BARF stands for "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food" though some people refer to it as "Bones & Raw Food". The basic principle is to feed our dogs a diet that nature intended & that means no processed foods...bit like what us humans are trying to avoid!!
A BIT OF HISTORY...
For thousands of years, dogs roamed the ancient world. They made their homes on the Savannahs of Africa, the plains of India & the forests of Europe, Asia & the Americas. Packs of dogs swirled through every type of terrain in every climate. They ate what they could wherever they could. Their food came from three sources: prey, scavenged & grazed items.
Prey would be mainly herbivores, for example rabbits, deer, sheep or antelope. Scavenged food was food which dogs, acting as nature’s cleaners, devoured from the scraps left over from the meals of big, messy carnivores such as lions, bears & pumas. Grazed food included apples, berries & other wild fruits & nuts in season, & formed a small but significant part of a dog’s diet, especially during summer. As disgusting as it sounds coprophagia (eating of faeces) offered dogs even greater nutritional scope!
Dogs hunted in packs & they would devour their prey completely - absolutely nothing would remain of the carcase. The soft organs, or viscera, were the first things to be eaten, followed by the gut contents, which, in herbivores, would be full of chewed and partially digested vegetable matter. Cereals were also present, but only as a very small proportion. Then the muscle (meat) would be eaten. The bones, skin & hair comprised the final course, being nature’s way of cleaning the teeth after a large meal.
Man has been feeding dogs for about forty thousand years. The canines helped with the hunt & man rewarded them with some of the leftovers, which the dogs were only too happy to consume. Life was easier for both species under this arrangement - man got a useful hunting companion & the dogs got a pack mate who fed them a broad-ranging diet without them having to do too much work.
So this is how, & why, the BARF diet developed & it really is as close to nature as you can get...with the right mix your dogs will live a happier healthier life.
If you are interested in feeding your dog the BARF diet here are a few books that you may find useful if you want to find out even more:
"Give Your Dog a Bone" - by Dr Ian Billinghurst
"Grow Your Pups with Bones" - by Dr Ian Billinghurst
"Raw Meaty Bones" - by Tom Lonsdale
"Hostilic Guide for a Healthy Dog - by Wendy Volhard & Kerry Brown
Now for some answers to questions that you might have:
WHAT IS THE BARF DIET?
A BARF diet is the modern day approximation to the diet wild dogs have evolved to eat after hundreds of thousands of years in the forests & scrubland of the world. We cannot feed whole prey to our domestic dogs because we can’t easily get hold of it...mind you, Radar is quite partial to the occasional "fur on bunny" (paunched first by my local butcher!) - though Rio's not so sure what to do with them yet!!
However, we can source quality meat, bone & organ tissue to emulate the carcass & can use fruit, vegetables, nuts seeds & herbs to reproduce foods found in the gut of rabbit, deer or sheep – as dogs would be eating in nature. If you check out this website you'll find stockists of raw food both here in the UK & abroad: Canine Health Concern - Nutrition
A BARF diet provides a range of benefits. These benefits include:
- Reduced doggy odour & 'dog breath'.
- Naturally cleans teeth so there's no need for toothbrushes or de-scaling. It also helps prevent gum disease leading to improved general health.
- Chewing raw meaty bones cleans teeth & supplies minerals, but, most important, dogs love it...& wow, does it get their endorphins going!
- The time it takes for a dog to chew raw meaty bones gives their stomach time to get the acids moving.
- Produces firmer, more 'pick-upable', smaller stools.
- Can reduce vet bills (healthier dogs).
- Economical to feed in comparison to quality commercial dog foods - I reckon it costs us approximately £14 a week to feed BOTH Radar & Rio!
- Puppies develop at a more appropriate rate so quick growth spurts are avoided. A GOOD breeder will want to stop fast growth in any pup.
- Better weight control which helps to reduce the symptoms of arthritis & obesity.
- Some long standing bowel problems (e.g. constant or recurrent diarrhoea) & skin problems (chewing feet, recurrent ear infections or constant scratching) can be cured with raw food & careful selection of ingredients.
