This acronym stands for Bones and Raw Food diet or the more commonly associated meaning of Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet.
History of the BARF Diet
Although dogs have eaten raw food in many cultures for centuries, credit to formalizing this type of feeding program is given to Ian Billinghurst, an Australian veterinarian. He wrote several books on the topic in the 1990s in which he promotes the benefits of feeding your dog (and cats - but information here covers dogs only) in the same way that their feral ancestors ate.
According to Billinghurst, domestic dogs have only been fed processed foods for the last eighty odd years, a time that isn't sufficient for their digestive systems to adapt to the dietary change. His dietary vision advocates feeding only meaty bones and raw vegetables while avoiding carbohydrates at all times.
In contrast, most of the commercial dog food available today includes cooked grains of some kind.
Why Make the Switch to BARF?
Maybe the question should be what's wrong with commercial dog food that animals are currently eating? The commercial kibble of today:
- Is cooked - which kills much of the nutritional value.
- Tends to be high in grains - often over 50% grains.
- Contains cereals - which are the most common cause of allergies.
- Contains preservatives - which can cause many health problems.
- Offers little quality control information for the public - you don't know where the meat comes from.
A switch to BARF is meant to address these issues for longer lived, happier, and healthier pets - which is what all of us dog lovers seek.
Advantages of feeding BARF
According to the advocates of this type of system, there are many advantages to feeding the BARF way. This type of food:
- Decreases body odor of the dog.
- Allows for chewing raw bones, which cleans the dog's teeth.
- Produces less stools.
- Produces firmer stools.
- Improves muscle development - chewing develops neck, jaw and shoulder muscles.
- Decreases dog allergies.
- Improves the dog's coat.
- Supplies a natural source of calcium and minerals for growth.
- Extends longevity.
- Eases weight management issues.
Problems to Consider when Feeding the BARF way
BARF is not universally accepted throughout the dog loving community. Some of the concerns regarding this type of diet include:
- Feeding bones, particularly chicken bones to dogs:
- Raw chicken bones are soft enough to bend and break however, if you are concerned, grind them up.
- There are bacteria in raw chicken:
- This is true but there are bacteria everywhere, including commercial dog foods. Be sure to follow basic food safety and keep hands and work space clean.
- Raw food has parasites:
- Some raw food does have these problems. However, if you purchase these foods from a reliable butcher or wholesaler then the foods will be healthy and parasite free.
- Raw meat makes dogs more aggressive:
- This is an old tale that has never been proven. Thousands of dogs are fed BARF diets without any increase in aggression.
Generally, if problems are going to eventuate, they will do so when switching or adjusting to the new diet and adding in new foods.
The most common complaints at this time include diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting. Any and all of these can happen as a result of a food allergy, a new food being added that they can't digest or too much of one food. That's why, particularly at the beginning, it's important to introduce new foods one at a time to see what your dog can tolerate.
Once the animal has adjusted to this type of diet, it's common for people to comment on how relaxed and easy a system it is. If you feed a raw dog food diet without properly researching the nutritional then you are in danger of not supplying the dog's basic nutritional needs. Therefore, it's important to do the research, and even speak to your vet first. This makes the program simple to follow later on.
Is it More Expensive to Feed BARF Over Quality Commercial Kibble?
This is a difficult question to answer for everyone. Some people have access to good cheap meat and vegetables while others live in expensive locations where meat could be extremely highly priced.
Look for a BARF buyers CO-OP in your region that you can join and save money. Also, is there an abattoir in your area that is allowed to sell bones and meat? And don't forget to talk to your local butcher and veggie stores for bargains.
The consensus amongst the BARF advocates is that the costs are similar between the two systems. If you supplemented a kibble diet, then the supplements would be the same cost in the new system as well.
Is it Difficult to Feed BARF?
Feeding your dogs a BARF diet is definitely more time consuming
that feeding commercial kibble. However, once the process has been learned, meals are quick to prepare.
Time can be saved by doing some of the preparation work ahead of time and then freezing individual meals. For instance, when making one dinner, do the work while the mess is in progress and prepare an additional ten meals - trust me, it will be worth it!
It should be noted that most raw veggies are blended into a 'soup' or 'slop' before being fed. Some dogs enjoy chewing on a raw carrot, but many don't. The meat and bones are simply added to the bowls as are any number of additional healthy foods.
Some people take one short afternoon a month and do up all the veggies and meat meals then package meals along with the raw bones into portion size containers and freeze.
How Much BARF do you Feed your Dog?
For many people, not having a package label to read for serving size is a problem. All dogs are different as are their activity levels. However, an easy rule of thumb is to feed one pound of BARF per every fifty pounds
of dog weight.
