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BARF is an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. No, it has nothing to do with vomiting, and in fact, most animals on it rarely do! The diet is based on food you find in your supermarket, your cuttings of things that used to go into your compost pile, and supplements such as cod liver oil, alfalfa and yogurt.
In our house, we call it Bone And Raw Food. The BARF diet was championed by Australian vet Dr. Ian Billinghurst and has been around for almost twenty years now. (You can order his small book The BARF Diet through Amazon.com). He believes our domesticated pets should be fed the same evolutionary diet they would eat in the wild to mimic the ‘gold standard’ of diets, one which is the most health-promoting.
The diet is based on the belief that a grain based diet, which dry kibble is mostly composed of, is not biologically sound for your pet. Studies have shown that diets high in grains and other starches contribute to most degenerative diseases in pets.
Eco Lassie switched to a raw food diet when our German Shephard dog, Angus, was having difficulties with arthritis around the same time the dog food scare ran throughout our nation. Although Angus has now passed to doggie heaven where it rains bones, he lived to be 13 and was able to run and do stairs until the last week of his life. His sister, Miss Murray, has been on the diet and is doing well at 15. Our almost-two year old Spinone, Radar, has been on it since he came to live with us at eight weeks of age and is thriving.
Why is a raw diet good for your dog or cat? Raw food contains living enzymes and proteins that help your pet’s body function. Once food is cooked or processed, these die, and digesting other diets stresses the pancreas to produce those same proteins to function. Enzymes in a raw diet don’t just maintain health, they can repair and restore, too.
Why feed a BARF diet? Pets fed this tend to be free of dental problems, skin issues, eye and ear problems, digestive and bowel problems, kidney and heart problems, pancreas and liver problems, and immune system problems. They have a hugely reduced chance of developing infections and degenerative diseases. And they rarely get cancer. Owners with older dogs who have already developed these problems will see a great reduction and, in some cases, the disappearance altogether of these problems.
As a pet owner feeding this diet, here are the concrete things I see:
Teeth and Breath: My dogs do not have tartar buildup thanks to the bones they gnaw on. They also do not have ‘doggie’ breath, but have that nice ‘puppy’ breath young dogs have.
Skin and Coat: We noticed this right away. Both our our dogs rarely shed, and their coats are healthy and shiny. Murray has not had any of the raw or ‘hot spot’ issues she was prone to.
Stool Volume and Odor: Both dogs have a reduced volume of stool and there is little, if any, odor. The stool turns white after a day and as digested protein, disintegrates right back into the ground. They rarely have digestive issues unless someone feeds them too much cooked fat from the table.
Body Mass: Murray has lost weight, which she needed to do, which puts less strain on her older joints. Radar is lean and healthy, as the diet increases your pets’ metabolic rate, and thus its healthy life span.
What the diet consists of: Dogs and cats are omnivores; in the wild they scavenge for whatever is available. This means they eat meats, offal, vegetables, fruits and bones.
60% raw meaty bones( RMB’s)–yes, dogs can eat bones that are RAW, they only splinter when cooked. I buy pork neck bones, chicken wings and chicken necks in bulk and give them the occasional large beef bone, which they adore. In the fall, my husband adds venison meat and bones to this mix.
15% crushed veggies and 5% fruits–these MUST be crushed to break down the cell wall. Dr. Ian says this is to mimic the gut contents of a dog or cat’s prey. You can use a food processor or a juicer.
10-15% (dogs) and 15-25% (cats) offal–yeah, the tough part. This is fresh, raw internal organs, such as liver, kidneys, heart and tripe. EEEW I can hear you saying.
Supplements– cod liver oil adds Omega 3’s and Vitamins; yogurt adds probiotics to aid in digestion. The raw food diet contains healthy bacteriawhich aid digestion, activite the immune system and promote health. It’s like a mini vaccination with each meal. Adding dairy probiotics in yogurt suuplies nutrients such as folic acid, Niacin and the B vitamins. These are an energy source, increase the ease of digestion, and reduce allergic symptoms and help to prevent allergies.
WATER–dont’ forget to always have fresh water around for your pet. This diet is also high in water content.
What does this boil down to for the average pet owner? Here’s what we feed our dogs:
Mostly raw meaty bones which means a pork neck bone for ‘breakfast’ andanother in the afternoon or evening. Their evening meal is either chicken necks or cut up chicken wings, based on their weight. (How to’s on Dr. Ian’s book or online). I buy these in bulk from our local meat farms and freeze them by a meal’s worth. Each night when feeding I pull out the next day’s meal to defrost in the fridge.
We save our cuttings from veggies, fruits, and those you would add to to compost pile go instead into a ziplock in the fridge. We also save our egg shells. Once every few weeks I pick up ground beef, and some chicken livers or kidneys or hearts or other ‘offal.’ I mix the offal in with the leftovers and egg shells and crush it all together. (I use my food processor.) I add this soupy mix to the beef, add cod liver oil and alfalfa, and make patties which I freeze. I alternate these patties for meals to change their diet and give them over the course of a month everything they need. I add plain yogurt and raw eggs here and there to their bowls at a regular feed to vary the taste and add probiotics.
I also use common sense cleaning methods for my utensils and the dishwasher and nightly leave their bowls soaking filled with soapy water for the next day.
I always have a can of pumpkin on hand; pumpkin is a natural digestive aid and if you feel your dog is straining at bathroom breaks, you can add some to the meat mixture until they get used to this kind of diet.
Is this a lot of work? On the day we get home from the meat farm, an hour and half to bag. On the day I make up the patties, another hour of work. But otherwise I just pull a meal from the freezer and go.
IF you are interested, but either don’t have the butcher/meat farm resources OR can’t imagine putting your hands into a mixing bowl of ground meat/liver/kidney’s with crushed fruits and veg and a bit of cod liver oil thrown in, don’t fret.
The Only Natural Pet Store carries many lines of packaged raw pet food. Some of the makers are: Primal Pet Foods, Nature’s Variety, Raw Advantage Organic, Bravo Raw, Stella & Chewy’s Frozen Raw, Nature’s Logic Raw, and Raw Advantage. Some are frozen but most are freeze-dried. Of course, these prepared foods will cost you a lot more over a month’s time. So you just might want to put on a pair of gloves!