BARF and other raw food diets are based on feeding dogs what they would eat naturally. They consist of raw meaty bones and vegetables (pulped, juiced or blended), with small amounts of organs, fruit and dairy products such as eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt, added for nutrition or variety. These natural diets are becoming more and more popular, appealing to owners who want to feed their dogs as nature intended.
Commercialized pet food has only been available since the middle of the last century – for the centuries preceding this dogs were fed a diet closer to nature. However, BARF and other raw food diets do not suit everyone and it is a personal choice whether to feed a raw food diet. The following advantages and disadvantages will help you decide whether it’s for you.
Advantages of Raw Food Diets:
- Eating raw food is natural to the dog, enabling us to feed our dogs as nature intended.
- It has a higher water content than commercial pet food, again closer to what nature intended.
- Teeth are cleaned by the tearing and chewing of meat and bones and bad breath diminishes.
- Dogs spend a more natural amount of time eating and it slows the eating process down, decreasing the gulping (sometimes ‘inhaling’) of food that many dogs are guilty of.
- Allergies and digestive problems often completely disappear when the dog switches to a raw food diet.
- Stools become firmer, a decrease in odor and quantity.
- A natural diet decreases ‘poop’ eating (the droppings of rabbits, horses, sheep and other herbivores are usually favorites), along with grass eating (presumably because the dog is being provided with the vegetation it needs and so stops seeking it in the droppings of other animals).
- There is less gulping down of items the dog finds that you’d rather weren’t eaten – whole birds for example. Dogs become more discriminate, picking off the bones and other ‘good’ bits instead of trying to swallow whole their findings.
- Elimination of additives, flavorings, preservatives, and salt from the dog’s diet, which are added to most commercial dog foods.
- The natural diet slows down degenerative diseases.
- Raw food provides a natural means of getting vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, anti-oxidants and other dietary needs. The goodness in the ingredients of commercial pet foods is spoiled during manufacture (‘cooking’) and so added later; nutrients are far better gained from the natural source rather than artificially added in this way.
- Elimination of grains and cereals from the dog’s diet. The main ingredient in most commercial pet foods is cereal – this is unnatural for a dog.
- Development of the dog’s jaw, neck and shoulder muscles from eating a natural diet.
Disadvantages of Raw Food Diets:
- Although dogs have different digestive systems to ours and ordinarily can deal efficiently with salmonella, e-Coli and other parasites with no adverse effects, some caution is advised, particularly if the dog has a weak or compromised immune system, such as through illness. Particular caution should be exercised if feeding raw egg whites.
- There have been instances of dogs choking on bones. Although the risk is low it should not be ignored. Whilst the dog’s digestive system should be able to deal with raw bones quite easily (as was so for all those centuries prior to commercial dog food), it is advisable to stick to non-weight bearing bones such as poultry carcasses, wings, ribs and necks and to avoid the heavier and harder weight-bearing bones of large animals. Dogs should NOT eat cooked bones – these are brittle and likely to splinter, risking serious damage in the digestive tract.
- The natural diet is more time consuming (the preparation of a meal involves more than just scooping kibble into the dog’s dish) and it is more expensive (than the cheaper commercial dog foods at least).
- It requires the handling of raw meat – whilst the dog can easily deal with the bacteria, hygiene standards for our own benefit need to be high – washing hands and wiping down preparation and feeding areas thoroughly.
- Bulk buying is usually more cost-effective, which requires quite a bit of freezer space.
- The natural diet is not ‘balanced’ like commercial pet foods. However, the preference for a ‘balanced’ diet is questionable. After all, we don’t go to the supermarket and buy packets of ‘balanced’ food for ourselves; as health-conscious people we try to eat a balanced diet over a time period, maybe a day or a week, ensuring we include fruit, vegetables, protein, and carbs and minimize fat, sugar, salt and other things we know to be unhealthy. Perhaps we should be aiming for balance over a time period for our dogs too. Additionally, as noted above, the natural goodness in commercial dog food sources is spoiled during production and added artificially later, but nutrients are far better from the source.
- Raw food is messy – blending vegetables and handling raw meaty bones comes with a fair amount of mess.
- Pre-planning is needed, especially if we bulk buy frozen raw meaty bones – we need to be thinking about what the dog will be eating tomorrow to defrost it ready.
Considering these advantages and disadvantages will help you to make an informed choice if you are considering changing to a raw food diet. If you do decide the raw food diet is for you, research it thoroughly – don’t just do it, know how to do it properly.
Always make ANY changes to your dog’s diet gradually and it is advisable to consult with your veterinarian in the first instance.
Sources and Further Reading:
- ‘Give Your Dog a Bone’ by Dr. Ian Billinghurst, 1993, Crosskeys Select Books.
- ‘Raw Meaty Bones: Promote Health’ by Tom Lonsdale, 2001, Rivetco Pty Ltd.