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Feeding raw dog food: The ins and outs of the BARF diet

Raw food is a top choice for athletic dogs, and is rising in popularity for many household pets as well. What is a raw dog food diet? It’s typically a mix of meat, vegetables, yogurt, eggs, bone meal and other types of ingredients. The most popular form of this is the BARF diet, or biologically appropriate raw food diet, which is based off of a wild diet that wolves, coyotes or feral dogs might eat. This is an especially important diet to be aware of for Wyoming's thousands of working dogs and canine athletes. The internet is filled with raw dog food recipes, or there are commercially available raw foods.

Feeding raw dog food, or the BARF diet, can significantly improve your dog's health when done right
ElsBrinkerink through Wikimedia Commons

What exactly is a raw dog food diet?

The BARF diet strives to give dogs a protein-packed meal that’s specially formulated for canine needs. There are some people who believe that dogs only need raw meat and that all other ingredients are fillers, but this is not true. As mammals, dogs do need vegetable matter and some fiber-rich grains to be healthy. Dry dog food falls short, though, in that it generally has far more grain and vegetable than a dog needs, less meat, and little or no bone. With a biologically appropriate raw food diet, the goal is to correct the imbalance and offer the right nutrition to each animal.

What are the benefits of raw dog food?

Raw food benefits are well-documented and readily apparent. The BARF diet promotes high energy, strong bones and healthy muscle. All of these are essential in canine athletes, but are also important for a house pet to stay healthy at all stages in life. Dogs on a BARF diet tend to have fewer vet visits and shinier coats, and generally have fewer age-related problems than pets on a typical packaged diet.

Are there raw dog food diet drawbacks?

As with anything, feeding raw dog food in the BARF diet isn’t all positive. Pre-made raw dog food will likely cost a lot more than even the highest-quality dry food. There are lots of raw dog food recipes that are great for most dogs, but every caretaker has to have a strong understanding of the dog’s nutrition needs. When the food is made at home, it does require extra preparation time and good storage option.

While free-feeding is almost never a good idea, it’s especially dangerous with such rich foods – most dogs need about 2-3% of their body weight in raw food every day. More can cause gastric upset and obesity, while less can cause problems with undernourishment. Some foods are dangerous for dogs, so it’s very important to know which ones these are before preparing food at home.

What are common raw dog food diet risks?

In addition to the common drawbacks, there are some health risks of raw dog food that should be known before switching a dog to this kind of diet. First, it contains raw meat and animal products, so it can contain potentially harmful bacteria if not handled properly. Recipes that contain fish recommend that it be cooked because of an even higher risk of contamination. If a diet is not well-formulated, the dog could suffer from nutritional deficits. Whole bones can cause broken teeth or produce dangerous splinters; substitute with bone meal to avoid this problem.

As with any dog food switch, be careful when initially putting a dog on the BARF diet. Gradually switch from the current canned food or dry kibble, slowly substituting the appropriate proportion of raw food. Know the dog’s weight, and pay careful attention to how much you’re feeding. Always consult with a trusted vet before and during food switches, and if there are any changes in the dog’s behavior or elimination habits.