For those that don’t know, I have been raising puppies for Canine Companions for Independence (cci.org) and Paw Pals (paw-pals.org) for 9 years, plus I have raised my own pet dogs since the 80’s. I love dogs.
Currently, I have a beautiful golden-lab mix and a gorgeous black lab (Tertia is pictured to the right). They are both wonderfully socialized dogs that have incredible patience around both adults and children despite many of those humans not knowing the proper way to interact with animals. I am also currently fostering a puppy for Paw Pals (Kiwi is also pictured to the right).
Anyways, I have friends that also have dogs, and every few months one or more of them will preach the wonders of Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food (BARF) diets for dogs and cats. I have done tons of research on the topic.
Basically, and you can do the research yourself to verify, the assertion that BARF is best for dogs and cats is based on the belief that:
- Dogs and cats evolved based on a diet that includes raw foods.
- Dogs and cats are mentally stimulated and enriched by eating raw foods in their natural forms.
- Commercial food processing destroys many nutrients.
- Commercial foods are made toxic by the high heat used to process the foods and make them safe.
- Commercial food sticks to teeth and encourages bacterial growth.
On the face of the argument, it makes some sense. However, there are several issues that just don’t really hold up under scrutiny. For example,
- Dogs and cats evolved based on a diet that includes raw foods. I hate to state the obvious, but it isn’t obvious enough to many people. Dogs and cats have been domesticated and feeding off the left-overs of man’s food and feeding on processed foods for thousands of years. The foods provided by man have been cooked pretty much since the ability of man to control fire. That is a long, long time.
- Dogs and cats are mentally stimulated and enriched by eating raw foods in their natural forms. So, somehow, we would also be similarly stimulated and enriched by returning to a hunting and gathering society, too? I really don’t buy that one. We can, and should, provide mental stimulation for our pets. Toys, play time, walks, fetch, play with other pets, and other activities provide enrichment for our pets.
- Commercial food processing destroys many nutrients. Some research will show that many studies have been done on this topic. A BARF diet tries to overcome some of the deficiencies or a raw meat and bones diet by adding fruits and vegetables and even some grains. Well, this to me seems to imply that the true predator diet just isn’t enough and even BARF proponents know it. The studies show that low phosphorus, potassium, and calcium levels along with excessive zinc are typical of BARF and other raw food diets. Commercial foods are much better at providing all of the vitamins and minerals needed by dogs and cats.
- Commercial foods are made toxic by the high heat used to process the foods and make them safe. I kind of agree with this one, but when you weigh the pros and cons, this isn’t an issue to me. Raw foods are going to expose pets (and children through the pets) to toxoplasma, salmonella, sahnonella, E. coli, campylobacter and trichinosis. Pets are just as likely to die from these parasites and bacteria as humans. I would rather protect my pets and my children from parasites and bacteria that can be easily killed through cooking foods.
- Commercial food sticks to teeth and encourages bacterial growth. Yes, this is somewhat true. However, we can easily brush our dog’s teeth. With a little training and rewards, they learn to not just tolerate it but to see it as a good time. The flaw in the reasoning for using bones in the diet is that many people think that dogs that chew on bones have cleaner and healthier teeth. This just doesn’t hold up to reality. Dogs and cats have teeth made from the same building blocks as our teeth. If I were to chew on bones, I would likely have issues with cracked and broken teeth over time. Raw bones are just as much of a problem as cooked bones and even ground bone in that the pieces can perforate the stomach and bowels as well as the throat and cause massive internal infects and peritonitis in our pets. Chicken and pork bones are the worst in that they easily break into shards.
So, given the choice between a well balanced commercial product and a raw food diet such as the BARF diet, I will do what is best for my pets. Bring on the commercially processed foods.