The quick answer is as much of a variety of raw foods possible - I know that I'd get bored eating the same thing day after day so, I'm guessing they would too!! Here are some of the things that Radar & Rio eat:
- Lots of raw meaty bones, e.g. chicken wings & carcasses, turkey necks, lamb ribs
- Minced meats e.g. chicken (the minced chicken I get also contains minced chicken bones), turkey, rabbit, lamb, beef, venison, pigeon, pheasant (for puppies, not too much beef or game as it can be a bit rich)...in other words anything & everything...John sometimes reckons they eat better than him!!
- Minced offals e.g. heart, liver, tripe.
- Minced fish e.g. trout, sardines, sprats. Sardines & sprats can be given whole (they don't have to be gutted & can have the heads left on)...in the summer Radar & Rio love nothing better than a raw, frozen sardine...a yummy fishy ice lolly!
- Pulverised vegetables e.g. bean sprouts, any type of lettuce, tomato, spring greens, broccoli, carrot & tops, beetroot & leaf, courgette, any type of cabbage, marrow, spinach, runner beans, peas in the pod, leek, radish & tops, watercress, cucumber, pumpkin, marrow, celery, corn off the cob
- Pulverised fruits e.g. pineapple, rhubarb, banana, melon, apple, pear, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum, greengage (make sure you take the stones out of the "stone" fruit & discard as stones can be dangerous to dogs), orange, lime
- Herbs e.g. parsley, mustard & cress, garlic
- There's no problem if you want to give your dog milk or diary products but try to use unpasteurised goats milk...it's much better for them! Apart from when they were puppies (see the "Puppy Diet" below), Radar & Rio don't get diary products in their diet - the only exception to this is if they ever have to have antibiotics. Antibiotics can throw the immune system out of balance so, if my boys have to have them, I give them a couple of tablespoons of probiotic yogurt before each meal...natural...not flavoured!!
- BARF fed dogs can also have raw eggs added to their meals - just break them straight into their bowl & chuck in the shell too!
- I give Radar & Rio one Fish Oil capsule in each meal (they have two meals a day!) - you could give them the capsule whole but, because I'm so sad (!), I pierce the capsules & squeeze the contents over their food! You could use ordinary Cod Liver Oil capsules but if can you get Fish Oil caps they're much better as they contain the oil from the whole fish, not just from the liver. I get mine from the local health food shop or the supermarket...just the normal human stuff!
- My boys also get 2 measures of a herbal mixture called "Keepers Mix" - I get this from a company called Dorwest Herbs - they deliver to the UK & abroad.
So you see, feeding your dog the BARF diet is easy...it just means that they, basically, eat whatever you've got in your "cupboard"!
ARE THERE ANY RAW FOODS THAT I SHOULDN'T GIVE TO MY DOG?
- If you decide to add potatoes, pasta or rice to their diet these MUST be cooked - raw potatoes, in particular, are toxic to dogs (& us!). Personally, I don't give any of these things to Radar & Rio - I consider that their diet is balanced enough without adding the extra starch.
- NEVER give onions, grapes, raisins, currants or sultanas - these are HIGHLY toxic to dogs. I also avoid giving them avocado as this can also be toxic to some dogs & I don't want to risk it!
- DON'T give your dog chicken legs as the leg bones can splinter even if raw.
- Personally, I don't give Radar & Rio pork or pork bones but only because of pork's historical problems with worms...but that's just me, as I know of loads of people who give their dogs pork products with no problems at all.
Oh most definitely you can! In fact, they can be weaned onto a raw food diet - this is, after all, what they did for thousands of years before commercial puppy foods came along! I've included a "Puppy Diet Sheet" below.
Here's Radar aged 4 weeks enjoying his beef & milk mush...not
quite sure why he decided to stand in it though!!
Here's Radar at 5 weeks old (purple collar in the foreground)
enjoying his first chicken wing!!
I THOUGHT IT WAS DANGEROUS TO FEED DOGS CHICKEN BONES?
