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What do you get when you cross a dog on the BARF diet with a queasy human? A messy misunderstanding about what "BARF" really means!
We know — the name BARF does bring up the wrong images at first! But BARF has been around for over 30 years and it continues to be highly popular, despite its unusual name.
This is because a paradigm shift has occurred in the world of canine nutrition in the past few years, prompting dog owners to rethink the way they feed their beloved four-legged companions. And while many new and alternative approaches to canine nourishment have come up over that time, BARF stands out because it’s based on a diet that closely mimics the eating habits of our dogs’ wild ancestors.
What is the BARF Raw Dog Food diet really about?
The BARF Raw diet, which stands for "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food" or Bones and Raw Foods, was originally developed by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian, in the early 1990s.
Dr. Billinghurst believed that the highly processed commercial pet foods were detrimental to pets' health, and he wanted to develop a more natural diet that closely resembled what dogs would eat in the wild. Enter BARF. Essentially, BARF refers to a diet composed of only raw ingredients, including bones, raw meat products, and raw vegetables. Some also include fruits (especially berries) for their antioxidant content.
There’s no such thing as an official BARF diet, and you should instead think of it as the raw equivalent of a general kibble diet. That means BARF raw dog food diet can vary enormously, as most people feeding their pets a raw diet prepare it themselves at home. Different formulations, different ingredients, different combinations of nutrients. It’s just like feeding your pet a “home-cooked” meal every time – just without the cooking.
The Benefits of BARF
Dr. Billinghurst's ideas were met with some controversy and skepticism when they were first published, but the diet has gained popularity over the years. One of the reasons for that is that dog owners started witnessing first-hand the many positive changes in their pets' health after adopting the diet.
One of the biggest differences between BARF and other pet diets is carbohydrate content. You don’t have to (and it’s actually quite difficult to) include carbs in BARF raw diet for dogs — simply because carbohydrates (grains, flours) need to be cooked to be digestible, and that obviously can’t be done in a raw diet. And the kinds of plants that can be served up to eat raw dog food with (veggies) don’t contain a lot of carbohydrates either.
Luckily, this isn’t necessarily a problem. While dogs can tolerate carbohydrates, their nutritional needs are primarily met by protein and fat sources. High-carb diets may not be ideal for dogs, as they can contribute to obesity and other health issues if not managed properly.
There has been lots of research done on the effects of carbohydrates on dogs and cats. For example, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2004 found that obese dogs fed a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet lost more weight and had better weight maintenance than dogs fed a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet — results that mimic human studies.
Another study also published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2009 found that overweight cats fed a low-carb, high-protein diet were able to lose more weight while losing less lean body mass. The results suggest that higher dietary protein and fat content combined with lower carbohydrate content are a better choice to help overweight cats.
And it’s not just excess weight that’s related to the consumption of carbs. All cells use glucose (sugar) as their primary fuel, and this includes cancer cells. So while cutting down on carbs will not cure cancer, it could potentially help cancer patients. This applies not only to humans but also to our pets. High-carbohydrate diets can also have an effect on blood sugar and diabetes. In fact, a Minnesota veterinarian named Travis Einertson is now reversing diabetes in 70% of his feline patients using a low-carb diet.
Fortunately, feeding your dog a BARF diet means you don’t have to include any carbs at all in the menu. This is a huge departure from most commercially-sold pet foods and kibble (except low-carb kibble like Ketona), which typically contain 40-70% carbohydrates and often only about 25% protein, which is WAY less than a dog’s ancestors ever ate.
Commercial diets get away with such low content of protein because the minimum protein requirements for dog foods, established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), is shockingly low. The AAFCO guidelines set the minimum levels of nutrients, including protein, that should be included in pet foods based on the dog's life stage and activity level. When it comes to protein, AAFCO requires a protein content of at least 22% of dry matter for puppies, pregnant and lactating dogs, and just 18% for adult dogs. Cats need more — 30% and 26% respectively.
If a commercial diet contains such a low amount of protein, then what makes up the rest of the ingredients? Likely a lot of carbohydrates, such as corn, are used as fillers.
A BARF diet for Dogs allows you to formulate your own combination and go as heavy on protein as you want. Plus, raw diets encourage the inclusion of bones in dogs’ diets, which has both physical and mental benefits. The American Kennel Club (AKC) explains that gnawing on raw bones helps prevent plaque buildup on teeth, provides minerals, and even reduces anxiety and fights boredom.
Of course, not every dog needs bones included in their raw diet. And even AKC doesn’t recommend them for every dog — for example, dogs with sensitive stomachs might not be able to handle the marrow and develop diarrhea or just general tummy trouble.
Since there’s no single specific way to make a BARF diet for your dog, you can always adapt ingredients to what works better for your own dog's diet. With BARF, there’s no script and many benefits – benefits you won’t see if you feed your dog a vegetarian, low-protein, minimal-bone, high-carb diet!
Types of BARF Raw Dog Food Diets
There are two main types of BARF diets:
- Classic Raw Food Diet: This is the most common type of BARF diet, and it consists of raw meat, raw bones, fruits, and vegetables.
- Premix BARF: This type of BARF diet is made with pre-processed ingredients, such as ground meat, organ meats, and supplements.
There are also a number of variations of these two main types of BARF diets, such as:
- Frozen BARF: This type of BARF diet is made with frozen ingredients, which makes it a convenient option for dog owners who want to feed their dogs a raw diet but don't have the time to prepare fresh food every day.
