Why I Feed My Own Dogs A Barf Diet
What is a Barf Diet?
Barf Diets are based on raw meaty bones (including chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork, etc.) and crushed raw vegetables. May include eggs, grains, fruit, dairy and/or supplements. Dr. Ian Billinghurst’s diet is the most commonly used and the one most people think of when they hear the term Barf (and he has in fact trademarked the name BARF). His book "Give Your Dog A Bone" is something of a bible for Barfers. Kymythy Schultze’s “Ultimate Diet” is similar but has no grain or dairy. Dr. Tom Lonsdale’s "raw meaty bones diet" is basically just that - raw meaty bones with a small amount of extras, which may be nothing more than table scraps. Some of us tend to refer to it as "feeding raw", although raw does not necessarily include bone.
Why a Barf Diet?
Barf Diets provide an alternative to highly processed commercial foods which often have questionable ingredients and limited nutritional value. There are many who feel that commercial dog food is often responsible for the health problems that commonly affect dogs. Others wonder why we emphasize a variety of fresh whole food for humans, but feed "dead" food from a bag to our best friends. Dog owners must do their research and decide on the type of diet that is best for their dogs and situation. It is more time consuming to feed a raw diet than it is to pour kibble into a bowl, but the benefits certainly make it worthwhile. The cost depends on finding good suppliers, buying in bulk and having a freezer to store meat and veggies, but may be no more expensive to feed Barf than to feed premium dog food.
The Logic of a Species Specific Diet.
Dogs were designed to eat raw meat. They are carnivores, just like their close relatives the wolves. Dogs do not chew their food, but instead have teeth meant for cutting and tearing. They swallow their food in chunks and have strong stomach acids for breaking down and digesting meat and bones. Their small intestine is relatively short because they were not intended to live on grain. Dogs are supposed to eat other animals, either fresh killed or while functioning as scavengers. Meat, bones, organs, and stomach contents. Dogs were not grazing animals and did not live on grain - so why are most dogs living on grain-based dog foods today?
Why Commercial Dog Food?
Commercial dry dog food (referred to as "kibble") is a relatively recent development, coming into common use in the '50s and '60s, and certainly the easiest way to feed a dog. Most dog foods are based on grain, which is totally inappropriate for canines. Grains, especially corn, rice and wheat are used because they are far less expensive than meat. Dog food is big business and most of the dog food companies are owned by major players like Mars, Nestle, and Proctor & Gamble. Dog food ingredients are generally by-products or sub-standard items from the human food industry. Dog food is highly processed and cooked at extremely high temperatures. Vitamins and enzymes are destroyed by the heat, and preservatives are used to increase shelf life. Grain-based foods have a much longer shelf life than those with a higher percentage of meat or fat, so in addition to using grain because it’s cheaper than meat, it is also used to produce a product that “keeps”. Profit is the primary goal of course, and marketing is intensive.
Why The Empasis on "Balance"? Marketing continually stresses that commercial food is “balanced” and the average pet owner is convinced that this makes dog food better for dogs. But WHY does a dog’s diet have to be balanced every day, every meal, or every cupful? Do we go to bed and wonder if we ate too much Vitamin A, not enough Vitamin E, or the right amount of minerals that day? Was the protein too high and the fat too low and were there enough essential fatty acids? Do we raise our children on Kid Chow, or limit their diets to "enriched" white bread, Total cereal, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Spaghettios? Of course not, so why do we believe dogs must eat this way? We are told to eat a variety of fresh healthy foods, including lean meat, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and some dairy, and to limit the processed foods we consume. We expect this to meet our nutritional requirements. No mention of trying to achieve an exact balance each meal or every day. So why do pet owners believe that commercial food is better because it’s balanced, when in fact it's probably missing a number of things dogs actually need to remain optimumly healthy? In feeding a raw diet consisting of a wide variety of healthy foods, we expect to achieve "balance over time".
