The BARF Diet for Your Dog

On Friday, July 15, a week and a day after Yum Yum had surgery to correct hip dysplasia, she was only eating  a little on her own. All the cajoling, pleading and Paul and me pretending to eat her food before she took a bite (like one does with a baby or a toddler), meant nothing to Yum Yum. As soon as she'd look at food, she'd turn her head to the side. About every third or fourth meal (we feed our dogs twice a day), she'd eat something, but not a lot.

By Monday she had stopped eating completely.

We took her to our vet, Héctor Robin Perez of SVSL Servicios Veterinarios Santa Lucia on Monday afternoon and he ran blood tests. Apart from slightly high creatinine levels (kidney) and slightly high white cell count (consistent with fighting infection, following major surgery), Héctor was stumped. He did think it was possible all the meds (prednisone, pain killer and antibiotic) were upsetting her stomach. He sent us home with a syringe and suggested we force feed her a diet of yogurt (to calm her stomach) and meat—blended well.

For two vegetarians, this was hard but we'd done it in the past and we would try anything to save our Yum Yum.

It's been quite an uphill battle this last month. It's horrible to look in your dog's eyes and see tears after you've just force-fed her. We broke it up into four feedings a day, which was easier on her. We tried canned food (the highest quality we could find on the island), cooked chicken, but last week on a whim I picked up 40 pounds of raw chicken. Remembering that for three years we gave our dogs a completely raw diet of chicken, beef or pork, I thought maybe Yum Yum would remember and eat again. Not what vegetarians like to do but forcing a dog or a cat to be vegetarian when it's in their nature to be carnivores is even crazy for two vegetarians.

I took her back to see Héctor last Friday and her blood levels were within normal range, but she had lost 12 pounds since she was weighed last on July 5.

Breakthrough! Since last Thursday Yum Yum has been eating on her own—sometimes twice a day but at least once a day. Three to four pieces of raw chicken at dinner and I guess our dogs are eating raw chicken again.

It's difficult for us to buy meat. We know what the industry does to cows, pigs and foul. The cruelty just to get food on people's tables is difficult for us to stomach, so we'll obviously have to figure out an alternative. We do, after all raise chickens—humanely and organically.

Anyway, this all reminded me of an article I wrote when I was a regular blogger for Off the Grid News about why we were feeding our dogs the raw diet, despite being vegetarians and the controversy.

A long lead in, but if you care to read it, it's here. 🙂

With the exception of your spouse and kids, there are few relationships that top the one you have with your dog. Indeed, many could argue that your dog understands you as well or better than your wife or husband. Their needs are pretty simple. Feed them and give them a place to lay their head that’s warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and keeps them from getting wet when it rains. Of course, the deeper you take the relationship—meaning, the more you understand his needs—the better.

Let’s call your dog Rocky. If you are like most of us, you have seen commercial after commercial promising some dog food company has the most balanced diet for Rocky’s needs. Scientifically formulated, Purina, Proctor & Gamble, Royal Canin, heck even the organic dog food makers know what’s best for Rocky. Well, if you look at the food, it sure seems like they do—food shaped like fire hydrants, bones and steaks that are painted all these wonderful, attention-grabbing colors. Rocky gobbles it all up, doesn’t he?

Here’s the truth: Rocky doesn’t know the fire hydrant from the steak because his eyesight can’t focus on anything that small and that close up. And speaking of eyesight, Rocky is colorblind, so whether it’s red, blue or green, Rocky doesn’t care. He’s hungry, so he eats it.

What’s Good for You Isn’t Always Good for Him

Most dog owners feed their dogs whatever is on the shelf, what’s on sale or the cheapest and have no clue that they are destroying their dogs’ insides. Not only are these products not nutritionally balanced, many actually contain ingredients that are poisonous and can, over time, compromise Rocky’s immune system and cause organ damage. These are tall claims, aren’t they?

