Barf for dogs for beginners: mistakes, risks, and tips
Proponents of raw food are convinced that this method of feeding is the only appropriate way to feed your dog, and that processed dog food, no matter its form, will harm your four-legged friend.
In this article, we examine this hypothesis thoroughly and address the possible problems that can be caused by raw feeding. In addition, you will learn what to watch out for if you wish to feed your dog according to the principles of the BARF movement.
What is BARF for dogs?
The term is an acronym that stands for "biologically appropriate raw food” which is an accurate description of the thought process behind this form of canine nutrition. BARF is therefore about providing feeding the products to your pet that are most appropriate for its breed. All dry and wet feed products are completely eliminated from the diet. Instead, meat, vegetables, fruit and cereals are all fed raw, while the pet will also be given bones as an occasional treat.
To ensure that all required nutrients are provided in sufficient quantities, specific fats, vitamins and minerals must all be added to the food.
BARF requires learning
Words such as biological and appropriate naturally sound good when you first hear them. In fact, there is nothing wrong with BARF feeding, as long as it is done right: but that is precisely the problem: most dog owners don’t do it right and, instead, make mistakes when using BARF, while these mistakes risk causing serious, long-term damage to their pet’s health.
Ultimately, the absolute exclusion of processed dog food from the diet by no means implies that the dog’s diet is better as a result. In fact, BARF can quickly lead to deficiencies or excesses of particular nutrients. Similarly, digestive issues are far from uncommon.
The biggest sources of mistakes with BARF are:
- Too much meat
- Raw or unsuitable carbohydrates
- The wrong amounts of micronutrients
Too much meat
Many dog owners conflate BARF with a feeding regime that largely consists of raw meet. That, however, is a false assumption, because meeting a dog’s nutritional needs means more than stuffing it with vast quantities of muscle meat.
Firstly, BARF should not mean that amounts of other body parts of the “prey,” such as tendons and connective tissue should not be reduced excessively. Secondly, dogs do not naturally eat a diet of pure meat.
While it is correct that their digestion, like that of their ancestor, the wolf, is designed to extract nutrients from animal proteins and fats, they also need carbohydrates from appropriate, plant-based sources.
Moreover, an excessively high proportion of meat in BARF is associated with excess protein consumption, putting the animal’s kidneys under strain and can even cause damage over the longer term.
Raw or unsuitable carbohydrates
As well as excessive meat consumption, even a diet with the right amounts of carbohydrates can be a source of mistakes in BARF diets, as carbohydrates are often fed raw. This makes them hard for the dog to digest.
Even though the ‘R’ in ‘BARF’ stands for raw, carbohydrate sources such as potatoes or vegetables should always be heated. This helps to release the carbohydrates that they contain and makes them easier to digest. Due to the fact that they contain solanin, which is an alkaloid, potatoes should generally not be eaten raw in any event.
The wrong amounts of micronutrients
The biggest challenge with a BARF diet, however, does not consist of delivering an appropriate proportion of meat or heating up vegetable content; instead, it involves providing the right amounts of vitamins and minerals. If the composition of meals is incorrect, it can even lead to deficiencies or excesses in micronutrient levels.
In particular, the wrong amounts or the wrong proportions of calcium and phosphorous represent a potential risk for dogs. Young animals are especially sensitive in this respect. If they are fed incorrectly, disruption to their bone growth and massive malformation of the musculoskeletal system can result.
Risk for humans
However, barf is not only a potential health risk for dogs, but also for their owners, since raw meat is particularly prone to being contaminated with germs, as this Dutch study from 2016 shows. This is also confirmed by a study recently carried out in Portugal, which shows that especially raw food is frequently contaminated, often even with multi-resistant germs.
The bacterial load is generally harmless for dogs, except for young, old or sick animals. For humans, however, it can be problematic due to close contact with the four-legged friends. Small children and old people in particular can get sick from germs that are transmitted when they come into contact with dogs. Above all, it is the already mentioned multi-resistant germs associated with barfing that represent a risk that should not be underestimated.
At a glance
Anyone who decides to use BARF as a feeding method should clearly understand that “As long as it’s raw and unprocessed” is not a good basis for breed-appropriate feeding in dogs. Proper practice of BARF involves rather a lot more.
Among others, the following issues should be taken into consideration:
- Appropriate amounts of muscle meat (and other parts of the animal should also be fed);
- Consider plant-based nutritional elements (dogs are not pure carnivores).
- Cook carbohydrate sources (heating makes carbohydrates easier to digest).
- Pay attention to micronutrient needs (the requirements must be adapted to suit each dog exactly).
- Bear exposure to germs in mind (germs contained in raw meat can be transmitted to humans).
BARF is certainly not a bad thing in itself. When done right, the dog receives all the nutrients it requires and is not subject to any unnecessary issues caused by artificial additives or the like.
However, BARF requires a great deal of effort from dog owners and mistakes are commonplace. Anyone who is not prepared to acquire the necessary knowledge and take a suitably careful approach is better off avoiding BARF methods altogether.
Thanks to the high-quality dog food that is now available, breed-appropriate food for dogs is also possible without feeding them raw meat. As an owner, ready-prepared dog food has the further benefit that you can be confident that its composition exactly reflects your dog’s needs, so that there is no possibility of nutritional deficiencies occurring.
Our BARF alternatives
As an alternative to BARF, we recommend trying our Country Feast dry dog food in its cold-pressed form. Dry dog food, which is manufactured via a cold press process, is characterized by the particularly careful, gentle techniques used in its manufacture, thereby preserving all nutrients in the food as effectively as possible. Moreover, cold-pressed dry food does not swell in the dog’s stomach as much as other food types.
Our Landschmaus consists exclusively of natural ingredients, and contains lots of food-grade meat and is free from cereals such as wheat.
In the event that you or your pet prefer wet food, we recommend the Bellfor Favourite Menu. Once again, we make use of gentle manufacturing techniques, natural ingredients, a high meat content and easily digestible ingredients.