Cooked bones are likely to splinter & can cause real problems to a dogs digestive system so NEVER feed cooked bones. However, raw bones (with the exception of chicken legs as mentioned above) have been fed to dogs for years & there are rarely problems reported. Chicken wings, turkey necks & lamb ribs are the best bet. It's also possible to buy minced chicken with minced chicken bone content - see "What is the BARF diet" above.
SINCE MY DOG'S BEEN HAVING THE BARF DIET HE'S BEEN DRINKING LESS WATER...WHY?
If your dog has previously eaten dry kibble or canned food & you then introduce the BARF diet it is more than likely that they will drink less water. This is absolutely nothing to be concerned about as raw food is full of naturally occurring water (plus any you add to pulverised fruit & veg) giving them all the moisture they need. Another reason that a BARF dog doesn't drink as much is that a BARF diet has a lower sodium content (dry & canned foods have sodium added as a preservative & flavour enhancer) plus, raw food has not had the water removed like dry food has.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
I estimate that feeding the BARF diet costs approximately £10 per week, per dog!
I get a lot of Radar & Rio's raw meat from a local "natural" pet food shop called Nurturing by Nature (based in Dorset) however there are loads of other places where you can buy ready prepared raw foods...see Canine Health Concern - Nutrition page - this link also mentions some suppliers that are based in Canada & the USA. Here are links to three other UK suppliers that produce mixtures of minced meats & fruit/veg:
Landywood Pet Foods
Natures Menu - please note, some of Natures Menu's frozen nuggets contain rice - if you, like me, want to avoid all cereals, then the one to buy is called "Banquet Nuggets".
Please don't forget your local butcher, wholesaler butcher or even abbatoir...it is often possible to buy bones, including chicken wings & carcasses from them. In fact, many butchers will give you lamb ribs & recreational bones (e.g. marrow bones) for FREE...mind you, they may want you to buy the odd steak as well!!!!
WHAT ABOUT THINGS LIKE SALMONELLA?
The digestive tract of a dog is much shorter than a humans & the concentration of hydrochloric acid in their stomach is much higher. As a consequence, they can deal with the bacteria that humans can't. If you can bear it, just think of the things that a dog will eat if allowed.... imagine the things they can pick up or lick...these can, & do, contain bacteria but don’t harm them.
OK, I'M INTERESTED/HOOKED...HOW DO I START?
There's no hard & fast rule here as every dog is an individual - some dogs are happy with a straight swop whilst others need to be gradually introduced BARF over a period of about a week to 10 days...the "gradual" introduction was what I intended to do with Rio as he'd been weaned on to a dry kibble...but, oh no, Mr Rio wasn't having any of it...it was all I could do to stop him eating Radars food too...he was like a dog possessed!!!! However, Rio aside, most people start by replacing one kibble/canned meal a day with some simple minced chicken with a bit of pulverised veg/fruit...when your dog is used to this add raw meaty bones e.g. chicken wings as they build in confidence. By the way, it is not advisable to feed dried food & BARF at the same meal as they take differing times to digest.
HOW DO I MAKE THE PULVERISED FRUIT & VEGETABLE MIXTURE?
This is pretty simple though you do need a food processor or liquidiser...if you haven't got either...guess what is going on your Christmas list!!
Anyway, what you need to do is roughly chop up whatever fruit & veg you're going to use (choose 3 or 4 vegetables & a couple of different fruits). Once they're chopped, pop them all into the food processor/liquidiser with a little liquid...I use either water, tomato juice or apple juice, depending on what's in the cupboard. You MUST add some liquid or you'll just end up with a lumpy mess or, worse case scenario, your liquidiser won't cope & will blow up & you'll need to redecorate the kitchen!! What you're looking for is a "mush"...sort of thick soup or porridge consistency. Once you've made your "mush" you can freeze it if you like.
If making your own fruit & veg mix is too much like hard work then you can buy ready prepared - either together with minced meats (see above) or alone. Natures Menu make a product called Blended Nuggets which contain a mix of fruit & vegetables that you can add to the minced meats & offals.
HOW MUCH RAW FOOD SHOULD I FEED PER DAY?
