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Irish Wolfhounds

Health & Education > BARF

Brief history of the BARF movement

The first thing you have to remember is that the BARF diet is neither a fad nor a trend, it is simply a return to the old ways of feeding. When I asked my parents how they fed their dogs in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s I was not surprised to learn they fed them much the way I feed my hounds today, though my father, who lived on a farm, allowed his dogs to hunt for their own food. Gophers, rabbits, raw bones, a few eggs, apples scavenged from the orchard and whatever was left over from the butchering or the table made up the bulk of their diet. The dogs smart enough to avoid cars lived until their late teens or early twenties. They never saw a vet - there were no small animal practices in the area. My mother was regularly dispatched to the butchers for a supply of bones and meat scraps, these were fed raw along with the scraps from the human table.

Dr. Ian Billinghurst’s first book, Give Your Dog a Bone, was published privately in Australia in 1993. Originally it was intended to be a primer on feeding dogs naturally for his own clients. It extolled the virtues of the old ways of feeding dogs and condemned the widespread introduction of commercial pet foods as being behind the influx of disease and health problems previously unseen in the Australian canine population. Through word of mouth and the internet its popularity spread throughout North America.

When I last counted there were well over a hundred e-mail lists devoted to the BARF method of feeding.

What used to be a cult has gone decidedly mainstream

Well what does BARF stand for… at first it stood for Born Again Raw Feeders, a snide reference to the almost religious like fervor of the diet’s first disciples. Then it became Bones and Raw Food, an apt description if there ever was any. Billinghurst uses the term Biologically Appropriate Raw Foods - and this is now the accepted general definition.

Kymythy Schultze’s "The Ultimate Diet" was first published in 1998, a highly user friendly book, it overcame some of the vagueness of the initial Billinghurst book.

Billinghurst went on to publish Grow Your Pup With Bones in 1998, it is viewed by many to be one of the best publications on giant breed husbandry there is.

Problems associated with commercial pet goods

This is a highly volatile subject, one that I was initially reluctant to introduce, but could not avoid. I am merely going to ask you to keep an open mind as I proceed here. I think you should know why some of us no longer feed commercial products and our reasoning behind it.

What is really in that bag or can?

The pet food industry is an extension of the human food industry. It provides a market for slaughterhouse waste, condemned grains and rancid oils supplied by the fast food industry.

I am going to touch briefly on the rendering industry here. You may not have ever heard the term, it is considered a "silent industry". It is one we could not live without. Otherwise our streets and landfill sites would be filled with the rotting carcasses of thousands of dead animals rife with bacteria and spreading disease.

The San Francisco Chronicle published this description of what is used in rendering in February 1990.

"The rendering plant floor is piled high with raw product; thousands of dead dogs and cats; heads and hooves from cattle, sheep, pigs and horses; whole skunks, rats and raccoons - all waiting to be processed. In the 90 degree heat, the piles of dead animals seem to have a life of their own as millions of maggots swarm over the carcasses."

To their credit many renderers refuse to process companion animals. And there seems to be a major effort by the pet food companies not to use the companies known to do so anymore. Some of you may remember the media coverage that Sanimal, outside of Quebec City, received when they stopped using dead pets in their mixes a few months back. The pet food companies refused to buy their product anymore.

Simply put it is the process of cooking raw animal material to remove the moisture and fat. A certain ratio is maintained between the carcasses of livestock, poultry waste and supermarket rejects. A batch to be labeled chicken meal will have chicken as the predominant ingredient at over 50% or more, the rest of it could be swine, cattle, and in some cases, roadkill.

The mix is cut into small pieces and then transported to another auger for shredding. It is then cooked at 280 degrees for one hour. The meat melts off the bones. The fat or tallow rises to the top and is skinned off. The cooked bone and meat are sent to a press which squeezes out the remaining moisture and then pulverizes it to a powder. It is sifted to shake out larger pieces.

Three end products result - tallow, meat meal and bone meal.

Pesticides enter the picture through contaminated livestock, usually through their insecticide patches. Antibiotic residues only partially breakdown.

Spent restaurant grease has become a major source of added fat to commercial pet food products. Renderers pick up the used grease, usually stored in 50 gallon drums and stabilize them with powerful antioxidants, like ethoxyquin. These fats are sprayed on to the end product either to make it more palatable or are used as binding agents so that other flavoring agents such as cultivated chicken digests can be sprayed on.

The vegetable proteins can include ground yellow corn, wheat shorts, middling, soybean meal, rice husks and peanut shells after they have been processed for the human food chain. Beet pulp is added as a stool hardener. Processing strips them of their EFAs, fat and water soluble vitamins and antioxidants.