What Would Be A Species Specific Diet?RAW Meaty Bones
A “species specific" diet for canines would consist primarily of raw meat & bones (referred to as rmbs). It would include some vegetable matter as wild canines would have eaten the partially digested contents of the stomachs & intestines of their prey (although some do not agree with this argument and feed mostly raw meaty bones). The dogs would steal eggs when they could, and a bit of ripe fruit when it was available. They did not eat grain, and most of the animals they ate did not consume grain on a regular basis. Certainly not corn or wheat or rice or soy beans! Dogs were also scavengers and ate “dead things”. Their strong stomach acids could take care of any bacteria that may have accumulated on long dead meat. Salmonella and such things are not a problem for dogs, and their strong stomach acids digest all types of meat and fat and appropriate bones.
When we refer to bones we always mean RAW bones. Cooked bones are brittle, splintery and can be dangerous, are not digestible, and can cause impaction. Raw bones are digestible, especially the bones found in poultry necks, chicken wings & backs, pork necks and beef & lamb ribs. Some people prefer to use a ground meat and bone mixture, and both Billinghurst and Schultze agree that is fine, although it denies the dog a chewing opportunity and the extra teeth cleaning benefits. It is a most satisfactory way to start on a Barf Diet.
BARF is always raw, but raw is not necessarily BARF. A Barf diet includes a large percentage of raw meaty bones which will insure that the dog gets the correct calcium/phosphorus ratio. A raw diet which consists only of muscle/organ meat will be too high in phosphorus and lacking in calcium, so must be supplemented with bone meal or ground egg shell. Feeding primarily raw meaty bones is the basis for a Barf diet and does not rquire additional calcium.
The Basic Barf DietThe Barf Diet For Dalmatians - How we feed in Paisleyland
The basic BARF diet includes at least one meal a day of raw meaty bones, and may include a second meal of ground meat (either muscle meat or ground rmbs) mixed with pulped vegetables and fruits (referred to as the veggie mix), sometimes fish or eggs, perhaps some organ meat, and supplements, but the rmbs are generally as much as 85% to 90% of the dog’s actual diet. Some owners feed the meat/veggie mix every day, while others give veggies only occasionally. The ground meat is mixed with the veggies and supplements to insure that the dogs eat them, as most would prefer just to eat the meat and bones. The bones can be coated with supplements (sort of a raw shake and bake), but supplements really don’t have to be used every day. This diet has a lot of flexibility!
Since we are feeding Dalmatians, a breed that can include urate stone formers, most Dal owners use a larger percentage of vegetables and extra water mixed into the meal. Dals eating only raw meaty bones may not drink enough additional water to keep their urine properly diluted. When chicken is used in our meat/veggie mixture it is generally ground necks or backs. If we are using egg, ground turkey or beef (either chunks or ground) with the veggie mix, we could add ground eggshell for extra calcium, ½ t. per cup of meat, but that is not really necessary. On “fish day” we use canned mackerel as the protein source, and that comes complete with useable bone. Other useful meaty bones include turkey necks, beef or lamb ribs and pork necks.
We generally feed ground meat (usually ground rmbs) in the morning, with the pureed veggie mixture, and supplements. The evening meal is generally raw meaty bones of some sort, usually chicken backs or turkey necks.
The veggie mix may contain some fruit as well, or ripe fruit can be offered separately to dogs that enjoy it. Veggies must be “pulped” (grating won’t do) to break down the cell walls so that the dogs can digest them. Remember, wild canines would be getting their veggie matter already partially digested from the stomachs of their prey. Juicers work well for doing veggies, and the pulp and juice are mixed together. Food processors can also be used, and do a better job with leafy greens. We grind veggies when we have the time, keep out enough for several days and freeze the rest for future use. Trips to the Farmer’s Market result in large batches of veggies to process.
Ideally, the mixture has both above and below ground vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are particularly important in this mix but some are a bit strong tasting so need to be mixed with more palatable tastes. We’ve used mustard greens, kale, and collard greens, lots of variety lettuces, as well as beet, turnip, carrot or beet tops and some spinach or parsley. Any kind of summer or winter squash will work well. Broccoli, celery (especially the dark green locally grown kind), green beans and peas, zucchini, cabbage, pumpkin and apples are good additions. For root vegetables we use carrots and sweet potatoes, plus an occasional beet, turnip, kohlrabi, or rutabaga. Almost any kind of fruit or vegetable can be added to the mix, although some advise against tomatoes and egg plant while others use them sparingly. Use a variety of vegetables and always include at least 3 or 4 in each mixture. Any ripe fruit can be added – bananas, plums, peaches, pears, berries and such. Some owners make a separate fruit mixture to be used occasionally. Garlic is a healthy addition and we add it to most batches. Fresh ginger is also a good addition. Although vegetables are usually fed raw, we occasionally use baked squash or sweet potatoes, which come in handy when I forget to take frozen veggies out of the freezer!
