Bones and Raw Food Diet - Part One

The B.A.R.F diet stands for two common phrases: 'Biologically Appropriate Raw Food' and 'Bones and Raw Food'. Founded by veterinarian and nutritionist Dr. Ian Billinghurst, the principle is to feed dogs or cats the diet they evolved to eat— a raw diet composed of meats and greens that are fresh, uncooked and wild.

Fresh wholesome foods sound like a wonderful thing to feed our pets, and many do well on these diets, but are there hidden risks? If feeding bones and raw foods is your choice for feeding your cat or dog, you should be aware of the potential problems as well as the benefits of these diets.

Is BARF the healthiest choice for pets, and what are the benefits of a bones and raw food diet?

By choosing the foods to feed, you are in control of the ingredients fed to your cat or dog. There are not likely to be preservatives or additives if you are feeding organic foods. Some people enjoy preparing foods for their pets and find this a rewarding part of their bond with their pet.

Do be aware that there are a lot of false stories about the ingredients of commercial pet foods. They may contain “offal”, or the guts of animals, although this is what wild animals will eat. They do contain antioxidant preservatives to prevent them from becoming rancid. Some of them also contain textured vegetable proteins that appear to be meat and are not, and some of them do contain ‘color’ to make them appear more appealing. These are the same color additives added to processed human foods and must be generally considered safe, although each of us need to decide if we want to eat them or feed them to our cats and dogs.

Is it a balanced diet?

The raw food diets are meant to balance the diet over a couple of weeks, rather than for each meal. This is similar to the way many of us feed ourselves and our families, and with the right blend of ingredients this can work; however, many homemade diet recipes are not balanced for the essential nutrients.

A nutritional study of the bones and raw food diet (the ‘BARF’ diet) published in 2001 showed the diet to be deficient in calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, and excessively high in vitamin D.  Another study of homemade diets showed that even combining three recipes over a week resulted in deficiencies, so varying the foods may not balance out the deficiencies, although the pets may not show any signs of this in the short term. It is likely that some adult cats and dogs could cope with some of these calcium and phosphorus imbalances, but they may affect the strength of the bones of growing pets. The zinc deficiencies may cause skin disorders.

Summary

  • If you choose to feed the BARF diet or any other diet involving raw foods, we recommend that very special hygienic care is used in handling the food and the cat or dog’s feces.
  • Remember to deworm your dog or cat regularly, and tell your veterinary surgeon what diet you are feeding so that if your pet develops gastrointestinal disorders, they will know to look for the bacteria and parasites mentioned above.
  • Ideally, the diet should be balanced by a veterinary nutritionist and supplemented as necessary.
  • If you feed bones, either raw or cooked, that can be ingested by your cat or dog, you are running the risk of esophageal 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 pet’s diet and skip the bones.