Feed this amount for several days to weeks and see if you need to increase this amount slightly. Keep an eye on your dog's weight and adjust the food quantity as required.
NOTE: Most people feed two times a day. The morning meal is raw meaty bones and the evening meal being veggie with ground meat. The following samples are for adult dogs - not puppies, pregnant or lactating females.
Foods to use in Your BARF Dog Food Diet
The BARF diet encompasses a wide assortment of ingredients. This makes it easy to compile a healthy diet
for your animals. It's important to feed your animals a diverse selection of all the foods to supply their nutritional needs. According to Billinghurst's books, you should feed approximately 60-80% raw meaty bones
and 20-40% should be vegetables, offal, meat, eggs, and possibly dairy foods. Billinghurst recently excluded grains altogether in his revised diet, believing that they weren't necessary for dogs and that many dogs are indeed allergic. Some dogs are also sensitive to dairy products.
Any RMBs that don't have the same bone-to-meat ratio can be still served but not as one of the primary ones. Included in this category are chicken legs and thighs.
Depending on your access to well-priced food, serve a selection of the following food items:
Raw Meat in detail
Raw meaty bones (RMB) are a mainstay of the diet and need to have the correct meat to bone ratio for optimal health. RMBs that have this appropriate meat-to-bone ratio are chicken wings, necks, and backs
. Other choices that can be included for variety include turkey necks, pork necks, pig feet, chicken feet, whole fist (fresh), lamb, and ox-tail
Like any meat, make sure the source is healthy.
- Meats to feed any time:
- Chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, goat, buffalo, fish etc.
- Meats to feed some of the time:
- Tuna, wild meat (bear, moose, rabbit, etc - can contain parasites and bacteria)
- Meaty Bones for meals that can be ground or given whole for most benefit to teeth and gums:
- Chicken necks, wings and backs, Turkey necks and wings, Beef neck bones, pig feet and neck bones, and ox tail for example - can be given every day.
- Proteins often overlooked - eggs, cottage cheese, organ meats (liver, heart, kidney, tongue - are often pureed and added to the veggie meal)
Vegetables to Include in your BARF Diet
To garner the best nutritional value from a BARF dog food diet, the trick is in the diversity. Feed a wide selection of vegetables
to meet your dog's nutritional needs. Also note that vegetables need to be crushed or pureed to release the content of the cells as dogs don't digest cellulose well.
- Vegetables to serve all the time:
- carrots, romaine lettuce, celery, parsley, bok choy, fresh pumpkin, yellow and green squash, peppers (red and yellow) alfalfa sprouts, beets, kale, mustard greens, dandelions, zucchini, yams, asparagus, jicama, parsnip, green beans and turnips.
- Vegetables to serve some time:
- broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts - fine to feed on a rotational basis but know that they might cause gas.
- avocado - feed only the fruit.
- Spinach, chard, and Rhubarb - can be fed in small amounts on a rotational basis.
- Use sparingly - potatoes, green peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants, as they can be difficult to digest.
- Herbs - don't forget to add things like garlic (no more than one or two cloves a time as it can cause an upset stomach), parsley, and cilantro for example.
Fruits can be served with the vegetables or separately.
- Fruits to consider for regular feeding:
- Oranges, apples, bananas, cherries and pineapples.
- Fruits to consider irregularly:
- Grapes and raisins and other dried fruits - in large doses these fruits can cause stomach upset leading to vomiting or worse.
Supplements to add to BARF Meals
As this food system needs to meet the nutritional requirements of your dog, many people choose add in supplements to make up for any nutritional deficiencies.
- Healthy extras to add are - bone meal, honey, apple cider vinegar, kelp, ground flax seeds and flaxseed oil.
- It's important that the dogs get essential oils in their diets so considering supplementing with olive, primrose, and fish oils like salmon and cod liver oil for maximum health.
- It's also recommended that the animals each receive a good quality multi-vitamin daily - make sure there is B complex, zinc and both vitamin C and E in their diets (can be added separately once or twice a week).
- During the transition stage, you may need to give the animals a probiotic like acidophilus and digestive enzymes to help make the switch to raw food easier.
Dog Foods to Avoid at all Times
As pet owners, we tend to want to feed our pets treats that we like. In many cases, that is a bad idea - like chocolate. Here's a list of foods to avoid altogether.
- Onions - they are poisonous to dogs.
- Chocolate - causes vomiting, diarrhea (chocolate toxicity).
- All fruit pits and seeds - apples, apricots, kiwi, pears, avocados, peaches.
- Coffee and tea - contain caffeine.
- Leaves and stems of tomato or potato plants - toxic.
- Macadamia nuts.
