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 the diet they evolved to eat—a raw diet composed of meats and greens that are fresh, uncooked and wild.
The genetic makeup of domesticated dogs supports this. From Boston Terriers to St. Bernards, dogs are essentially the same as their ancestors, gray wolves.
The raw diet is high in protein, moderate in fat, has minimal amounts of carbohydrates and consists of:
- Muscle meat
- Raw meaty bones
- Organ meat
- Vegetables and fruits
How Much Raw Food Should You Feed?
Regardless of food, whether it be dehydrated, raw or treats, it’s always important to take into account dog weight and age.
Try our handy feeding calculator to estimate how much food you should be feeding your pet based on these factors.
Benefits of Feeding Your Dog the B.A.R.F. Diet
There are numerous health benefits to feeding your dog a raw food diet. These include:
- Leaner, more muscular build; nearly 60% of dogs are overweight or obese based on body condition scoring, which leads to a number of related conditions
- Skin and coat improvements
- Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
- Less odor
- Vibrant, calm energy
And don't forget about the environmental benefits: feeding raw lowers our ecological footprint. A raw diet is more fully utilized by dogs’ and cats’ bodies, which equates to smaller stools and cleaner litter boxes.
The B.A.R.F. diet also uses animal parts like organ meats that, while safe for us to eat, are usually avoided by humans. Using these parts of the meat reduces waste.
In short: what’s good for our pets is also good for our environment. It’s truly a win-win. Read more about the benefits of raw and FAQs.
Choose a Balanced B.A.R.F. Diet
What to include: Meat
So, if you are going to be giving your dogs raw meat, the first step is to decide exactly what type. It should be stated at this point that opting for the BARF diet does not mean heading out to the butchers, as many retailers stock pre-packaged food suitable for dogs on this meal plan.
This might be the best option for beginners to the BARF diet, as it is a nice, safe option for your dog. While all meat is essentially good for your dog, feeding it to them raw does carry some risk with it: namely that of food poisoning and salmonella. This is much less likely in pre-packaged food, but you can avoid it yourself.
Red meat is not only full of lots of nice, healthy iron, it also carries with it much less of a risk of food poisoning. Chopped up finely or minced, it will be a wonderful healthy food. Poultry is the only meat you need to be especially careful of, and you can always cook it beforehand if you are worried.
Another foodstuff that often gets overlooked when it comes to feeding your dog according to the BARF diet is fish. This meat is incredibly nutritionally beneficial, containing a huge amount of protein as well as omega oils that will improve your dog's health. Of course, you must be careful with the bones, so prepare this particular dish with caution.
What to include: Bones
Speaking of bones, they are another integral part of the BARF diet and one of the more controversial. However, like every other part of this diet, when prepared correctly they can be incredibly beneficial to your pet.
The best ones to opt for are bones with bits of meat and tissue still attached. These make great treats for your dog, for two reasons. The first is that, nutritionally, bones contain a lot of goodness that your pet will enjoy and benefit from. However, there is also a psychological element.
Gnawing on a bone is remarkably calming to dogs. Something about the activity releases the right chemicals in your pet's brain to make them feel happier and more content. This adds up to a snack that is not only good for your dog nutritionally, but psychologically as well.
What to include: Fruit and vegetables
This is an area in which you will have to be especially careful. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables that are harmful to dogs that you will need to avoid if you want to keep them happy and healthy.
Examples of fruit and vegetables to avoid include grapes, raisins, avocados, tomatoes, macadamia nuts, walnuts, onions, garlic and corn on the cob. All of these can cause your dog digestive distress at best, and severe health issues at worst.
Aside from this, around 20 to 40 per cent of your dog's diet should be made up of fruit and vegetables. These can be cooked if you are worried about your dog's teeth, but you will lose some of the nutrients if you do so. You should also remove all the pits, stones and seeds from fruit, as these are poisonous to dogs.
What to include: Miscellaneous
Aside from these essentials, there are a number of things you can give a dog on the BARF diet. Many canines enjoy cooked brown rice, raw or cooked eggs and even a small spoonful of ice cream from time to time. Do your research and customise your dog's diet to include the foods they love.
Research Supports B.A.R.F.
Dr. Karen Becker, integrative wellness veterinarian, is a strong proponent of raw food diets for dogs, and her research backs up her claims.
Her writings on the B.A.R.F. diet shows how beneficial feeding raw can be for your pet compared to traditional kibble. Becker visited experienced veterinarian Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman from Helsinki, Finland to learn more about her research from studying pet food and raw meat diets in pets from the last 20 years.
Dr. Björkman was studying levels of homocysteine in dogs, which is a marker of inflammation and chronic disease relating to diet. Her experiment involved four groups of dogs for six months. The first group consisted of previously raw fed dogs who were switched to dry food for the second half of the study. The second group consisted of dry-fed dogs that were switched to raw food for three months. The third and fourth groups continued eating their regular food (either dry or raw for the full six-month study).
The research showed that dogs fed raw food who continued to eat raw food had the lowest homocysteine levels, while dogs who ate dry food and continued eating dry food had the highest levels of homocysteine, 10 times more than the raw fed group. Similarly, the dogs raised on raw food and switched to kibble had a fivefold increase in levels of the disease marker in the body at the completion of the study.
How to Get Your Dog Started on a Raw Diet
Now that you’re well-informed about the advantages of feeding raw, it’s time to get started! Here are some steps to transition your dog to the B.A.R.F. diet:
If your dog is new to raw food, transition slowly. The complete transition can often be accomplished within a week; however, the key is to go slowly, as you would with any dietary change. Puppies can generally transition over the course of a few days, as they typically have healthier digestive systems than older dogs. The older the dog, the longer you should take to transition to the new raw diet.
To start, we recommend fasting your dog for a half day to a full day prior to the first meal to ensure a good appetite, and then feed a little bit to see how he or she handles the fresh food. If all is well, continue replacing a little bit of the original diet with the new raw diet.
Monitor your pet. If your pet experiences loose stools, wait until the stool is firm to continue the transition.