The BARF (Bones And Raw Food) Diet for dogs has been growing in popularity over recent years. People claim that chewing on the bones has kept their dogs teeth from disease, that it has helped their coat and skin, and have listed many other benefits. I have to admit, it has several strengths and I’m sure that when balanced, the diet is very close to what the “wild ancestors” of dogs would have eaten when they were hunting. Not only that, but everyone’s growing distrust with the pet food (or overall food industry, for that matter) has also made homemade diets more popular. But it does concern me for several reasons:
Bones, not the raw food, help keep the tarter off our pets’ chompers. However, large bones (beef and pork) can cause the teeth to fracture as our dogs chew them. Dogs don’t restrain themselves and can easily chew hard enough to break a tooth so bad it must be extracted. The fracture often is not noticed right away, and can result in a nasty and painful abscess.
Many will advocate chicken bones, again uncooked. Unfortunately these are not without problems, since the softened bone can become a foreign body lodged between teeth, and can again result in an abscess between those teeth.
If you’re willing to take the risks when it comes to damaging teeth for the benefits that they bring to the smile, this again is a misconception. Bones do keep tartar off the surface of the tooth, but do nothing for keeping periodontal disease away. Periodontal disease occurs around and under the gum line (the periodontal ligament is what connects the teeth to the surrounding bone under the gums) – and bones just haven’t been proven to help this. They may also give a false sense of security, since the teeth look clean but the roots may still be diseased. Any VOHC approved product is much better at preventing periodontal disease and is much less dangerous for those pearly whites.
Dogs may be meant to eat bones and raw food, but now you are the middleman when it comes to getting that food to their mouth. Many will tell you that dogs are meant to digest the bacteria that comes along the way with the raw food, and maybe they can (note: maybe). But instead of living in the wild, they live in your livingroom, or as the case may be, your bed. Bacteria that researchers isolated off of this type of raw food includes: Salmonella, Clostridium difficile (C Diff), Staph Aureus, and many of the Coliforms that aren’t good for us (E. Coli). These organisms potentially being fed to your dog is the main reason that the AVMA put up their warning against raw food for dogs (against hot controversy, I might add) https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Raw-or-Undercooked-Animal-Source-Protein-in-Cat-and-Dog-Diets.aspx. It wasn’t necessarily for the health of the dogs, it was for the health of their chefs.
Nutrition and the Gut
This final concern gets away a little from people who supplement their dogs diet with raw food, but it is worth noting. Feeding a totally raw diet can be very difficult to balance nutritionally. There are companies who package the raw food for you to ensure complete nutrition, but the do it yourself version may leave out a few nutrients. As for the gut, I will say that I have never seen a dog fed correctly on a raw diet get an upset tummy. However, incorrect methods or leaving food out too long can produce some less than desirable results for your carpet and your dogs tummy.
I know that there are a lot of resources giving a lot of differing views on this subject. Even veterinarians disagree regarding the feeding of raw diets. I’m not completely against it, and I really don’t want to come across with a “my way or the highway” approach. Weigh the options, get good information from good resources, and make the best decision you know how. But if I could sum up my main concerns, it would be those above – teeth, bacteria, and nutrition. IF you buy a commercially prepared diet and IF you make sure that the bones are ground to prevent any dental disease and IF you take good measures to make sure that you and your family are safe from bacterial contamination, then this might be ok.
One last bone to chew on…Everyone says that dogs should be fed like their wild counterparts. I have a hard time trying to imagine a Dachshund or a Yorkie succeeding in the survival of the fittest. In all but malamutes and other nordic breeds, we humans have taken many of the “survival traits” away. Not only that, but as a veterinarian I want to make sure that more than just the fittest survive 🙂