ground raw meat bones (never cooked). Note that ground bones can be easier on a dog’s teeth and digestive tract.
- Some dairy, such as cottage cheese or plain yogurt
- Raw eggs
- Fish, but not more than once a week
A raw diet may include these plant-based foods:
- Vegetables such as broccoli, celery, squash, pumpkin, spinach, leafy greens, and carrots. Steer clear of onions and avocados, which can harm dogs.
- Fruit such as apples, cranberries, and blueberries. Steer clear of raisins and grapes, which can be toxic for dogs.
- Fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, and oregano
Many dogs will likely not need additions to a raw diet. However, occasionally, depending on your pet’s health, you may include these other possible additions:
- Stocks, soups, milk, or water for added moisture
- Some cereal foods, such as barley or flax
- Some supplements for dogs that need additional vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin E, fish oil, zinc, and kelp
Don’t be afraid to vary the proteins and plants you feed your dog on the raw diet, Dr. Dobias advises. He suggests rotating the type of meat fed every four days to mix things up. You also can try feeding your dog more than one meat on the same day.
“Dogs would not be eating one type of protein if they were in nature,” he explains. “They would be eating a variety.”
How to Prepare a BARF Diet for Dogs
Raw food won’t do your dog much good if you don’t prepare it properly. Following are 12 best practices to ensure your pup gets the safest, most nutritious raw diet possible:
- Introduce the diet slowly.
Switching your dog to a raw diet overnight can cause digestive problems. Instead, gradually introduce the raw meat and other ingredients to their diet over time.
- Maintain your dog’s usual feeding schedule.
If you fed your dog once a day before going raw, feed them once daily now. If your dog ate twice a day before the raw diet, stick with that feeding routine.
- Weigh portions.
Healthy adult dogs should eat two to three percent of their body weight in raw food per day (not per meal). You may need to adjust portions slightly if your dog quickly gains or loses too much weight on the raw diet.
- Give whole cuts of meat.
Rather than cutting meat into bite-size pieces, feed your dog larger, whole cuts of meat. Having to rip the meat apart themselves will help your dog keep their teeth clean. However, if you have small breed dogs, cut the food up
- Prepare fruit and vegetables correctly.
Puree, steam, or ferment fresh fruit and vegetables to ensure your dog can adequately absorb their nutrients. Dogs don’t have the necessary teeth, jaw structure, and salivary enzymes to start digesting plant-based food in their mouth like we do.
- Limit fat intake.
Overindulging in fat can be tough on a dog’s digestive system. Stick with lean meats and unprocessed foods as best you can.
- Restrict starch.
A raw diet may include some starchy vegetables and grains, such as potatoes and rice. But starches–and for that matter, carbohydrates–shouldn’t dominate your dog’s diet.
- Remember calcium.
Be sure to include enough sources of calcium in your dog’s diet. Many proteins and vegetables are rich in calcium. You also can include eggshells in your dog’s diet for additional calcium.
- Store correctly.
Keep meats tightly sealed in the freezer until ready to defrost or use. Defrost in small amounts to avoid keeping raw meat in the refrigerator for too long and risking bacteria growth.
- Stick with the diet.
Dr.Dym notes that some dogs’ external symptoms, such as itchy skin and a dull coat, will worsen temporarily on a raw diet before they improve as the dog’s body “detoxes,” and the animal’s overall health improves. To reap the full benefits of the food, give it a chance to work.
- Monitor your dog’s stool.
Small and solid droppings are ideal. Soft stool could indicate you need to adjust the ingredients of your dog’s new diet.
- Consult with a holistic vet.
For best results, work with a holistic vet while transitioning your dog onto a raw diet. Involving a pet is especially important if your dog has a chronic disease, Dr. Dym says.
Is a BARF Diet Risky Business? Not with the Proper Precautions
Pet owners unfamiliar with raw diets may have concerns about their safety. But often these concerns are overblown. With proper precautions, it’s easy to mitigate the risks of feeding your dog a raw diet.
