BARF Mythology

January 20, 2009

I came accross an interesting article by Steven E. Crane that argues against Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) feeding for dogs. This article takes fundamental issue with the logic of BARF because the premise that wolves are dogs and that BARF is a natural wolfe diet appropriate for all dogs is wrong on several levels.

Crane’s anti-BARF argument, in a nutshell, is that dogs are not wolves any more than people are chimpanzees. Even if dogs were wolves; wolves, unlike cats, are not obligate carnivores. The order Carnivora is defined by dentition, not dietary habits. (The giant panda, for instance, is a member of the order Carnivora but subsists on a largely herbivorous diet.) Wolves are omnivores with a penchant for meat and, in any case, wild wolves live lives that are, to use the words of Thomas Hobbes, nasty, brutish and short.

A very small segment of pet owners have accepted the opinions of a vocal fringe minority of individuals who are currently proponents of feeding raw foods. The diet is commonly called the BARF diet, (Bones And Raw Food). Individuals within this group often make unsubstantiated claims that sound plausible but are typically unsupported in fact. The barf diet is extolled based primarily upon several myths claimed to justify the feeding of this diet.  

Myth 1 – Claimed similarities between modern wild canids and the domestic dog, and thus modern domestic dogs therefore have identical genetic development and nutritional needs as wild canids.

Myth 2 – Claims of increased disease levels and shortened life spans in pet dogs versus claimed lack of disease and increased life spans in wild ancestral canids like wolves and coyotes.

Myth 3 – Claimed reduced levels of parasites.

Myth 4 – Claimed reduced levels of food intolerance, adverse reactions to foods, and or “allergies”.

Myth 5 – Claims that feeding “raw meaty bones” are good for domestic dogs.

Myth 6 – Claimed increased value of uncooked foods versus cooked foods and subsequent loss of trace micro-nutrients by the cooking process.

Popular discussion of BARF in the US is based to a large degree on myths promoted by superficial and hyperbolic promoters of one product or another, or those selling the latest version of video tapes, books, supplements, foods and other materials. Barfers’ typically denigrate any information that is derived from solid scientific studies as having been “tainted” by some supposed conspiracy of involvement between commercial pet food companies, veterinary teaching universities, the FDA, USDA, CDC, WHO, and any other evidence knowledge based organization. At the same time Barfers accept at face value opinions promoted by purveyors of Barf products and scaremongering media. No level of competence or proof is demanded of those who state facts in favor of Barf feeding; while multiple, peer reviewed published university research studies are often denigrated by Barfers’.

This paper seeks to examine some of these myths. As a confirmed Barfer once noted, the decision to feed BARF is an emotional one, not a science based decision. As we shall see, making decisions based on emotions can lead one astray.

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12 Responses to “BARF Mythology”

  1. Marcus Hooker Says:

    I don’t agree with that at all. Raw feeding is the best way to feed dogs. BARF isn’t as good as prey model, but it’s still much better than refined, processed, cooked, and chemically treated kibble. And dogs are not omnivores, that is a myth. Wolves occasionally eat greens when they’re starving, but they in no way make up a large portion of the dogs diet.

  2. Brian Reiter Says:

    Marcus, you failed to cite any sources to back your claims in your defense of BARF and “Prey Model” feeding. That makes it hard for me to take your assertions seriously.

    Crane’s article, however, did contain several citations to serious research to back up his argument. Did you read it?

  3. Jess Says:

    Marcus, don’t be an idiot. There is no one ‘best’ diet for all dogs. Dogs are like people, individuals, and a diet that works well for one may not work for another, whether it is raw or cooked or kibble. Prey model, is, frankly, a joke, unless you are actually feeding WHOLE prey. I have a pdf containing nutritional analysis of commonly fed whole prey (for zoos) and it does indeed, in most cases, meet the NRA 2006 numbers for dogs in regards to nutrients. Most people do not feed whole prey, however. They feed frankenprey, which is not balanced.

    Dogs do indeed produce the enzymes necessary to digest grains and veggies that are properly prepared. Dogs adjust their pancreatic enzymes according to what they are fed.
    http://jp.physoc.org/cgi/content/abstract/205/3/667

    Brian, a good article and it does a good job of refuting many of romantic tales told by raw diet hardliners. However, it does not tell the whole story in regards to the Wynn study. http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:O9X-JQNUaYYJ:picsi.org.au/KennelClubNutrition.doc+Dr.+Joe+Bartges,+Dr.+Jean+Dodds+and+Dr.+Susan+Wynn&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=2&gl=us&client=firefox-a

    Interestingly, Julie, the puppy cited as getting osteoporosis (bone loss), fractures, etc. was obviously not on a BARF diet, since BARF contains lots of bone and usually provides considerably more calcium than the dog needs. Julie was obviously fed a meat based diet with no calcium supplementation. This is a weak spot in the paper, since it is not hard to find instances of giant breed pups who have been screwed up by feeding too much bone, especially since some large breed pups have difficulty secreting excess calcium until they are six months old (check pubmed for that, a couple of papers there about it.)

    I have been feeding raw chicken to in excess of twenty dogs for more than ten years. I also feed grains, and my diet is balanced according to NRC numbers, so I do use supplements (a diet based on chicken is deficient in zinc, iron, copper, and magnesium.) I switched to a home made diet due to two instances of contaminated kibble within a six month period. I’m well aware that anecdotes do not equal data but I have fed a raw diet to many, many dogs over a long period so what I have to say is not completely without worth. I have had dogs sick from Salmonella, not from chicken but from raw eggs. Campylobacter from a raw turkey leg, once. My dogs still get worms, though rarely, and thus, are wormed. My dogs have never had problems with excreted bones but I did have one yak a bone up and lacerate the esophagus. I have bred and raised eight litters with no problems. All of my dogs who have had CBCs and organ function screens have been within normal parameters. I am somewhat immune compromised and have never had salmonella poisoning despite handling raw chicken almost every single day and being around raw fed dogs.

