Raw Dog Food Diet: Is B.A.R.F. Diet Good for Your Dog?
Raw dog food diets are quite controversial among pet parents. Some tout the incredible benefits of feeding raw meat, bones, vegetables and fruits, including shinier coats, healthier skin and higher energy levels, while others warn of various risks, including broken teeth and even death. So which is it? Is raw food diet for dogs healthy or should you stick to commercial pet food?
In this article, we’ll take a close look at the B.A.R.F. diet, focusing on both the potential positives and negatives, so you can decide whether this is the right diet for your dog.
What is Raw Diet for Dogs?
Raw dog food diet, also known as B.A.R.F. diet, an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones and Raw Food, consists of raw meat and meaty bones, as well as fruit and vegetable scraps. Although it may seem like a recent concept, the diet actually started decades ago with racing grayhounds and sled dogs who have eaten raw food long before the diet got its unique name. However, officially, the BARF diet was proposed by a veterinarian called Ian Billinghurst in 1993. He suggested that domesticated adult dogs would do better on a diet consisting of foods they ate before their domestication:
- Raw meat and organs
- Meaty bones, whole or ground
- Some raw vegetables
- Some raw fruit.
Billinghurst advocated feeding 60% raw, meaty bones, and only 40% other foods. According to him, commercial pet foods high in carbohydrates and particularly grains are harmful to a dog’s health. While this may sound perfect on paper, it should be noted that many (if not most) mainstream veterinarians disagree with the BARF diet because of the many risks that come with raw feeding.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Raw Diets
So why is the raw diet for dogs so controversial? It mostly has to do with the many benefits and drawbacks that come with raw feeding. Some dogs become healthier and more energetic while others end up sick, with bad teeth and worse.
The potential benefits of the BARF dog food are:
- Healthier skin
- Shinier and thicker coat
- Leaner, more muscular body
- Cleaner and stronger teeth
- Higher energy levels
- Less odor.
As for the risks, they include:
- Contagion of bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria, both for dogs and humans
- Nutritional imbalances (deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals)
- Broken teeth and damaged gums due to hardy bones
- Intestinal damage.
As you can see, raw diets come with many pros and cons. Even today, there is a raging debate in the BARF arena over whether the pros outweigh the cons. To help you decide if this diet is worth your time and money, let’s dive deeper into the most important advantages and disadvantages of raw dog food diet.
The Pros of Raw Dog Food Diets
Many pet parents who’ve jumped the ship of commercial dog foods to raw feeding claim that their pets feel and look better. Some even claim that raw feeding cured some of the aliments their dogs suffered from. How is this possible?
The argument is that most commercial pet foods are not biologically appropriate for dogs because they descended from wolves, who are carnivores. And as we’re sure you know, most commercial dog foods contain not only animal protein or meat, but also plenty of carbohydrate sources, including grains. According to raw meat diet for dogs supporters, feeding our pets processed or commercial foods makes their organs work overtime in order to digest and absorb “species-inappropriate” nutrients. This can be very hard on a dog’s body as it’s unable to achieve and maintain a state of homeostasis or equilibrium. In other words, when a dog eats processed food, the body is constantly under stress which can lead to a host of health problems.
By raw feeding dogs, we can provide them with all the nutrients they need to thrive, bypass many of canine diseases, and reverse some of the ailments – according to the BARF diet supporters at least.
Here are the most important pros of feeding a raw diet according to many pet parents.
- Homemade means knowing what’s in your dog’s food: when you make your dog’s meals from scratch, you know exactly what’s in them – how much meat there is, bones and vegetables. You also know the quality of the ingredients you’re using, which is not something that can be said about many commercial pet foods.
- Reducing or eliminating food allergies: because homemade raw dog diet is generally quite simple in its ingredients, it allows you to see what foods your pet tolerates well and what doesn’t . Once you learn which ingredients your pup is sensitive or allergic to, you can avoid using them completely which can, over time, lead to less food sensitivities.