Are Bacteria from Raw Meat Harmful to a Dog?
Worrying about raw meat carrying food-borne illnesses like E. coli and Salmonella is understandable. But dogs have always eaten uncooked animals in the wild without incident.
“Their guts work differently than ours,” Dr. Dym says. “Because of the short transit time and the faster movement of nutrients to the gut of an animal, they aren’t getting an overgrowth of these bacteria or clinical diseases like Salmonella and E. coli.”
The risk of human exposure to food-borne bacteria is also negligible, as long as owners thoroughly wash their hands and kitchenware after storing and preparing raw pet food. We do recommend taking extra caution around puppies, children, and senior pets and people. Dr. Dym cautions, pets or owners taking immunosuppressant drugs, undergoing chemotherapy, or dealing with a weak immune system probably should stay away from the raw diet.
Are there Hazards of Dogs Ingesting Whole Bones?
Worries about dogs choking on a bone, breaking a tooth, or puncturing their intestine or stomach are valid. Cooked bones pose a threat because they can splinter into shards and cause choking or serious damage. That said, when feeding beef bones, stick to ribs, Dr. Dobias advises. Beef shank bones are too large, and pets can crack their teeth on them.
Is there a Potential that BARF Is an Unbalanced Diet for a Dog?
Failing to feed your dog a balanced diet can jeopardize their health over time. But researching what goes into a well-balanced diet for your pet takes time and dedication.That’s where raw food diet companies can help.
“Raw food companies like Darwin’s have done that work for people,” Dr. Dym says. “Their recipes are balanced and complete.” If you do decide to prepare homemade raw meals, first seek the advice of your holistic vet or pet nutritionist.
Adapting a Commercial Diet to Meet the Needs of a BARF Diet
It’s easy to find raw dog food recipes and meal suggestions online and in books. But shopping for safe ingredients, preparing the meals, and ensuring you get the right balance of ingredients and nutrients requires a lot of legwork. Buying a commercial raw diet dramatically simplifies the process.
Several types of raw diets exist. Here’s how they vary:
- Commercial Unprocessed Frozen Options: These diets consist of premade, frozen raw meat. Some pet owners prefer the convenience of this option. Buy the frozen food from a specialty pet store, defrost, and serve.
- Commercially Processed Frozen Diets: These raw meals often consist of a premade frozen meat patty that contains all the ingredients and nutrients a dog need. Because you store these meals in a freezer, they shouldn’t require preservatives.
- Commercially Processed Freeze-dried Diets: This type of raw food doesn’t require refrigeration, and you can store it longer than traditional kibble. These diets make a great feeding option when traveling with your pet or leaving them at home with a sitter who prefers easier meal prep.
- Combination Diets: These raw meals provide a blend of grains, vegetables, and vitamins. Pet owners then must mix the premade food with raw meat purchased at the grocery store.
- BARF Premium Pet Food: These raw diets eliminate the guesswork and labor for owners. Instead, these premade meals contain the right amount of meat, fruit, vegetables, and bones your dog needs for a balanced, nutritious diet.
Get a BARF Diet Delivered Right to Your Door
Feeding your dog a BARF diet is as easy as getting a delivery of the food at your home. At Darwin’s Natural Pet Products, our number one goal is to help keep your pets healthy and active for as long as possible. We provide a library of articles in the hope of arming consumers with useful information to help their pets. And, primarily, we produce affordable, high-quality raw dog and cat meals which are shipped directly to consumers, so they are as fresh and convenient as possible. Our meals are high in protein, gluten-free, grain-free, and are created to provide complete and balanced nutrition. We encourage you to learn more about our meals for dogs and meals for cats.
Or, if you think you might want to try a trial of Darwin’s at an introductory price, we would love to send you our meals and hear how much your dog or cat loves them.