The BARF diet for dogs has become increasingly popular ever since Dr. Ian Billinghurst wrote a book, in 1993, entitled “Give Your Dog a Bone: The Practical Commonsense Way to Feed Dogs for a Healthy Life“.
It is no secret that we are against the vast majority of commercial dog foods – they contain a load of toxic chemicals that will, over time, weaken your dog’s immune system, which will, in turn, increase the likelihood that he will become sick from any number of illnesses.
But is changing to a raw food diet the best solution?
It may seem so, on the face of it, but a raw food diet for dogs is certainly not the panacea for all of the problems with commercial products.
The theory goes that dogs’ bodies are not designed to ingest all of the many ingredients and chemicals in cooked dog food, as these are not available in the wild.
Instead, dogs historically have eaten raw meat and bones, hence the introduction of the BARF dog diet (which stands for Bones And Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods, as there appears to be no consensus on this).
There are, however, a few issues with this theory.
Firstly, the meat that we buy today from butchers and supermarkets is not the same as the raw meat that wild animals eat from a fresh kill.
For example, it has already been processed several times, including exposure to many of the thousands of chemicals in use in the USA today that could harm your dog. These chemicals must be destroyed by high enough temperatures that will then break them down.
Secondly, many of those people who promote BARF pet food for dogs do so on the basis that since all domesticated dogs are descended from wolves, then they should eat the same diet as wolves do.
Again, this sounds really good, until you realize that DNA sequencing has proven that domestic dogs cannot be a direct descendant of the wolf – it is just as likely that Fido has jackals or coyotes as ancestors.
So, raw meat is not at all the same as wolves eat in the wild, even if wolves were the only forefathers of the modern dog.
Now, although people think of raw meat when they hear about a raw food diet for dogs, it does also include raw vegetables.
Those should be safe enough, shouldn’t they?
Well, actually, no!
Another popular dietary trend, for humans at least, is the use of the Glycemic Index, and this indicates that raw carrots, a popular component of a raw food diet, can result in the pancreas creating much more insulin than the equivalent quantity of cooked carrots.
This in turn creates an insulin overload that can cause Fido to have liver problems that are very similar to a human suffering from diabetes.
In fact, the increase in dog owners feeding their pets a raw food diet correlates strongly with a similar increase in dogs developing diabetes.
Research into this continues, but it would be foolish to ignore what could be a warning sign.
So, it turns out that the ingredients recommended in a raw diet for dogs may not be as good for your pooch as you first thought.
What else is there to say about BARF for dogs?
Well, there is scientific evidence that dogs have been eating cooked food for at least 300,000 years!
That’s an awfully long time – it goes back at least as far as the Middle Pleistocene period. To put this in perspective, the pyramids in Upper Egypt date back to around 4,000BC, which is not even close to 300,000 years ago.
Biologically, 300,000 years is plenty of time for an animal’s digestive systems to change as a result of eating cooked foods, and this also means, therefore, that the way their body reacts to raw food will also be different.
BARF proponents also argue that animals such as dogs are not prone to bacteria such as Salmonella and E.coli.
What they don’t mention is that this only applies to dogs whose immune systems are already strong.
Remember, raw eggs (or even undercooked eggs) are not recommended for very young children, pregnant women and old people – precisely because they are more at risk of being infected.
Well, the same is true for animals.
If a dog is under the weather, as it were, and their immune system has been compromised (e.g. from commercial dog foods and chemical-based products such as vaccinations and dewormers), then they will be susceptible to these types of bacteria.
This is why, for example, we strongly recommend that you do not feed raw eggs to a dog suffering from Canine Parvovirus – their digestive system and immune system are under attack from one of the most aggressive viruses there is, so why would you want to risk introducing yet more harmful bacteria into their already-struggling bodies?
(The same goes for giving dogs with Parvo meats such as chicken and turkey.)
For the most part, Martin Goldstein DVM, author of the highly-acclaimed book “The Nature Of Animal Healing“, cooks his dogs’ food and supports the theory the raw meat does contain bacteria and can cause dogs to get sick, especially if their immune systems have been compromised, e.g. by exposure to chemicals.
We highly recommend The Nature of Animal Healing because you will learn…
This is a fascinating book centered on holistic health care for your animals. To find out more about The Nature of Animal Healing, please see our mini-post.
Although it is widely accepted that there is no single dog food that is appropriate for all dogs, this can become even more important when feeding your dogs a raw food diet.
That’s because some breeds can have genetically-predisposed allergies to certain meats, such as beef, while others may be allergic to fish or chicken.
If you’re giving your dog raw meat, then it’s obviously crucial that you do your research to make sure that you feed them meat that will not cause them problems.
Finally, the next time a dog owner tells you that they are feeding their dogs a raw food diet, because that’s what wolves eat, ask them if they themselves are eating bananas and leaves, because that’s what our ancestors, chimpanzees, eat. After all, DNA-wise, humans are much closer to chimpanzees than dogs are to wolves!
Seriously, if you’re thinking of changing to a raw food diet for your dogs, then please do the research first.
Your dog’s nutritional needs and diet are not to be taken lightly – each breed is different and you need to provide what’s best and right for the dogs you have.
It goes without saying, having read this article, that we personally do not believe in a raw food diet for our dogs: it’s not the same meat that wild wolves eat, it is still subjected to dangerous chemicals, dogs still can get sick from the bacteria in raw meat, and you need to be very careful that you don’t give your dog the wrong type of food for his needs.
Based on our experience with our own dogs, we are currently recommending a dry dog food called Triumph (lamb and rice formula). To find out why we chose this one, and, more importantly, why we did not choose one of the other better known brands that are available, please read our Healthy Dog Food post – you will be shocked at what you discover!