Grains can contain aflatoxins, a form of fungi, - peanuts and corn are the most significant source. In the case of Nature’s Recipe over 20 million tons of pet food was pulled from the market in 1995 after hundreds of dogs became ill or died. A few years ago Doane Pet Foods had a similar recall in the American Southwest.

Though it is now known that dogs have no biological need for carbohydrates, the extrusion machines used to produce kibble cannot operate unless at least 40% of the mixture is comprised of grain matter. It has nothing to do with the needs of dogs - it has everything to do with the manufacturing process.

Years ago, before extruded kibble, grain products were generally considered to be fillers, now they make up a majority of the product, the industry average is at about 60%. It is far more cost effective to use grains as source of protein - meat and bone meals simply cost more. True too, a high carbohydrate content provides "cheap’ calories and helps bind ingredients.

The use of grain in commercial diets is sometimes justified by claiming that dogs would in the wild eat animals who had grains in their digestive tract - but in a truly wild animal you would not find them, nor do dogs require the nutrients in complex carbohydrates.

It is difficult for dogs to produce the quantity of amylase necessary for carbohydrate digestion, as well, the proteins in grains are less digestible than animal proteins, they irritate and weaken the digestive system which may result in allergies and chronic immune problems.

The demand for amylase so stresses the pancreas that some vets believe that grain consumption is the likely cause of diabetes, pancreatitis and many other digestive disorders.

To make you think that the product you are purchasing is based mainly on meat the pet food companies resort to a few gimmicks. Here are some of them:

To list meat as the first ingredient the wet weight as used. Meat gets a lot lighter as the moisture is cooked out. If the first ingredient is listed as chicken for example, it means what the chicken weighed when wet - drop about 75% of its value and you will get its true position.

Carbohydrate splitting is another trick to get meat listed as the first ingredient. Let’s use rice as an example. On some labels you will see ground rice listed as the second ingredient, rice bran as the third and then maybe rice gluten as the fourth. It is all just rice - but a nifty labeling trick.

Another trick to make you think you are getting a primarily meat based product is to use a variety of grains in the mix, say rice, oats, corn etc..etc…

How many of you buy a product claiming to be naturally preserved? You think it does not contain ethoxyquin, a chemical developed as a rubber hardener, now used as a pesticide. Truth of the matter is if the manufacturer did not add it at their facility they do not have to list it, however it is usually there because the renderer added it to the spent restaurant grease, the tallow or the meat meal. It was once estimated that fully 90% of the pet foods claiming to be naturally preserved contained ethoxyquin.

Another trick is to list it as antioxidant E, so you will think it is Vitamin E. Some labels simply list it as E.

I should mention that ethoxyquin is listed and identified as a hazardous chemical. Ethoxyquin has a rating of 3 in the Chemical Toxicology of Commercial Products. The scale only goes to six. At this poInt. only 7 drops will cause death.

Cooked foods are devoid of enzymes.

Raw foods are filled with living enzymes - over 3000 have been identified in the human body alone.

How important are they… if you pasteurize the milk a mother cow feeds to her calf it will fail to thrive. In nine cases out of ten it will die.

Francis M. Pottinger MD conducted a 10 year study on how raw and cooked diets affected the health of 900 cats. The cats on raw foods produced healthy kittens for generation after generation and lived long and disease free lives. They displayed a strong resistance to parasites.

The cats on cooked foods developed heart, liver, kidney and thyroid disease, pneumonia, paralysis, loss of teeth, difficulty in whelping, diarrhea and irritability. They were riddled with parasites and vermin.

The first generation raised on cooked foods produced some kittens who were sick and abnormal, the second generation were often born dead and in the third - well many of them became sterile.

The physical differences between the two groups were astounding. Upon autopsy the cats eating cooked foods had intestinal tracts measuring as long as 72 to 80 inches. 48 inches is normal. These lacked tone and elasticity.

Hypothyroidism was common in the cats eating cooked foods.

The kittens born to parents who ate raw food had a large skull, larger bones, a large thorax, a longer body, broad dental arches and excellent teeth.

Deformed skulls, poor dentition, smaller teeth and poor bone development was the lot of the cats fed cooked foods.

None of the raw fed cats had thyroid disease.

When a diet is deficient in enzymes it places all the burden of digestion upon the animals body. It is thought that all of us receive a finite supply of enzymes at birth. When that supply is exhausted it causes the breakdown of the individual.

All of the body’s systems run on enzymes. Metabolic enzymes are used by the heart, lung and kidneys. Digestive enzymes convert protein, carbohydrates and fat into fuel. If there are no food enzymes the body must produce additional supplies which leads to a eficiency of metabolic enzymes.

Digestion is the most energy draining process the body undergoes on a daily basis. Long term exposure to undigested or maldigested food will cause gastrointestinal tract inflammation. It may also cause food allergies, atopic dermatitis, chronic renal disease, stone formation, IBD, arthritis and pancreatitis.