It’s been drilled into our heads that chocolate is harmful for dogs. Today dog owners are catching on to the potentially fatal dangers of eating grapes and a few other foods. But there are others, such as garlic, which, while they aren’t going to kill Rocky immediately, with repeated ingestion can cause gastrointestinal problems and damage his red blood cells.

Next on the list are grains. Often the first or second ingredient in nearly every brand of commercial dog food—either before or after the extremely elusive, but oh-so important “meat by-product”—not only are grains not a part of a dog’s natural diet, they are known to cause many problems for them. Allergies in dogs such as dermatitis are probably the most common and one symptom you may have already experienced. Perhaps you have noticed him scratching endlessly. Wanting to end the discomfort, dog owners take their beloved canine to the vet to try and determine the source. The vet’s solution is to run an allergy panel to pinpoint the allergen. When it comes back that Rocky is allergic to whole wheat, the vet will usually suggest putting Rocky on a natural dog food, which contains smaller amounts of whole grains. It’s pretty safe to assume that many vets have no clue about what’s proper nutrition for a dog. Actually, at best many have no clue, and at worst many are too easily swayed by the kickbacks they receive from the multi-billion dollar commercial pet food industry.

Grains and whole wheat also put a strain on a dog’s pancreas. Grains turn into sugar, and because Rocky’s intestines are considerably shorter than ours, they are unable to break them down as easily as we can. If grains turn into sugar, and dogs can’t expel them as easily as humans, it seems only logical that all that sugar build up can lead to diabetes, which is very prevalent in dogs. Whether commercial dog food producers are using grains solely as cheap binding material or whether they are purposely poisoning dogs is not clear. Again, perhaps a tall claim, but we already know that the alphabet soup is in bed with Big Pharma and agribusiness, so one doesn’t need an overactive imagination to believe the same about the dog and cat food industries.

While the pet food industry isn’t stupid enough to add chocolate and grapes to their formulas, all of the commercial and most of the natural dog foods contain both garlic and whole wheat—even supposed organic formulas list whole wheat in their ingredients.

Raking in an estimated $13.2 billion USD in 2010 in total sales is Nestlé Purina, makers of Purina Dog Chow, which is considered the most popular commercial dog food in the U.S. They list the following ingredients for their formula:

  • Whole grain corn
  • Poultry by-product meal
  • Animal fat preserved with mixed- tocopherols (form of Vitamin E
  • Corn gluten meal
  • Meat and bone meal
  • Brewers rice
  • Soybean meal
  • Barley
  • Whole grain wheat
  • Animal digest
  • Calcium carbonate
  • Salt
  • Calcium phosphate
  • Potassium chloride
  • L-Lysine monohydrochloride
  • Choline chloride
  • Zinc sulfate
  • Vitamin E supplement
  • Zinc proteinate
  • Ferrous sulfate
  • Added color (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 2, Yellow 6)
  • DL-Methionine
  • Manganese sulfate
  • Manganese proteinate
  • Niacin
  • Vitamin A supplement
  • Copper sulfate
  • Calcium pantothenate
  • Copper proteinate
  • Garlic oil
  • Pyridoxine hydrochloride
  • Vitamin B-12 supplement
  • Thiamine mononitrate
  • Vitamin D-3 supplement
  • Riboflavin supplement
  • Calcium iodate
  • Menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity)
  • Folic acid
  • Biotin
  • Sodium selenite

Ever curious, I endeavored to understand what each ingredient was. Some were clear (salt for example), some I thought I knew based on their name, and some I had to Google because I had never heard of it and assumed it could only have been created in a lab.

About a third of the way into creating links to definitions to the ones that stumped me–not only in name but also in trying to understand how they benefit dogs–I became literally dizzy! Fortunately it was about this time that I found this site that explains in depth what each ingredient is and its “benefit” (or perhaps lack thereof) for your dog.

