Feeding your dog a ‘Barf’ diet (which stands for ‘bones and raw food’ or ‘biologically appropriate
raw food’) has become popular in the US in recent years, and now many UK pet owners are considering it too. Dog owners who support a raw diet claim that it promotes shinier coats and healthier skin, improved energy levels and fewer digestive problems.
Before dogs were domesticated their diet was mainly made up of raw meat, from huge moose or elk to tiny mice and even earthworms. A lot of people consider this kind of diet to be the healthiest diet for dogs and more and more people are switching over from a dry food diet. The main reason for this is because it is thought that a dog diet should be 80% meat and to get the equivalent amount of protein in a dry dog food diet you would have to spend a lot of money.
Sourcing raw food
- In the UK, vets and owners can easily source complete and balanced ready-prepared frozen raw food meals, formulated to the same European standards as the other pet foods we find in our supermarkets and veterinary surgeries.
- High-quality prepared raw foods should come from Defra-registered producers. These foods are governed by more stringent bacteriological rules than even human-grade raw meat products, and are supplied in clean, easily understandable packaging.
The issue of bones
- Bones are very contentious in the raw food debate because of the possibility of them damaging the mouth and digestive system. If you feed bones, either raw or cooked, that can be ingested by your dog, there is the risk of oesophageal or gastrointestinal obstructions. It may be possible to chop or grind the bone up small enough (e.g. less than 0.5 cm) that they are less likely to get stuck. Alternatively, consider consulting a veterinary nutritionist to determine the amount of calcium (and other nutrients) to add to your dog’s diet and skip the bones.
- If you do decide to switch to feeding your dog to a raw meat diet, the most important rule is to always supervise him when he is eating. There is always a chance that you might have missed a bone which may cause your dog to choke or cut his tongue.
- A raw food diet is unlikely to be complete and balanced. Unless the dog owner is an expert
in animal nutrition, a homemade diet can be difﬁcult to get right – a dog needs 37 essential nutrients to stay in good shape, and balancing the correct amounts of zinc and iron, for example, is very tricky. Ideally, the diet should be balanced by a veterinary nutritionist and supplemented as necessary.
- Bacterial infections present another risk. Bacteria exist in raw human food too, but thedifference is that we cook it. Although some dogs can ingest a small amount of salmonella safely, pets that eat raw food are likely to shed more pathogenic (‘bad’) bacteria in their faeces. And although responsible owners will pick up their dog’s faeces, you cannot remove every trace.
- The harmful bacteria that remain could affect those vulnerable to infection, including young children, the elderly and those with a weak immune system.
- Some pathogens in raw food can also cause vomiting and serious illnesses in dogs themselves.
- If you choose to feed the BARF diet or any other diet involving raw foods, it is recommended that very special hygienic care is used in handling the food and the dog’s faeces.
- Remember to de-worm your dog regularly, and tell your veterinary surgeon what diet you are feeding so that if your dog develops gastrointestinal disorders they will know to look for the bacteria and parasites mentioned above.
Quality of diet is the most important thing. If you decide that raw feeding isn’t for you, then the commercial dog food you buy needs to be the best you can get. It’s the quality of diet, whether commercial or raw, that’s the most important thing.