THE BARF DIET: A PRACTICAL GUIDE
When comparing the different food available for your dog, is the BARF diet really healthier than all the others? Of course, it has its fans, but also many critics, especially certain vets who claim it has health hazards and even medical risks. The energy imbalance and potential contamination of raw meat should not be taken lightly... But this diet can be perfectly suitable for your pooch, so long as you follow a few simple rules and adapt it to each individual pet!
What is the BARF diet?
BARF is an acronym, which originally stood for "Bones And Raw Food" and has since been changed to mean "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food". The BARF diet was invented by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst in the early 1990s and is based on the administration of meat, fish, meat offal, and raw bones, with the addition of raw and pureed fruits and vegetables, and supplements, such as seaweed powder, brewer's yeast, and even eggs or kefir (which contains probiotics).
So, why the “re-invention” and return to exclusively raw foods? The main argument is that, out in the wild, predators do not cook their prey! What is most appealing about the BARF diet, is that it respects the physiology of the animal. A dog is a carnivore, and a cat is an "obligate" carnivore. So what could be more natural than feeding them a diet largely based on raw meat, meaty bones, and offal?
But in that case, why fruits and vegetables? Quite simply because, when eating prey, animals also ingest everything in the stomach of the “victim”, a herbivore. This includes indigestible elements such as cartilage, skin, feathers, and hair, which act as fibre to help maintain the digestive system, which is instead provided by the vegetables and fruits in the BARF diet.
The BARF diet aims to get as close as possible to feeding your pet natural prey.
There are variations to this diet regime: "raw feeding", which is based on the same principle without the addition of supplements, and "whole prey", which quite simply consists of feeding your pet whole, ungutted prey. Maybe a little much for urbanites!
What does it consist of?
Essentially, the BARF diet consists of animal products (50% muscle meat, 40% meaty bones, and 10% offal including 5% liver) plus a few spoonfuls of a mix of vegetables, fruits, and supplements, such as fish oil. Aside from having total control over your pet's food bowl, one of the main advantages for owners, if well organised, is the time saved by not having to cook any food.
What are the benefits?
of meat: protein and fat, depending on the pieces
of bones: minerals, including calcium and phosphorus
of offal: vitamins and omegas
of supplements: you can adapt the level of minerals, vitamins, and trace elements provided
of fruits and vegetables: fibre, for healthy bowel function
The quantities should be adapted to each individual; the quantity of meat required won't be the same for a Chihuahua, a cat, or a Bernese Mountain Dog, for example... and the cost will be different, too!
For a well-balanced diet, we recommend a variation of 3 different animal sources of meat and meaty bones, as well as offal and fish. And to make sure that all is well, keep an eye on your pet's stool! Is it too soft? This means they're not consuming enough bones. Is it hard or chalky? Then they're eating too much!
So, what are the advantages of the BARF diet? In addition to the 100% natural aspect of your pet's food ration, it allows dogs and cats to make full use of their jaw, which helps take care of their oral hygiene.
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How to Create a BARF Ration
When first implementing the BARF diet, use the following ratio:
raw, meaty bones: around 40%, adapted according to the type of meaty bone
meat: about 50%, adapted according to the number of meaty bones given
offal: 10% (including 5% liver)
mixed vegetables and fruits: at least 20g per 10kg of bodyweight
supplements: salmon oil, vegetable oil (sunflower), seaweed, brewer's yeast (especially for cats)
👉 Basic Principles
Everything should be raw (except some vegetables); bones should be very meaty and never cooked.
*For an adult dog: 2 to 3% of their bodyweight
*For an adult cat: 30-50g per kilo of bodyweight
One to two meals a day from the age of 1 year old
👉 Acclimatising Your Pet
It's very simple: At first, add new foods one at a time, not all at once. We recommend you start by giving your pet poultry meat (chicken or turkey) for 4/5 days. If your pet's digestive system is working correctly, you can then start to add puréed carrots and, gradually, raw meaty bones, starting with easy bones, such as chicken backs. Always make sure to select the bones according to your animal's size! If your dog or cat seems to be enjoying them, you can begin to add red meat and offal.
👉 Things to Avoid
Meat from pigs raised outdoors and wild boar, which may carry Aujeszky's disease. Not transmissible to humans, this viral disease, also known as pseudorabies, is caused by a herpesvirus; Suidae are often carriers of this disease. Also, beware of whole fish: this must be frozen for 2 to 3 weeks to limit any risk of parasites.
There are risks, of course...
But as long as the animal's energy needs are met, the BARF diet is no more problematic than any other. However, it quickly aroused the suspicion of many veterinarians, who, in particular, doubt its contribution to the good health of the animal, when compared with household rations. With the BARF diet, for example, it can be easy to create an excess or deficiency of a required nutrient.
By its very nature, a raw diet is not without risk, and every owner should be aware of that fact. The ingestion of bones can cause oesophageal or intestinal obstruction, or other complications requiring surgery. Some studies also highlight the low intake of calcium in this diet, which can lead to demineralisation and weakening of the bones, and therefore to more frequent or excessive fractures, which are the cause of many health problems. On the other hand, raw liver, which is very rich in vitamin A, can lead to hypervitaminosis A and joint complications.
Finally, we all know that raw meat can contain bacteria and parasites that won't have been eliminated by the cooking process. And, for the most part, freezing doesn't kill them either!
...but these things are avoidable, with a little common sense!
However, all judgments should be qualified, while remaining vigilant. There is currently no proof that the BARF diet is harmful to the health of domestic animals. In fact, it's quite the opposite: very sick animals have been seen to recover tonicity and vitality after being on this diet. In practice, raw rations prepared by owners are, more often than not, comprehensive and balanced. It's all about information, organisation, and good sense.
The Basic Rules
👉 A Smooth Transition
Start feeding your pet the BARF diet slowly by mixing raw food with high-quality industrial pet food. Among other things, this helps to avoid the digestive discomfort caused by an abrupt transition! Our pets' stomachs are quite capable of digesting new foods, but they must be given the time to adapt.
👉 Cats Can Eat Fibre and Vegetables
While it's true that they're "obligate" or "true" carnivores, cats can nevertheless reap the benefits of eating vegetables and fibre. These play the role of any skin, hair, or cartilage found in small prey consumed in the wild: a stimulant for digestive transit and intestinal flora.
👉 Adapt the Ration to the Animal
If you have a small dog or cat, obviously don't give them huge, meaty bones.
If they don't consume much oily fish, because they don't like it or by choice on your part, supplement with fish oils, krill, and green mussel powder. Farm prey is often deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids.
With the BARF diet, as with all diets, it’s important to observe 3 basic principles: make sure you're well informed and well organised when preparing the rations; give your pet high-quality, fresh products (if you don't have time to buy them fresh every morning, you can store them safely in the freezer); and keep an eye on your furry friend!
PUBLISHED 13.11.2020 - HECTOR KITCHEN, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
By the Hector Kitchen medical and scientific team
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