Take the Power Back

It is difficult to imagine anyone when faced with facts such as these would want to continue feeding their pet “food” that is not only unhealthy, but is downright dangerous. But what do you do? We are bombarded by loads of advertisements on TV, the radio, the Internet, billboards, and in magazines that all preach the benefits of dog food. It’s estimated that the pet care industry spends as much as $575 million to rope you in. These ads are directed at dog owners who know very little about nutrition, so if they say their food is healthy, it must be true—or so people think.

Who decides what you feed your livestock? Are the choices you make about their health influenced by the 1001 channels your TV funnels in? My guess is no! And so why would you allow your pet’s health to be determined by an industry that is hell-bent on compromising their health? No better than agribusiness and Big Pharma, it’s the usual song and dance of profits over the health and well being of people and pets.

The Healthy Alternative

You’ve heard about it—maybe your friends already rave about it. The bones and raw food diet (or BARF for short) is not only healthier for Rocky, but it fits in perfectly with an off-the-grid lifestyle.

Dogs are carnivores with hints of omnivore in them, not herbivores with the occasional hankering for meat, as the pet food industry would have you believing. This means that if left to themselves—as they were before humans domesticated them—they would naturally hunt for an animal and eat it. Given a choice, Rocky is going to give chase to a rabbit, catch it, rip it to shreds, and eat it. People mistakenly assume that because Rocky will eat the food you give him, it must be both nutritionally balanced to meet his needs and that he likes it. If I were facing starvation and you offered me kibble, eventually I too would eat it. In the wild, Rocky would get all he needs from eating that piece of rabbit, chicken or venison, because inside it are the digested vegetables it ate before it met with its untimely death, along with the bones Rocky needs. Think about it—at what point were Rocky’s ancestors able to cook their food? They developed a digestive tract that allowed them to eat and process raw meat.

Nothing is without its controversy, and the BARF diet has both its supporters and detractors. Those against will cite elevendy million reasons why it’s unhealthy for dogs to eat people food. People food? Is that what they call the food eaten by dogs in the wild who don’t have stoves to warm their food and a factory to process the crap they happily shove in their dogs’ mouths because it’s convenient?

Arguing that it’s somehow not appropriate or it’s unhealthy is literally a baseless argument given how many thousands of years dogs have been subsisting off the animals they hunt.

Citing convenience might be valid for many (although not preppers). It does take forethought to create balanced meals that mimic what Rocky would eat if it were solely to his discretion, which again, is based on instinct, not a degree in chemistry.

Among the common concerns people have about switching their dogs to the BARF diet are any or all of the following:

  • Splintering bones
  • Predisposition to an allergy
  • Feeding a pregnant dog raw meat
  • Fear of salmonella and worms
  • Death from eating raw meat

Splintering Bones

This is a fair concern, but only if you are cooking your meat and giving Rocky the bones. Cooking meat and its bones changes the composition, and they become brittle and can splinter in Rocky’s stomach. However, raw bones do not splinter, and part of the design of Rocky’s short intestines allows him to digest the raw bones quickly—and moreover, efficiently. The raw bones are actually essential to Rocky’s diet. The marrow helps clean his teeth, and during digestion the calcium and other minerals are expelled from the bone, which are distributed and absorbed into Rocky’s system.

Predisposition to an Allergy

This is a common misconception; I had heard similar things long before I considered the BARF diet for our dogs. I had heard that German Shepherds (and we have two) can’t digest beef—raw or cooked. I had always avoided beef when I was making my dogs’ food. My husband suggested we try it and see what happened. They gobbled it up and loved it. As I began reading the concerns people had over feeding their dogs beef or lamb or chicken because they assumed their dogs had an allergy, all the literature I read said, “Well, then don’t feed them that if you are worried. Feed them all the meats that you have no fears about.”

Feeding Pregnant Bitches a Raw Diet

Ask yourself what pregnant and lactating bitches did and do in the wild. Do they starve themselves? Do they stop eating until after they have given birth and are no longer feeding their new pups? Do they find a factory that makes dog food? No.