- Healthier skin and shinier coat: this benefit is more anecdotal, but worth mentioning nevertheless. Many pet parents claim that when they switch their dogs from processed foods to homemade raw diet, their skin becomes healthier (especially if it was red and itchy before) and their coat shinier and thicker. This is probably due to a higher fat intake on a BARF diet.
- Improved digestion: many dog owners choose to switch to a raw diet because it tends to lead to a better digestion in sensitive canines as well as smaller stools. This is not a surprise as a lack of fiber in the BARF diet leads to harder and smaller stools. Avoiding grains and most plant matter can also be beneficial for sensitive dogs.
In theory, the BARF diet makes quite a lot of sense. After all, raw diets are the oldest pet foods in the world, so it shouldn’t be surprising that they come with many health benefits. Or do they? To get to a well-rounded conclusion, we also need to talk about the disadvantages of the BARF diets, as there are quite a few.
The Cons of Raw Dog Food Diets
While there appear to be many health benefits of raw diets for dogs, there is actually little scientific evidence to support the positive claims. In fact, most of the scientific research suggests that raw meat diets could do more harm than good.
As mentioned earlier, the main argument for the raw diet is that it’s biologically appropriate for dogs as it resembles the traditional diet of wolves. Again, sounds good in theory. In reality though, this doesn’t matter nearly as much as as some BARF supporters would have you believe for one simple reason: dogs are not wolves.
As many studies show, dogs have evolved to eat a varied diet, much more diverse than their wolf ancestors. This should come as no surprise because we domesticated dogs thousands of years ago, during which time they ate much of what humans ate. In other words, dogs have genetically adapted to eat a varied diet, one consisting of both meats and starches. This is why domesticated dogs are omnivores, not carnivores.
So, dogs can thrive on both varied diets and raw meat diets, right? It would appear so, however, scientific evidence suggests that a varied diet specifically tailored to satisfy all nutritional needs of dogs is better and healthier than a raw meat diet. Here is why.
- Risk of bacteria and parasite contamination: this is probably the biggest potential con of raw diets. Raw meats that carry bacteria like Salmonella and Listeria cause food born illnesses and can affect both pets and humans. This is why the FDA and the AVMA do not recommend BARF.
- Nutritional imbalances: another very important disadvantage of feeding a raw diet exclusively is ending up with a nutritional imbalance. Unlike commercial pet foods that are fortified with all important supplements, homemade raw dog diet often lacks in various minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus. Therefore, if you plan on feeding your dog a BARF diet, it’s crucial to first do some research on dog nutrition!
- Choking, intestinal and teeth damage: almost every single type of a raw dog diet consists of meat and bones (plus some fruit and veggies), the latter of which can cause choking or intestinal damage, depending on how large and sharp the bone is. Hardy bones can also damage your dog’s gums and there are many complaints of bones breaking a pet’s tooth, sometimes even several teeth.
- Inconvenience: finally, it’s worth noting that preparing a homemade raw dog food diet takes quite a lot of money, time and space. While the cost of a raw diet varies with the ingredients used, it is inevitably more expensive than commercial pet food, especially if you want to use quality muscle meats in the recipes, which most pet parents who feed a raw diet do. Preparation is also lengthy as you have to do a lot of research to find out what your dog’s specific nutritional needs are, and then of course, chop up the ingrediens and mix them every to every other day. You also need a lot of freezer space.
While a raw dog food diet may sound great on paper, in reality it can be very hard to implement as it requires a lot of research, money, time and (freezer) space. If you don’t do it right, your dog might end up with a nutritional imbalance, a broken tooth or damaged digestive system. On the other hand, if you do manage to do it right, your dog’s skin and coat health may improve. Our advice? If your dog is healthy eating a commercial pet food but you still want to see how they’d react to a homemade raw food, combine both of diets! Simply feed regular kibble or wet food on most days and serve well-prepared raw meals from time to time. Don’t forget to consult with your vet!