How to Make the Switch to a BARF Dog Food Diet
Some dogs do well when their diet is switched all at once. This is the cold turkey method. If you know your dog's food habits and think that the cold turkey method will work, give it a try.
Other dogs can have problems making the switch too fast. If the switch is made abruptly, the dogs could end up with stomach upsets, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. If you are concerned about it, then take time to switch the dog over to BARF slowly. You don't want your dog to refuse to eat.
In addition, if you are already supplementing their diet, you already know what supplements they can tolerate. However, if supplementing is new to them and you give them everything at once and they get sick, you won't know which ones don't agree with their systems (or that they are allergic too - for example, many dogs are allergic to flaxseed oil).
The same reasoning applies to meat as well. Only give one a day for the first couple of days so that you can see if the dog is having trouble digesting the food.
One other caution is the chance of the dog choking on the bones or ground up bones. Normally a dog is capable of this type of diet but at the beginning, they aren't adjusted to using their teeth in the same way. Especially at the beginning, try to be at home during the feeding times instead of throwing down the bowls and racing out the door to go to work.
Steps to follow the Raw Way
It's suggested that you feed the same meat for several days
to weeks at the beginning and have a different minced meat to go with it. For example, it's suggested that you start with chicken (necks or wings) and serve it with minced lamb or beef at the second meal.
- Some recommend withholding food from the dog for up to a full day. The reasoning behind this is to allow the contents of your dog's stomach to fully digest and empty and to have the dog hungry when he starts on the new diet.
- For this first couple of days to a week don't add any vegetables or supplements (preferably hold off for a couple of weeks). You can add a nondairy yogurt (or dairy if you know that your dog can tolerate cows mild - many can't). The yogurt adds natural bacterial to the animal's stomach and aids in the digestion of his food.
- After a week or two where no problems are discernable switch up the raw meat bones. If you were serving chicken necks, switch to chicken wings. Continue to serve minced meat in the evening. However, now you can start to add in the vegetables. Start with just 3-4 tablespoons of blended vegetables (your choice) then increase the amount slowly over the next few weeks. Blend the veggies well with the minced meat so the dog must eat the veggies to get the meat. Continue with the yogurt to assist in the dietary changes. It's also time to add in supplements if you haven't already done so. An easy way to start is with fish oil - 1000 mg capsule. You can leave it whole or open and pour over your dog's food.
- By the third and fourth week, you can add in large bones for the dogs to gnaw on during the day. The favorites are usually beef knuckle bones and lamb or goat shanks.
- After these initial weeks, variety is key. By week four, you can now add in two more supplements (vitamin C and E are good choices). You can continue on this pattern of two new supplements every couple of weeks. It's suggested to give a small dose of each supplement until all you want to give them have been introduced for at least a week. At this point, you can slowly increase the amount of each one if you want to.
Many people feed a raw bone meal (with vegetables) twice a day for two days then mix it with an all meat meal or a fruit meal then raw bone meal again.
Sample Meal Ideas - the BARF way
There are many meal ideas available on the Internet. These are just a small sampling to give you an idea of what can be done.
Morning meal example: can be one pound of chicken wings (4-6) or chicken backs (2-3) or turkey necks (1-2) and beef ribs, pork hocks etc. Chicken wings and backs are ideal as they provide the correct ratio of meat to bones - legs and thighs do not.
Veggie slop sample
Puree a mix of carrots, turnip, parsnip, yellow squash, zucchini, dark green lettuces, and or celery. Don't use all of this, or if you are, just use a little of each. Also, add in sparingly spinach, kale, and broccoli.
Added to this puree (some people make them thicker so they resemble veggie patties as per Billingshurst's suggestion) is oil (flaxseed, safflower, olive or vegetable), and supplements like Vitamin C, kelp and possibly powdered alfalfa. Add to this one egg or a quarter of a calf liver, pureed.
BARF Evening meal example #1
1 cup of veggies (pureed) and one pound of:
- The same Raw meaty bones or boneless meat together that was served in the morning or
- Any other meat or meaty bones on hand or
- Ground meat, with egg shells or calcium supplement to make up for the missing bones or
- Offal (heart, kidney, liver etc) or
- Whole eggs (with shells) a couple of times a week or
- Fish, (canned if need be) can be substituted once a week or so.
Oil for essential fatty acids and supplements like vitamin C are added to the above mixture.
BARF Evening Meal Sample #2
Six chicken wings, 10 chicken hearts, half apple (seeds removed) 3 Tablespoons veggie puree, half an avocado, probiotics, and calcium.
Snacks throughout the day can include fruit, freeze dried liver or salmon and bones with marrow.
The easy way to keep track of the meals is to take a calendar and mark down each day what the dog is to have and when.
For more info and feeding plan including recipes grab hold of this BARF feeding resource.