I have to admit that when I first heard about the concept of a raw food diet for dogs, I was more than slightly taken aback. I heard about it while having lunch with some friends when the topic of conversation turned to our pets. One friend mentioned that the latest thing in canine nutrition was the BARF diet. She went on to talk about the best raw food diet for dogs that her veterinarian had recommended, and that she was going to try it.
While I was trying to keep down my forkful of tortellini primavera that I had unfortunately swallowed at the same moment BARF was mentioned, I heard her finish telling us what she knew about this latest trend in pet care. I listened somewhat skeptically and knew I had some serious research ahead of me. I didn’t have far to look.
What is the BARF Diet for Dogs?
B.A.R.F. is actually an acronym that stands for Bones And Raw Food, or more appealingly to us humans, Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. There is a definite movement underway in the dog food world and the raw food diet is it. It is the practice of feeding domestic dogs (cats too, and other domestic animals as well) a diet primarily consisting of edible bones, organs, uncooked meat, and some fruits and vegetables.
This raw food diet is not a new concept. Domestic dogs and cats have lived happily on it for centuries until commercial brands of pet food began to gain popularity in the U.S. in the 1930s. An Australian veterinarian by the name of Dr. Ian Billinghurst first proposed the raw food diet in 1993 and called his feeding suggestions the BARF diet. His book is: “Give Your Dog a Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs for a Long Healthy Life”
What are the Benefits of a Raw Food Diet for My Dog?
The best raw food diet for dogs boasts an abundance of benefits, the most obvious being an overall, dramatic improvement in your dog’s general health. Indeed, the promoters of the BARF diet blame much of the health problems of today’s dog on commercial, processed dry kibble and canned food; And we only have to read the ingredients on the back of the package to know that there are additives, fillers, chemicals, coloring agents and preservatives in there.
Specific Benefits Include:
- Improved well-being for your dog with years added to his life
- Whether underweight or overweight, your pet’s body weight will normalize
- A decrease in arthritic pain in senior dogs
- Skin allergies will be much improved and your pet’s hair coat will become lustrous and shiny
- Digestive problems often become nonexistent and odor and volume of the dog’s stool is reduced
- The risk of your dog getting cancer in his later years is greatly minimized
- Vitality and energy increase. Even your senior dog will act like a puppy again
- His immune system becomes stronger so he is less susceptible to contagious diseases
- Dental problems and breath improve
Are There Any Drawbacks to the Diet?
Although the raw food diets are still controversial, their popularity is definitely rising. Certain sled dog breeds like the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute have long eaten a raw food diet and thrived. But the idea that a diet based on what canines ate before they became domesticated as the most nutritionally sound diet for today’s modern dog does indeed raise some questions.
Many conventional veterinarians disagree with the concept. There have been several documented studies published in recent veterinary journals about the risks of feeding raw food diets to domestic animals. The FDA also disagrees, and always recommends cooking raw meat and poultry to kill harmful bacteria such as Listeria and Salmonella.
Other veterinary concerns about BARF diet include the potential for bones to choke an animal or cause a puncture wound internally in the dog’s digestive tract. Some vets think that a raw food diet is not a balanced diet and could potentially do damage to the dog’s health if fed long term.
But most people that feed the BARF diet to their dogs believe the potential risks are slight and that the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. Those pet owners that have experienced a major improvement in their dog’s health are convinced that commercial dog food was slowly killing their beloved pet.
What kind of BARF menus are there?
You can decide to take the plunge and completely switch your dog from a commercial brand of processed dog food to a raw food diet, or can go just about halfway and try meal mixers. There are generally 3 kinds of BARF menus:
1.) Ready made fresh frozen meals that you can order online from a reputable BARF site (there are many) that arrive safely at your door and simply involve thawing and feeding. Some better known pet store franchises also carry fresh cooked meals or commercial raw dog food brands.
Even locally owned, smaller pet stores are good choices for finding a variety of raw dog food that’s pre-made. Some grocery stores that have freezers in the pet food aisle carry a limited quantity of raw pet food.
2.) Homemade BARF meals. If you are a dog owner that needs to know exactly what your dog is getting nutritionally and are willing to create his meals yourself for that peace of mind, this is the route for you. Many online sites offer raw food meal suggestions and recipes as pet-loving consumers’ interest in the raw food diet continues to grow.
This is, of course the most demanding course to take in gradually switching your dog to the raw food diet. It involves some learning, shopping and preparation on your part. But once you know the basics of what nutrients he needs as well as what’s safe for him to eat and what is not, where to find the best buys on the best ingredients, it becomes as simple as preparing the most nutritious, delicious and cost effective meal you possibly can for the rest of your family (which you may have been doing for years anyway.)
A typical raw dog food diet consists of:
- Animal muscle meat, on or off the bone
- Raw fruit and vegetables, like broccoli and apples
- Organ meat such as heart, kidney and liver
- Bones that are ground up or whole
- Yogurt or some dairy
- Eggs (raw)
Raw and Natural Nutrition for Dogs is a great book to guide you to creating nutritious, delicious homemade meals for your canine kid(s).
3.) Freeze-dried meal mixers food toppers for those folks who don’t want to take the BARF plunge completely, but simple add some of the pre-made raw diet to their dog’s meal as it is. This is kind of a “getting your feet wet” option as opposed to “taking the plunge” so the health benefits to your dog won’t be immediate or obvious, but many people do try this option first.
So What Is the Best Raw Food Diet For Dogs? (There is no generic answer)
There is no all-encompassing answer to the question “What is the best raw food diet for dogs?” WHY NOT?
Because individual dogs and their loving owners are all unique and those special factors need to be considered before a fundamental change in pet care is decided. Moreover, there are different BARF diets for the different stages of a dog’s life and different canine conditions. There is a raw food diet for geriatric dogs, one for puppies, pregnant dogs, dogs with allergies, digestive problems, weight issues… the list goes on.
If you are one of the many loving dog owners who’ve heard about the BARF diet and the amazing beneficial changes in canine overall health that happen as a result, you may be interested in feeding the diet to your own precious pooch. But maybe you’re not quite convinced and want to know more about it or aren’t quite sure how to go about switching your dog to raw food meals. A book that has some great ideas and simplifies the whole process is:“Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy For You And Your Dog” by Carina Beth MacDonald. It’s available in paperback and Kindle edition.
Thanks for reading and please leave me any comments, questions, observations, or personal experiences in the comment section below. I look forward to hearing from you!