Bones and Raw Food Diet – Part One

The B.A.R.F diet stands for two common phrases:

'Biologically Appropriate Raw Food' and

'Bones and Raw Food'.

Veterinarian and nutritionist Dr. Ian Billinghurst came up with the term. The idea is to feed dogs or cats the diet they evolved to eat. A raw diet composed of meats and greens that are fresh, uncooked and wild.

Fresh wholesome foods are wonderful to feed our pets, and many do well on these diets, but are there hidden risks? Feeding bones and raw food is your choice for feeding your cat or dog. But be aware of both the risks and rewards of this diet.

  1. Is BARF the healthiest choice for pets, and what are the benefits of a bones and raw food diet?

By choosing the foods to feed, you are in control of the ingredients fed to your cat or dog. There are not likely to be preservatives or additives if you are feeding organic foods. Some pet parents enjoy making foods for their pets and find this a rewarding part of their bond with their pet.

Do be aware that there are a lot of false stories about the ingredients of commercial pet foods. They may contain “offal”, or the guts of animals, although this is what wild animals will eat. They do contain antioxidant preservatives to prevent them from becoming rancid. Some pet foods contain textured vegetable proteins that appear to be meat and are not. Some of them do contain ‘color’ to make them appear more appealing. These are the same color additives added to processed human foods. But each of us need to decide if we want to eat them or feed them to our cats and dogs.

  1. Is it a balanced diet?

The raw food diets should balance the diet over a couple of weeks, rather than for each meal. The way many of us feed ourselves and our families is the same. With the right blend of ingredients this can work. Many homemade recipes are not balanced for the essential nutrients.

In 2001 a nutritional study of the bones and raw food diet (the ‘BARF’ diet) showed deficiencies. They lack calcium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, and too much vitamin D.

Another study showed that even combining three recipes over a week lacked nutrients. Varying the foods may not balance out the deficiencies. Your dog or cat may not show any signs of this in the short term. Some adult dogs can cope with these imbalances, but they can affect the strength of the bones in puppies. The zinc deficiencies may cause skin disorders.

  1. Any other considerations?

If you choose to feed the BARF diet that includes raw foods, pay attention to hygiene. We recommend you use very special hygienic care in handling the food and the dog’s feces.

Also, deworm your dog regularly as raw food may contain parasites. Tell your veterinarian what diet you are feeding your pet. If your dog or cat develops gastrointestinal disorders, the vet can look for the bacteria and parasites mentioned above.


The diet plan should be seen by a veterinary nutritionist and supplemented as necessary.

Raw or cooked bones that your dog or cat chews on may lead to belly or gut obstructions. It may be possible to chop or grind the bone up small enough (E.g., less than 0.5 cm) that they are less likely to get stuck.

Consider consulting a veterinary nutritionist. Ask for the amount of calcium (and other nutrients) to add to your dog’s diet and skip the bones.

Add a probiotic to the diet to strengthen your dog or cat's immune system.

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