A Complete Guide to the B.A.R.F. Diet for Dogs

Though raw dog food diets are controversial, the idea behind raw food diets seems sound: dogs getting nutrition from raw meat, bones, and organic products (fruits and vegetables).

Racing greyhounds and sled hounds have eaten raw food for many years. Extending those practices to the family pet is a newer idea proposed in 1993 by an Australian veterinarian named Ian Billinghurst.

He called his suggestions the BARF diet, an abbreviation that stands for Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

Billinghurst suggested that adult dogs would thrive with an eating plan modeled on what canines ate before they were tamed: raw, meaty bones and vegetable pieces. Grain-based commercial pet foods, he suggested, were unsafe for a dog's health.

Many traditional veterinarians disagree, as does the FDA. The dangers of raw diet plans have been recorded in several studies distributed in veterinary journals.

  • Potential Advantages of the BARF Diet:


·         Shinier coats

·         Healthier skin

·         Cleaner teeth

·         Higher energy levels

·         Smaller stools

  • Potential Dangers of the BARF Diet:

          Dangers to human and animal health from microbes in raw meat

          An unbalanced diet that may sap the strength of dogs if given continuously

      Potential for several issues that remains to be seen, such as tooth breakage or internal lacerations.

Since Billinghurst's book, Give Your Dog a Bone, was published, a few different kinds of raw dog food companies have started. Some provide industrially-prepared raw food with fewer carbs that are solidified or freeze-dried, some make mixed food that does not use grains and vegetables, and some provide nutrients that consumers blend in with raw meat bought from the supermarket. 

Raw dog food diets and supplements are easily found on the web and in books. The enthusiasm about raw food keeps growing, especially considering the incident of melamine-polluted pet food in 2007, convincing many to try raw dog food.

What is a raw dog food diet?

  • A raw dog food diet ordinarily consists of:
  1.          Muscle meat, frequently still on the bone
  2.          Bones, either entire or ground
  3.          Organ meats, for example, livers and kidneys
  4.          Raw eggs
  5.          Vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and celery
  6.          Apples or other fruits
  7.          Some dairy, for example, yogurt


"For most dogs, it's more nutritious than prepared foods," says Doug Knueven. Knueven works in comprehensive prescriptions and counseling for Nature's Assortment, a Lincoln, Nebraska-based producer of solid raw food that provides calories just like cooked dry food and canned wet dog food.

Barbara Benjamin-Creel of Marietta began giving raw food to her three dogs after Bike, a German Shepherd, was found to have a malignant growth. Though the eating routine changed to help Bike, she says, her other dogs are flourishing after two years on raw dog food.

The 11-year-old dogs appear to be increasingly enthusiastic, and one with constant stomach issues tolerates the raw diet better.

"The adjustment in the coat was very swift," Benjamin-Creel says. "And their breath was vastly improved."

Benjamin-Creel makes the food herself, giving yogurt toward the beginning of the day and raw ground pork, turkey, or other meat blended in with some rice at night.

To reduce expenses, she loads up on ground meat when it's marked down. "It's not cheap," she says, "however, I think we've kept away from a lot of old dog illnesses."

The expense of a raw dog food diet varies with the fixings utilized and how it is made. For a 30-pound hound, a one-day supply of a raw diet based on chicken costs about $2.50; others may run up to $5 per day. A super-premium, industrial dry dog food costs about $1 a day.

Raw Dog Food Diet: What the Tests Say

Lisa M. Freeman, DVM, Ph.D., headed a study of raw dog food companies’ products distributed in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association in 2001.

She warns pet owners against the diets, saying that many dog owners are choosing raw food regimens due to online fairy tales and alarmist sales strategies from pet food producers.

For pet owners who need to keep away from mass-produced dog food, Freeman suggests a cooked, hand-crafted diet structured by a nutritionist certified by the American College of Veterinary Medicine.

Freeman, a nutrition teacher at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts College, says that a large number of the advantages ascribed to a raw food diet for dogs, for example, a shinier coat, are the result of the high fat content of the raw food diet.

High-fat commercial dog food would create a similar result and is accessible, she notes, without the danger of an unbalanced diet. Results can also be gained using those options without increasing your dog’s fat consumption unnecessarily.

A study looked at five raw food diets--three custom made, and two store-bought. All had nutrient inadequacies or excesses that could cause medical issues in the long run as indicated by the report.

Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., has seen those issues show up in certain dogs, such as poor coats, bad skin, or weak bones.

Low-fat methods lead to a poor coat; however, an excessive amount of fat and insufficient protein can cause iron deficiency, says Wakshlag, an associate teacher of clinical sustenance at Cornell College School of Veterinary Medication.

Wakshlag—who acknowledges some studies were subsidized by Settle Purina PetCare - says homemade raw food diets may need more calcium and phosphorous, causing bone cracks and dental issues.

Contingent upon the nature of the eating routine, the calcium or phosphate may also be hard to process, regardless of whether it is present in sufficient quantities.

Investigations of raw pet food have also shown bacterial contamination. The FDA gave suggestions in 2004 for creating raw dog food more safely, with regard to concerns about the probability of health dangers to owners from handling the meat.

A 2006 investigation of 20 store-bought raw food meals with fewer carbs found that 7.1% contained a kind of salmonella. E. coli microorganisms were found in 59.6% of raw meat used for food. These microorganisms can likewise be shed in waste, causing major issues for animals and humans.

The investigation also inspected four canned and dry dog foods. It discovered E. coli in all of the store-bought, cooked foods during one of the four examining periods, and in one brand of dry food during another inspecting period.

Raw Dog Food Diet: Are the Concerns Exaggerated?

Supporters of raw dog food rush to bring up that store-bought pet foods can contain destructive microorganisms just the same as raw meat sold for human consumption.

"The whole worry about evil microbes is exaggerated," Knueven says. "When people are using a raw food diet, they know it's not sterile, and they're increasingly cautious about washing their hands. Feeding a raw meat diet is the same as cooking chicken for your family. You need to tidy up the counter and your blade."

The FDA study additionally recommended that producers address common nutrition issues in a raw meat diet, including ensuring it contained enough calcium and phosphate for good bone health.

Raw meat is harder on the liver, and it may supply an excessive amount of vitamin A, which can prompt vitamin A poisoning when consumed for a significant period of time.

Indeed, even veterinarians like Knueven, who support raw dog foods, admit that they are not suitable for all dogs. Since the food regimens are often high in protein, they are not good for dogs with late-stage kidney or serious liver problems.

He suggests that dogs with pancreatitis or other stomach-related problems start with a cooked, naturally constructed diet, and clear up those problems before switching to raw food. Dogs with malignant growths, on chemotherapy, or dogs with other immunosuppressive ailments ought not to eat raw food. It is not advisable to give puppies raw food.

"The main spot I've seen an issue with this diet is pups," Knueven says. "If you don't get the calcium and phosphate proportions right, you can have bone distortions and developmental issues."

Needless to say, the BARF diet comes with advantages and disadvantages. It is up to dog owners to research and determine if it is the right plan for their pets.


Hello, I'm Shelly! I write about all things dogs. I'm a proud mother of 3. So I guess my official title is fulltime mother, part-time dog blogger. Look around and if you have any questions reach out to me shelly@mylargedogs.com