Fear of Salmonella

There can be traces of bacteria left on meat, and if consumed by a human this could be dangerous, if not deadly; however, because of the digestive systems of both dogs and cats, it just doesn’t bother them. Apart from the shortened digestive tract, dogs have higher levels of digestive acids than we do. But when I hear the salmonella argument, I simply direct people to this NIH study, which tested equal numbers of dogs eating the BARF diet to those eating kibble. While salmonella was found to be present in three of the dogs’ stool samples, it was shed with the stool and not absorbed into their systems.

As for the human members of your family, one simple way to avoid salmonella from being an issue is to clean up properly after handling raw meat. Wipe counters down thoroughly and designate trays and chopping blocks for the raw food; although you are going to clean up carefully, don’t use them for yourself and your family.

Fear of Worms

Interestingly, I do have personal experience with this issue. On my farm, aside from my three dogs, we have nine cats. With cats come lots of feces that dogs just have an affinity for. When we were feeding our dogs kibble and cooked chicken, they routinely had to be dewormed. Since we have switched them over to the BARF diet, although they continue to eat cat poop, we haven’t seen any traces of the flat worms that continue to be present in the cat poop.

My Dog Could Die Eating Raw Meat

To this I offer them five words: Pet Food Recall of 2007. Some statistics to take note of that came out of this recall:

  • More than 500 cases of renal failure were diagnosed
  • 60 brands of dog and cat food contained melamine, which is known to cause cancer and renal failure in both animals and humans
  • An estimated 8,500 pet deaths were reported to the FDA

What Can Rocky Eat on the BARF diet?

Part of why the BARF diet ties in so well with an off-grid lifestyle is that you and I are already setting up our lives so that we needn’t rely on the grocery stores to feed us. You are already embracing this lifestyle for yourself, so taking the next step to include Rocky is actually far easier than it will be to maintain your kibble obsession.

Among the meats Rocky can eat:

  • Venison
  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Lamb
  • Pork necks and ox tails
  • Turkey
  • Rabbit
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel

If Rocky isn’t eating fresh kill, you will want to supplement with either fresh fruits and cooked vegetables (minced) or vitamins. For supplements and feeding portions, my suggestion is that you download the following free e-book. Portioning is based on more than just body weight: Our sixty-pound male, for example, eats more than our two bitches, although they weigh ten to fifteen pounds more than him. If we were to go based on the portion suggestions on the bags of kibble, our dogs would be overeating and could get fat. Of course, if you live on a farm, your dogs are getting ample exercise.

Noticeable Differences in Rocky on the BARF Diet

  • He will poop far less
  • His feces will no longer be runny and foul smelling
  • His feces will be almost powder like
  • He will no longer fart noxious gasses
  • He will drink a lot less water (this is normal)
  • His breath will be better
  • His teeth will have significantly less tartar
  • He will no longer beg for extra at mealtime
  • He will scratch less
  • His health will improve
  • He will live longer

Expensive?

If you are buying cuts of meat rather than hunting for your family’s food, the BARF diet is quite a bit more costly than feeding Rocky kibble. You will likely notice a dramatic difference in your food bill. However, there are some things you want to keep in mind. BARF isn’t some new trend—again, it dates back as long as dogs have been alive. Dogs on the BARF diet also live longer statistically. Dog owners who have had their dogs on the raw diet report that their dogs live healthier lives, have fewer short and long-term illnesses, have more energy, and develop fewer problems with ligaments and their bones. So while the initially outlay is more costly, what you save in the long run makes it worth it.

For more information, here are some websites to check out. Of course you can also just Google “BARF diet,” “raw food for dogs” and “RMB” (which stands for raw meaty bones).

The Decision is Yours

Ultimately, the decision whether to switch to a raw/BARF diet is yours. Given how perfectly it fits in with an off-the-grid lifestyle, it seems natural to make the switch.