The general rule that is used for how much food an adult dog requires per day, is 3% of his optimum weight. In other words a 100 pound normally active dog, would require approximately 3 pounds of food per day (raw meaty bones, meat, vegetables, fruit etc.). This amount can be split over as many meals as you wish.
100 lbs/45 kg - 3 lbs/1.5 kg of food per day
50 lbs/23 kg - 1.5 lbs/0.7 kgof food per day
25 lbs/11 kg- 0.75 lbs/0.3 kg of food per day
If your dog is overweight reduce the amount of food to 2.0 or 2.5% per day or increase the vegetable/fruit ratio. Some dogs need a certain volume of food in order to be mentally satisfied, in those circumstances increase the vegetable & fruit content of their diet substantially & reduce the protein levels. After tailoring the diet a bit you should be able to find a happy medium between a low enough protein/fat level to reduce the weight but enough volume of food to keep the dog mentally sound.
Always, always, tend to under feed than over feed. We suggest under feeding for 2 days then over feeding on the third. That way you can contain a weight problem by varying the amount fed on the third day.
A growing puppy should get 4-5% of their body weight per day. There are suggestions that up to 10% of their body weight can be given but that maybe a bit extreme for most breeds. Measure the weight gain every couple of weeks and adjust the amounts accordingly.
Regardless of the breed or the size of dog, a steady slow growth rate is the healthiest path. This is especially important for the large & giant breeds that are more prone to growth problems because of the sheer size. A lean look is always preferred in young growing puppies of any breed.
Very active dogs or dogs in a competitive, working environment will also require a much higher percentage of food per day, however the couch potato should get less. As always, common sense applies!!
COULD YOU GIVE ME A DIET SHEET...JUST TO START ME OFF?
I most certainly can...courtesy of my good friend Chrissie (from Canada) who orginally helped me to get started!
Puppy Diet Sheet
To help you start with feeding raw natural foods, we have put together some information explaining how we feed our dogs. With time you may want to vary this. We have therefore added information on raw feeding in general to help you decide what to feed your dog.
This is what your puppy has been eating. We recommend that you follow a similar feeding schedule for the first 4 weeks & then reduce meals to 2 a day, those being breakfast & dinner (drop the milkshake). It doesn't matter which meal you feed when, so if you prefer to do the milkshake for breakfast, that's fine. The amounts given are approximate & serve only as a guideline. Observe your dog, feel his ribs – if he's getting fat, reduce the amount & if he's looking too skinny, add a bit more! Vizslas should be "lean & hard", not roly-poly. You will have to increase the RMBs (Raw Meaty Bones) & dinner portions as your puppy grows. Remember to adjust his food accordingly if he's had a lot of treats throughout the day too.
Breakfast: Raw Meaty Bones (RMBs)
Defrost & feed raw – can get a bit messy, so feed outside if possible
Choose from A, B or C
A Half a turkey neck
B 1 chicken back/carcass
C 1 meaty beef bone or small lamb rib
Lunch: Puppy Milkshake
1 cup of Goats milk
1 teaspoon of honey
1 teaspoon of oil
1 raw egg (no shell)
1 teaspoon of natural yoghurt
1 capsule of slippery elm (shake powder out of capsule)
1 teaspoon of carob powder (provides extra calcium...good for growing bones!)
Put all of this in a blender and mix well. The liquid should froth a bit.
Evening meal: raw ground meat & fruit/veggie mush
Approximate proportions for a puppy is 70% meat & 30% mush. Once they have stopped growing, & for adult dogs, you can reduce the proportions to 60% meat & 40% mush.
Approx. ½ lb ground meat or fish (we mostly use beef, tripe, herring and chicken)
A portion of fruit/veggie mush (put something like 1 banana, 1 apple, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 carrot, 5 big Romaine lettuce leaves, half a zucchini with water in the blender & mix to make about 1 litre of mush. Freeze/chill any excess to use another day.
Add half a teaspoon of kelp & about a dessertspoon of omega oil (e.g. cod liver oil or fish oil)
Mix that all together and serve - bon(e) appetit!
I do hope that you've found all the above interesting & that, maybe, if you don't do it already, you're now considering feeding your precious Vizsla BARF?!!!