Eggs are fed often, either as a protein source to mix with the vegetables, or added to the rest of the meal. There is no more perfect food than eggs. Eggs are normally fed raw. Forget about raw eggs being a problem – that’s only true of the whites, which are just fine if fed with the yokes. I sometimes make up an omlet for the dogs using eggs and vegetables or fruit.
Dairy products are probably not a natural food for canines, although many dog owners use yogurt on a regular basis. Yogurt or a probiotic product help establish good bacteria in the gut and aid in digestion. Cottage or Ricotta cheese are also popular with some.
Supplements are used to help insure optimum nutrition and health, although not everyone uses them. Finely ground alfalfa and kelp can be mixed half and half and kept in a shaker can. We also use unprocessed organic apple cider vinegar. The alfalfa mixture and the apple cider vinegar contain many additional vitamins and minerals. Salmon oil is used to add Omega 3s, and we also use some flax seed oil from time to time. Digestive enzymes and probiotics are also used by some owners.
Dalmatian Specific Concerns
It’s important to remember that Dalmatians must always drink enough water to keep their urine properly diluted, whether they are eating dry dog food or a Barf diet. Crystals and stones form in concentrated urine, particularly in dogs that do not get outdoors to urinate as often as they should. We have found that urine pH tends to be more variable on commercial dog food, and find that our Barf fed dogs consistently have urine in the pH range of 6.5 to 7.0, which is probably ideal. Urate and calcium oxalate crystals may be a problem if the urine is too acidic (below 6.5), while struvite crystals could show up if the urine is too alkaline (significantly above 7.0 which is neutral). The persistent presence of crystals in urine means that the diet may require adjustment, and the water intake may need to be increased. Although crystals often seem to appear for no specific reason and don’t necessarily mean that the dog is at risk, it does mean that the owner should be paying attention. A few crystals from time to time are insignificant, but finding them in large numbers on a regular basis means it's time for a reevaluation of diet and maintenance.
Before You Begin Anyone interested in feeding a Barf diet should take the time to read one or more books on the topic, and to check out some of the excellent websites available. The two most useful books for newbies would be “Give Your Dog A Bone” by Dr. Ian Billinghurst and “The Ultimate Diet” by Kymythy Schultze. Switching to Barf is not a decision to be made lightly, and dog owners should think this through carefully. I personally read about Barf, and “dabbled” in it off and on for several years before deciding to make the complete switch. I was originally planning to feed some kibble, but really got hooked on the concept and logic of Barf and have not purchased any kibble for many months.
In Closing . . . My dogs are doing wonderfully well on this diet and absolutely love their raw meals. The young dogs look fabulous - Dr. Billinghurst uses the term "brilliantly healthy" and it fits them perfectly, and the older dogs are doing very very well on this diet. Morris looks and acts like a much younger dog, and Sid's allergies seem to have disappeared completely. One of the side benefits of feeding raw meaty bones is immmaculately white teeth on all dogs. It does take me some time to purchase ingredients and prepare their meals, but I actually enjoy that part, and I don't think that it costs me much more than feeding premium kibble did. I want the best for my dogs, and I honestly feel that this is the healthiest, most appropriate way to feed them. Dog owners around the world are switching to this way of feeding, and that includes breeders, exhibitors, performance people and concerned pet owners. There are hundreds of internet lists devoted to Barf Diets for dogs, and Barf Buyers Groups are starting up all over the country. The Groups purchase meat in bulk at a great savings to their members. I haven't found that a Barf Diet eliminates shedding :-) or hole digging, but you can't have everything! © 2001 Sue MacMillan. Please request permission before recopying this article.
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