The BARF Diet

BARF is a diet that owes its popularity to an Australian vet, Dr Ian Billinghurst. Although he prefers BARF to be an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food many people use it to mean Bones and Raw Food.

His philosophy is that the diet a dog evolved to eat – over many millions of years of evolution – is the best way to feed it. It is important to note that Billinghurst originally promoted BARF for dogs but others have taken it up and promote it for cats too.

Unfortunately, his message is somewhat contradictory. On the one hand he claims “modern dogs of any breed are not only capable of eating the food of their wild ancestors, but actually require it for maximum health. This is because their basic physiology has changed very little with domestication”. But he also claims that “There are grave dangers that go along with the natural diet and natural conditions the ancestors or wild cousins of our dogs live with… In other words, natural conditions can be deadly!”

Therefore, what he promotes is a modified diet, largely consisting of raw meat, uncooked bone and raw vegetable scraps. Details of the formulations he uses and the philosophy behind them can be found in his books. He also promotes water, offal and supplements as essential parts of the BARF diet which, he says, is designed to mimic the wild animal’s diet.

There are many others who have taken up this approach and several books have appeared on the subject. Billinghurst now appears to have a range of foodstuffs in Australia under the label of R.A.W.BARF. (Restoring Animal Welfare). He also markets DVDs, one of which is somewhat alarmingly entitled “The Evolutionary Diet and Cancer”.

Unfortunately, there are no independently verifiable studies of the effects of the BARF diet although the majority of anecdotal evidence suggests that, for dogs at least, it is beneficial. One particular worry is that a lot of raw meat carries salmonella. There is a myth that dogs are immune to salmonella, which simply isn’t true. They do show a high tolerance of it. But there are cases reported of dogs being fed the BARF diet that have died of salmonella poisoning. A small study on the levels of salmonella in the stool of 10 dogs that ate a raw diet found that 80% of the raw diet tested positive for salmonella and while 30 percent of the stool samples from dogs fed a raw food diet contained salmonella, none of the control dogs (commercial fed) contained salmonella. It is also recommended that food safety precautions are taken when dealing with raw meats to minimise human health problems.

The Veterinary Associations of the USA, UK and Canada have all have stated that there is no scientific evidence to support the claimed benefits of raw feeding. The proponents of BARF argue that vets have a vested interest in promoting commercial foods as they make money from them.

We feel uncomfortable about including BARF recipes and refer you to the books advertised in the column on the left if you require more information.