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The BARF Diet

Jennifer Mcguiggan
June 20, 2017

Is a raw diet right for your pets?

It doesn't sound pretty, but the BARF diet is all the rage for some pet owners. No, they're not forcing cats and dogs to binge and purge. BARF is an acronym for Bones And Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

What is the BARF diet?

Instead of eating commercial pet food, dogs and cats on the BARF diet eat a mixture of raw meat, uncooked bones, and shredded vegetables. This diet is designed to mimic what animals naturally eat in the wild. But a lot of people, including vets, are not sold on the value (or safety) of eating raw. So before you put an uncooked chicken on your cat's dinner plate, learn more about this feeding approach.

What's wrong with regular pet food?

Proponents of a raw diet say that it improves their cats' and dogs' health. Veterinarian Dr. Doug Knueven is a practitioner of holistic veterinary care and owner of Beaver Animal Clinic in Beaver, Pennsylvania. He's also an advocate for the BARF diet. In a recent article, he details several possible problems with commercial pet food:

  • Many commercial pet foods contain a lot of grains, such as corn, wheat, or rice - things that cats and dogs don't eat in the wild.
  • Commercial pet food may contain additives and preservatives that aren't healthy for pets.
  • Digestion should start in the mouth when saliva mixes with chewed-up food, but most kibble is so small that some pets end up swallowing it whole.
  • Packaged pet food is cooked, which can alter the effectiveness of the food's nutrients.

Is raw better than kibble?

But not everyone agrees that commercial pet food is bad and that raw is the way to go. Opponents of the BARF diet include the American Veterinary Medical Association, British Veterinary Association, and Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. These organizations point out that there is no scientific evidence to show that raw food is better for your pet than commercial pet food. Those who support commercial pet food say that it is generally healthy and safe and that it meets pets' nutritional needs.

Although feeding dogs and cats raw meat to mimic the food of their ancestors may make sense on the surface, BARF opponents point out that dogs are not wolves and cats are not lions. Furthermore, they note that these animals have been domesticated for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, during which time they have eaten what humans ate, which is cooked - not raw - food.

Is raw food safe?

BARF skeptics, including the organizations listed above, also claim that a raw diet poses specific health risks to animals and humans, such as:

  • Ensuring that a homemade raw diet is nutritionally balanced can be tricky. (On the other hand, traditional commercial pet food is required to meet nutrition requirements.)
  • Parasites and bacteria in raw meat can sicken pets.
  • Eating whole bones can fracture teeth, poses a possible choking hazard, and could also cause internal tearing and bleeding.
  • Humans who feed their pets raw meat may come in contact with harmful parasites or bacteria such as salmonella. These can be contracted by handling the raw meat, your pet's food bowls, or even your pet itself, which could spread salmonella by licking their fur or you.

On the other hand, people who support raw diets say that these dangers are minimal. One thing everyone agrees on, however, is that cooked bones pose a serious choking hazard for animals. Whatever you do, never feed your pet cooked bones!

Alternatives to BARF

If you decide that you'd like to try the BARF diet, but can't stomach the idea of whipping up a raw meal yourself, you can now buy commercially-prepared raw meals, which would also take the load off the dog sitter come meal time. Or, if you'd like to upgrade your pet's diet but don't want to go raw, consider feeding your pet home cooked meals of meat and some veggies. You may also want to include some commercial kibble or additional supplements to make sure your pet is getting proper nutrition. But, most important, always check with your vet before making any significant changes to your pet's diet.

Jennifer McGuiggan is a freelance writer and editor who blogs about pets. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two grey cats.

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