    All diets have pluses and minuses. During the pet food melamine recall thousands of dogs and cats died. For people who wish to avoid commercial foods, a diet containing raw meat may be the way to go, a cooked diet may be best for others. Many of the diets published on the web are NOT balanced, and I highly recommend Monica Segal’s books for anyone who wants to feed a home made diet (monicasegal.com) Her books include nutritional analysis of the more commonly fed raw meaty bones, and how to calculate the nutrients needed by your dog according to NRC, which is more exacting than AAFCO, which kibbles are formulated to meet. She is a big proponent of feeding the dogs according to it’s needs and not according to dogma.

  4. Marcus Hooker Says:

    Jess I agree that all diets don’t work for all dogs, and I do like feeding whole rabbits, but to claim that BARF is bad for all dogs is ridiculous, just as much so as saying dog food is bad for all dogs.

  5. Brian Reiter Says:

    The claim in the article was that there was little to no evidence that BARF is superior to commercial feeds and that there is counter-evidence that suggests that many BARF diets are nutritionally deficient.

    “All the [BARF] diets tested had nutritional deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when used in a long-term feeding program.”*

    “In a large study conducted by Dr. Joe Bartges, Dr. Jean Dodds and Dr. Susan Wynn, they looked at blood work from over 200 BARF dogs, and compared it to 75 dogs eating ‘normal’ diets and used by the lab for reference values. Mean BUN (blood urea nitrogen) was indeed significantly higher in dogs eating the BARF diet. Increased BUN is one of the most critical values examined when looking for renal failure.”

    *Freeman L, Michel, K, Nutritional analysis of 5 types of “Raw Food Diets” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA), Vol 218 No.5 March 1, 2001 p. 705.

  6. Marcus Hooker Says:

    Well, what I read was not about BARF feeding so I do not know as much about it. The website I read was about several raw feeding myths and each myth has their citations in it to show where they got the information, and that they’re not just making it up. It includes myths that raw diets are not balanced, that dogs are omnivores, and several other ones as well.

    http://www.rawfed.com/myths/

    I have not owned as many dogs as Jess, but of the all the dogs that I have owned, they did better on a raw diet. Granted, they were not sighthounds. I’m sure a lot more sighthounds would do better on non-raw diets, than non-sighthound breeds do, due to their general lack of high nutrition and richness of food in their COO. Until I have owned several sighthounds, I can not make even the broadest of statements regarding their nutritional needs.

    I still say that when BARF is done correctly (which a lot of times it isn’t) it would be better overall than dry dog food.

  7. Jess Says:

    Marcus, you need to be careful about that particular web site. A great deal of the information there is twisted to serve the agenda of raw diet hardliners. For example, they state that because dogs do not produce amylase in the saliva, they cannot get digest or get nutrition from grains. A dog’s pancreas produces amylase just fine, and in fact, it is harder ‘work’ for the pancreas to produce enzymes to digest fats and protein than for starches. They also state that calcium supplements are no good because you can’t tell how bioavailable they are. The same thing goes for bones. I know how much calcium is in a chicken quarter but I cannot tell you how much is being absorbed, because all minerals interact and accept the absorption of the others. Too much calcium affect zinc absorption, too much zinc affects copper, etc. There is a lot of deliberate misinterpretation of studies on that site.

  8. Marcus Hooker Says:

    I do not agree with everything they say. I am a biology major at college, and I know some of it is crap. But not all of it is.

  9. Gionessa Says:

    Please note that of the genera Canis only wolves are apex predators, other wild canids like coyotes and jackals are more towards the middle of the food chain. They are predator-scavengers and will consume anything containing calories(even wolves will eat plant material when prey is hard to come by)I have personally seen coyotes eating melons in a field. On the garde epee Azawakh page there is a picture of one of their dogs picking and eating berries from a tree. No one is forcing the dog to do that, it is simply using an available nutrient source. The domestic dog is very adaptable when it comes to diet. This has been and advantage to following man to the farthest corners of the earth.
    Having worked in the pet trade for several years I have seen dogs thrive on all carnivore and all vegetarian diets. So adaptable is the dog. One of the biggest problems with barf diet is many raw feeders do not feed balanced rations of animal tissues. They will feed muscle meat like steak with some bones and call it good. This invites deficiencies. It is very hard to replicate the wild diet of an animal that may roam miles and consume many different materials in a 24 hour period.
    In conclusion though, no diet is right for all individuals, however everyone is pitching their own idea of a “miracle diet.”
    Some things will never change.


  10. Please explain it a little more, if possible ? Akvaryum


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  12. babau Says:

    ..lol..seems that guy Steven works on the behalf of Monsanto as if corn is so fitting why did not Wolfs sit in the Cornfields & eat full tummy..all`day long.. lol..& where`s the bite/munching when eating bones ?..its not only the extract of nutrients but also the mechanical necessity teeth’s was meant in the 1st place thus helping the preparation of digestive & hormonal in dogs brain to adjust properly..etc..etc this Steven s story soooo biased & lack`n seriousness one..almost zzzzz.. lol..

    here`s guy who done his homework: http://www.wdcusick.com/06.html ..
    ..even him self propose well-balanced mix..


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