You might have heard about the BARF diet for dogs, but what is it? To put it simply, it’s a fresh dog food diet made up of the foods they would eat in the wild.
What is a BARF diet for dogs?
BARF stands for Bones and Raw Feeding, and it's an attempt to replicate a “natural” dog diet. It's designed to optimise your dog's health by focusing on the foods they biologically designed to digest. It mimics the carnivore diet of the dogs closest relative, the wolf. A BARF includes raw meat, offal, and bones, and almost completely eliminates grains, cereals, and processed carbohydrates. Societies change very quickly, while biological processes can take thousands of years to adapt. The BARF theory is that domesticated dogs have not evolved to process these “new” foods.
BARF diet health benefits
The BARF diet is a species appropriate diet. It means that your dog is eating what they're “programmed" to eat. Some experts believe this has many significant health benefits. These include:
- Better dental hygiene
- Reduced risk of obesity
- Better digestion
- Healthier skin and coat
- Fewer allergies
- Increased mobility
- More energy and stamina
- Stronger immune system
- Improved organ function
The BARF diet has also helped dogs suffering from long-term illness. Switching to a raw diet appears to improve periodontal diseases, degenerative diseases, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, reproductive health, arthritic conditions, skin allergies, diabetes, and even some behavioural problems.
I thought that raw meat was bad; should I really feed it to my dog?
Uncooked and untreated meat can leave us humans in a very bad way! Luckily for them, dog's have a very robust digestive system. In fact, it's evolved to process raw meat safely and quickly. Dogs have shorter intestines than humans. This means the raw meat spends less time in the body, giving it less time to do any damage. A dog's stomach is also packed with "good" bacteria that fight off "nasty” bacteria found in raw meat. You only need to look inside your dog's mouth to see that these guys are natural meat-eaters. Their powerful jaws and sharp teeth are perfect for cutting, ripping, and chewing raw meat.
Should I cook the bones first?
Not necessarily. In fact, cooked bones can be more dangerous for your dog. The longer you cook them, the softer and more brittle they become. An over-enthusiastic dog could easily break them, causing little splinters to get stuck in their mouth, throat, or stomach.
Plus, dogs feel good when they chew on raw bones. It's a stimulating activity that releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Chewing also prevents tartar build-up on your dog's teeth. It might not seem like much, but doggy dental problems can develop into something much more serious!
How much BARF does my dog need?
Every dog is different. However, generally speaking, a 20kg dog needs around 400g of raw food. You can serve it in one sitting, or split it up into smaller meals throughout the day. A 10kg dog requires around 200g of BARF. This equates to about 2% of their body weight. Smaller dogs require the following:
- 1kg-2kg: 10% of body weight
- 3kg-4kg: 7% of body weight
- 5kg-8kg: 5% of body weight
- 9kg-10kg: 3% of body weight
Raw food diet: finding the right balance
The BARF diet isn't just about meat. Although it contains protein, enzymes, and minerals, meat alone won't fulfil a dog's nutritional requirement. A well-balanced BARF meal needs to contain everything a wild carnivore would consume. This includes offal, bones, and even guts! A BARF dinner should consist of:
- 2 parts bone
- 2 parts muscle, tendons, sinews
- 1 part offal
- 1 part guts
And don't worry about what's missing from the BARF diet. It's very low in carbs and sugar, but your dog doesn't really need these. In fact, they're better off without them.
So what should I be feeding my dog?
There are plenty of companies who produce and sell ready-made BARF meals. The quality of the ingredients will vary, so do some research before purchasing. Alternatively, you can make them yourself. This takes time and effort, but at least you know what's going into your dog's system. A typical BARF diet consists of:
- Lamb: meat, bones necks, spine
- Chicken carcase, meat, wings and necks.
- Rabbit: carcase, meat and guts
- Pork: pigs trotters, pig’s head, tail.
- Beef: smaller bones, calf carcass, oxtails, ribs,, cheek.
- Pheasant: duck, pigeon, quail,
- Venison: meat and bones
- Goose and turkey: meat and carcase
A few little extras include:
- Offal: Heart, liver, brain, tripe, hearts, tongues, spleen, and pancreas
- Raw eggs
- Tablespoon of cottage cheese
- Mushed up fruit
- Brewers yeast
As you can see, this isn't your average domesticated dog diet! Squeamish owners might feel uncomfortable handling animal carcasses and offal. Still, there's a good chance your dog will take to it straight away, and a good chance it will improve their overall health. But the BARF diet might not be right for every dog. Speak to your vet if your dog has any ongoing diet or health concerns.