The acronym "BARF" stands for "Bones And Raw Food" or "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food". According to the developer of this feeding regimen, it is about "feeding dogs and cats the food they have evolved for over millions of years of genetic adaptation" – a species-appropriate nutrition.
The basis of the BARF feeding programme is food provided in their raw form:
- meat (muscle flesh)
- meat bones
- leaf stomach
- cartilage and innards
- additives such as oils and herbs
A crucial prerequisite for healthy animals is a balanced BARF diet composition, meaning that all important components (nutrients, minerals, trace elements, amino acids, vitamins, proteins, etc.) need to be present in the food in appropriate and sufficient amounts. Under- or oversupply of various nutrients can make an animal sick. Knowing this, it is also important to understand the possible interactions between nutrition, (the animal’s) metabolism, acid-base balance, etc.
What to consider before your pet starts the BARF diet
If you think about switching your dog’s or cat's diet to BARF feeding, you first need to understand your pet’s individual nutritional needs and it is important to speak to either a veterinarian or animal nutritional expert to produce an individual profile of your pets' specific nutritional requirements. An additional blood count can provide information about any current disease your pet may have which need to be considered regarding their diet or a dietary change. Make sure that you know all essential components of a balanced BARF diet, and the exact mixing ratio of the meat compared to the number of fruits and vegetables for your pet. Please get a pet nutrition expert’s advice on this.
How much BARF food should your pet get per day?
The amount of food depends on the individual pet; additionally, breed, activity level, and age can help determine the daily food quantity. BARF feeding experts offer a guideline for an adult dog with a normal activity level which is 2-4% of the current body weight in grams as the recommended amount of food per day (for cats 2-3% are indicated). If your pet is a “couch potato”, a more leisurely senior pet, or needs to lose some weight, you can feed less but ensure you get expert advice. If you have a puppy or a very active animal: give them a little more food (for puppies this is about 5-7% of their current body weight). Check your pet's weight continuously and if necessary, adapt your feeding.
Change your pet’s diet slowly
If you want to change your pet’s diet, it should be done over a period of time so your pet has time to adjust to the new form of feeding and their digestive system can also slowly adjust. For dogs, the food should be changed over a period of 4 days, for dogs with sensitive digestive systems, it is better to mix the food for a longer time. For cats, you should expect a transition period of around 2 weeks. For the transition, the new feed should be gradually mixed with the old feed in increasing amounts. Thus, less and less of the old food is added day by day until your pet only receives the new food. Make sure that your pet can tolerate, digest and enjoy eating a raw meat diet. Meat, innards, fruit and vegetables need to be offered in bite-sized portions so that your pet can easily chew and swallow the food.
Hygiene measures required as part of the BARF diet
According to ESCCAP (European Scientific Council Companion Animal Parasites), dogs and cats can ingest parasites by eating raw meat. To counteract this danger, and kill potential parasites, the meat must be frozen sufficiently: at least one week at -17 to -20 degrees C before it is fed to your pet. Be cautious when preparing the food because raw meat can also become a breeding ground for salmonella which can cause salmonella poising.
IMPORTANT: Pork must never be fed raw, even if it has been deep-frozen due to e.g., nematodes (trichinae) that can be encapsulated in the muscle flesh and infect your pet!
A word of caution
A BARF diet can be a good way to feed your pet. However, it needs to be balanced in terms of its mixing ratio, it also has to be species- and individual-appropriate, and hygienically prepared as well. Also remember that your dog or cat cannot eat every fruit or vegetable; some of them can be poisonous for your pet!
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