- Freeze-Dried BARF: This type of BARF diet is made with dried ingredients, which makes it a lightweight and portable option for dog owners who want to feed their dogs a raw diet while traveling.
The best type of BARF diet for your dog's digestive system will depend on their individual needs and preferences. If you are unsure which type of BARF diet is right for your dog's body part, it is always best to consult with a veterinarian or a certified pet nutritionist.
Getting your Dog Ready to Switch to a BARF Raw Food Diet
If you are considering transitioning your dog to a Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) diet, there are several things you should do to prepare your dog's meals:
- Talk to your veterinarian: Before making any changes to your dog's diet, it's important to talk to your veterinarian to ensure that the BARF diet is appropriate for your dog. Your vet can also give you guidance on how to make the transition safely.
- Gradual transition: Switching to a BARF diet should be done gradually, over a period of several weeks. Start by replacing a small amount of your dog's current food with the raw food, and gradually increase the amount over time. This will help your dog's digestive system adjust to the new diet and avoid any gastrointestinal upset.
- Quality ingredients: Choose high-quality, human-grade ingredients for your dog's BARF diet. Look for sources of meat, bones, and organs that are grass-fed, free-range, and hormone-free.
- Variety: To ensure that your dog is getting a balanced diet, include a variety of meats, organs, and vegetables. This will help ensure that your dog is getting all of the necessary nutrients.
- Safe Raw Food handling: Handling raw meat can be risky, both for your dog and for you. Be sure to follow safe food handling practices, including washing your hands and any surfaces that come into contact with the raw food.
By taking the time to prepare your dog and make the transition to a BARF diet gradually, you can help ensure that your dog enjoys the benefits of a balanced and biologically appropriate diet.
The Hidden Costs of Switching to BARF Diet for Dogs
As good as high-protein, low-carbohydrate raw diets sound, BARF raw dog food diets do have some drawbacks.
The big ones are contamination and potential sanitation issues. Raw meats can spoil and easily make you (the human preparing the dog's raw food for meals) quite sick. When the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) analyzed almost 200 samples of raw pet food, it found that “15 were positive for Salmonella and 32 were positive for L. monocytogenes,” two dangerous bacteria that can cause serious gastrointestinal trouble. This isn’t only dangerous for the pet owners handling the uncooked meat, but also for the animals consuming it.
Raw diets also tend to be time-consuming. To prevent the danger of contamination, you’ll have to follow strict food safety practices, such as thoroughly washing and sanitizing hands, utensils, and food/water bowls right after each meal. It will also mean no dog kisses for you — the bacteria from raw meat can stay around your dog’s mouth and be easily shared via saliva.
And speaking of time-consuming, BARF raw food diets usually mean keeping meats frozen, defrosting on time, and preparing meals — steps that add a lot to prep time.
Another major issue (even bigger and scarier than sanitation) is the potential for nutritional deficiencies and imbalances. Without proper amounts/ratios of specific nutrients, your dog is at risk of becoming very sick. And the problem with preparing your own diet for raw fed dogs and feeding dogs that at home is, of course, not being able to provide all those necessary nutrients.
You can get a basic understanding of how to formulate a nutritious diet for your dog by following nutritional recommendations by AAFCO (see the tables linked above for dogs and cats) but without a nutritional degree to guide you along the way, calculating the nutritional content of store-bought ingredients like meats and bones is an almost-impossible feat.
According to a 2017 study presented at the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, “less than half of the recipes used by pet owners provide a complete and balanced source of nutrients.” Even when pet owners can manage to achieve a good balance of proteins and fats, home-prepared diets (both cooked and raw) are often low in calcium, essential fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins, and trace minerals like iodine and zinc. And these micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients.
The study also points out that nutrient deficiencies can lead to a number of issues — from poor coat health to anemia to serious long-term liver and bone health problems.
Oh, and those raw bones that have so many benefits? They are also potentially also a choking hazard unless you use large bones (like big sections of cow femur) that might not work well for smaller dogs.
Balancing Costs and Benefits of Raw Food BARF Diets
As you might have noticed by now, BARF diets have many potential benefits, but also carry risks that many pet owners may not want to deal with. The only way to ensure your dog’s homemade diet is healthy and well-balanced is to work with a veterinary nutritionist who can formulate the perfect diet based on your dog’s health, age, and specific needs.
A better way to get most of the benefits of a BARF diet without all the costs and confusion associated with homemade meals is to feed a high-protein, low-carb, meat-rich kibble like Ketona instead.
Curious About What Ketona Dog Food Can Offer?
Ketona is the world's first truly low-carb kibble. It has all the nutrients and carbohydrate content of a raw diet, but the cost and convenience of kibble.
It also contains more meat-based protein and fewer carbs than most raw diets, but it is sold in convenient kibble form – so no risk of sanitation issues or nutritional inadequacies.
Ketona is here to destroy the myth that “cooked” dog food (whether that means cooked at home or offered in the form of kibble) is somehow less healthy than raw food. As you saw from the studies mentioned before, it’s not as much the way you present the food that makes a difference — it’s the quality of the ingredients and the exclusion of carbohydrates that keep your dog healthier for longer. With a protein content of at least 46% and a carbohydrate content of under 5%, Ketona offers exactly that.
Think your dog will miss out by giving up BARF? You can also add a few butcher bones to your dog’s day to get the gnawing benefits too.