Of late, whenever dog people get together--whether on-line or face-to-face--conversation frequently turns to diets and dog food. And the "BARF" diet is one that is frequently discussed. If you haven't run into this yet, you likely will.
ANTA does not clinically evaluate dog food and recognizes that anecdotal stories are not scientific evidence. Accordingly, the club does not endorse BARF or any particular feeding protocol, but we do feel that readers may wish to be aware of popular or significant alternative protocols and some of the issues involved. This article attempts to provide an overview and, in an accompanying article, Liz Gordon relates her firsthand experience in switching to the BARF diet.
To begin, "BARF" stands for Bones and Raw Food. It is based on feeding raw chicken bones--carcasses, wings, and necks--and raw meat and even raw fish while excluding commercial dog food.
Its advocates claim numerous benefits; such as, cleaner teeth, better breath, reduced allergy symptoms, less stool, and less expense. They also suggest that the additional chewing involved promotes better gastrointestinal function and improved conditioning of jaw, neck and shoulder muscles.
Detractors worry about risk of salmonella, E-coli, and parasite infection, risk of injury from eating bones, effort and knowledge required to assure a balanced diet, additional requirements--such as refrigeration and hygiene--when dealing with fresh or raw ingredients, and veterinary resistance.
Some of the diet's claimed benefits are especially intriguing to Norfolk owners. Our breed tends toward rapid tooth tartar buildup and bad breath, so cleaner teeth and better breath are of particular interest; especially, when you consider the expense of dental cleaning and the worry about anesthetizing our beloved pets. Similarly with the allergy issue, where the diet avoids grains, which many believe to be a significant source for allergies as well as not being easily digested by dogs.
When asked, many vets express concern about the risk of bacterial or parasitic infection from raw foods yet those who have switched to it apparently experience little or no problem in this respect. Some advocates admit that a dog could choke or suffer internal injury from eating uncooked bones but point out that a dog could choke on almost any food and that the risk, if any, from uncooked bones is distinctly not the same risk as that from cooked bones, which splinter and are very dangerous to dogs.
A significant concern has to be whether a dog fed BARF will, in fact, receive a complete and balanced diet. This requires dedication and effort to research and follow through on what is necessary for good nutrition. One needs to do his/her own homework and we provide below a starter list of books and web sites for further information. Unfortunately, your vet may not be able to give you much help as, at least until recently, veterinary educational programs have not included much on companion animal nutrition.
Alternative diets offer interesting possibilities. There is a lot of information out there and the issues mentioned above are addressed in great detail. The bottom line is that, should you wish to switch from a commercial diet, you should take great care to ensure that your pet receives proper nutrition. You could easily be shorting your animal on essential ingredients or be feeding in the wrong proportions. The choice and the responsibility are yours!
Thirty years ago I began researching dog foods to find the healthiest product for our Rhodesian Ridgeback only to end up feeding her the more expensive grocery store brand. Then a few years ago, when our veterinarian ear specialist told us the only thing we could do now for Sadie, our PBGV, was to give her the healthiest food we could find, I went to work again "boning up" on the latest dog nutrition information. Sadie and Posy, our Norfolk, deserve the best. I read everything: traditional vet documents, the newest online information, publications such as Whole Dog Journal, finally concluding that I could safely add vitamins, fresh vegetables, fruits, cottage cheese, whole eggs, low-fat yogurts and cooked meat to her "gourmet" (non-preservative) kibble. I still couldn't bring myself to add raw bones or chicken wings; too many people had told me that it's dangerous to feed bones to a dog, that a dog could get a case of E-coli or salmonella, and only commercial dog food is balanced.
Then I remembered reading an article on canine nutrition in The Norwich & Norfolk News by Alison Freehling (Summer 98). Almost all the breeders who answered the survey already added fresh food to their dogs' kibble. Lyle and Brenda Coleman, however, feed raw chicken wings and necks (raw meats and bones being the "backbone" of the fresh food diet), lamb necks, turkey, liver, beef, ground veggies, and vitamin and mineral supplements, but no commercially processed foods. By the way, BARF, the zip term for Bones and Raw Food, is not pleasing to me. I prefer calling the new way of feeding Boning Up.
Lyle said to call if anyone needed more information, so I did. I asked if he was still happy with his dogs' diet. He was! "All you have to do," he said, "Is take as much precaution in serving raw meat to your dog as you do in preparing it for your family. Cooked bones are dangerous--not the raw ones." Lyle suggested I study more dog nutrition books, ask my vet when/if she had ever seen a case of E-coli or salmonella, then gave me additional tips to get started.
Some of the books I had already read. I ordered the others, devoured them, then, armed with information, went shopping. My concerns were already being replaced with internal questions such as "Don't zoos feed raw meat and bone to their animals?" and "What happens to some of the rodents and birds Norfolks catch?"
A few days later I bought a chicken and a package of chicken wings, saving the chicken neck for Posy's first bone. (Ellen Van Landingham, my Norwich friend, said it was a little easier to start with necks.) The wings were packaged in two's for the freezer except for the one I would use first. I have to tell you I was very nervous--so nervous I asked Ellen, who has been feeding her "pretty girls" this diet for years, to stand by me when I gave Posy her first real bone. Posy had already eaten her veggie pulp of sweet potato, green beans, safflower and garlic. I must emphasize "eaten" because we've never seen her eat slowly. (Posy inhales kibble.)
Ellen told me there are two kinds of bone eaters: those who begin chewing immediately and those who nibble all the way around it, then chew. Poised by the door ready to rush Posy to the vet, I watched her nibble, then chew. She took her time, and I could tell by the way she chomped on it that those hard-to-get back teeth were finally being cleaned well.
Two weeks later, Posy is getting overnight-soaked oatmeal, raw or boiled egg, low-fat yogurt, vitamins, all kinds of minced/ground veggies, raw liver and heart, cottage cheese, ground flaxseed, an enzyme supplement, brewers yeast, fruit (loves grapes), (no onions or cauliflower), but not in that order. Variety seems to be the key in keeping the diet balanced, so each day I try to introduce a different meat or vegetable, and she loves it all, even sardines. Her stool is firm and less frequent. Her breath is sweeter. Her coat looks glossier. She has more energy. And I feel good--satisfied at last. The suggested day of fasting is our next goal. That may be a little tougher.
(Dr. Billinghurst's books are available through links on several of the web sites listed below; the other books appear to be available through normal retail book sources.)
Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats
by Richard H. Pitcairn and Susan Hubble Pitcairn
Give Your Dog a Bone and Grow Your Pups With Bones by Dr. Ian Billinghurst
Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats by Kymythy Schultze
http://www.whole-dog-journal.com -- Whole Dog Journal -- 800-829-9165
ANTIC, June, 2000
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