Cooking and processing food will destroy almost all the naturally occurring anti-oxidants - these are the nutrients which help prevent degeneration and aging - nutrients like A, C and E. While many manufacturers add these back as synthetic isolates.

Not only are the EFAs in commercial pet food low - they are heat damaged and completely out of whack - with a ratio of 20 Omega 6 to 1 Omega 3.

High protein levels in commercial pet foods lead to kidney disease – the number one killer of all commercially fed animals. Just some other comments on protein here. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are critical to your hound’s health. Unfortunately, over half the amino acids in a processed food will convert to an unusable form during the manufacturing. Heat processing can also cause proteins form complexes with carbohydrates and certain fats which make them unavailable.

Commercial pet foods contain from 5-9 times more phosphorus than is required. This excess, combined with excess protein, assists in destroying the kidneys. Once that process has started other organs become involved, the lining of the stomach, the heart and the lungs receive deposits of excess calcium and phosphorus which can no longer be excreted by the damaged kidneys.

Commercial pet foods contain anywhere from 10 to 20 times more salt than our dogs require. Its there for palatability - not your dog’s health - excessive thirst leading to increased urination will leach many vitamins and minerals from the body. Hypertension is also another direct result.

Most commercial pet foods contain anywhere from 3 to 11 times more calcium than is required. When excess calcium is ingested it is not absorbed, it passes out through the feces. While in the gut it binds to other minerals making them unavailable - these too will pass out in the feces. The minerals most commonly affected this way are iron, copper, zinc and phosphorous.

A zinc deficiency will lead to skin problems, growth problems, reproductive problems and reduced resistance to disease.

Excessive calcium may predispose dogs to bloat. When excessive calcium is ingested the dog responds by increasing its production of the hormone gastrin. One of the effects of this is that both ends of the stomach thicken which makes it difficult for air to pass.

It costs, on average about three dollars to produce a 40 pound bag of pet food which retails for about $40. Much of the cost that you pay for goes to marketing.

Now I know that some of you out there think I am standing up here and that I am full of it. After all the government regulates the pet food industry… here is how it is.

The feds set no standards for pet food except to insist that packaging identify the product, indicate the quantity and the place of origin. There is no legislation to mandate the detail required or demand the guaranteed analysis of the ingredients. Agriculture Canada has little jurisdiction over pet food in Canada. They do not even have the power to pull tainted or inferior products off the shelf. The Ontario Government plays no role in monitoring the pet food industry.

The CVMA has developed nutritional standards which if met allows the company to display their seal of endorsement. They do not monitor ingredients or practices.

Components and principles behind the BARF diet

Your dog is essentially a carnivore, a hunter as well as a scavenger. He needs animal flesh to thrive. He can also assimilate some fruits and vegetation, particularly if they have been broken down, either in the digestive tract of an herbivore or through decomposition.

Lets have a look at our hounds.

Your hound has a wide mouth in relation to its head size. Obviously this confers advantages when seizing, killing and dismembering prey.

The jaw joInt. is a simple hinge joInt. lying in the same plane as the teeth. The primary muscle used to operate the jaw is the temporalis muscle. It accounts for most of the bulk on the sides of the head. Pet your dog, you are in essence petting the temporalis muscle.

Open your hound’s mouth and look at his teeth. They are discretely spaced as so not to trap stringy debris. The incisors are short, pointed and prong like - great for grasping and shedding.

The canines are greatly elongated and dagger like. They stab, tear and kill prey.

Got a lick from your hound… that saliva does not naturally contain digestive enzymes. Protein digesting enzymes cannot be found in the mouth - due to the danger of autodigestion. Carnivores do not need to mix their food with saliva. They bit off huge chunks and swallow them whole.

Your hound has a simple single chambered stomach. Its ability to secrete hydrochloric acid is exceptional. Gastric pH should be around 1-2 even with food present. This will help protein breakdown and kill the abundant and dangerous to us bacteria found in decaying flesh food, because after all your hound is a scavenger. It will dissolve bones.

The small intestines are short, about five to six times the body length.

The large intestine is short as well. It has no capacity to act as a reservoir. It is short and non pouched, with muscle evenly distributed along the wall..

Look at your hound’s nails and then look at yours. They have sharp curved nails. These too can rip and tear apart prey as well as dig in to catch it.

Look at your hound’s eyes, note that their eyes are in the front of their heads, making it easier to spot, chase and hunt down prey. Now think of where the eyes are located on say a rabbit, or a deer, or even a cow - they are on the sides, a feature which quickly alerts them to carnivore attacks.

In 1993 the American Society of Mammalogists officially designated the domestic dog and the wolf as the same species.

While essentially a carnivore your hound can process some plant matter as well. Berries, fruits and vegetation can make up a small part of their diet. It is part of their nature as a scavenger/ carnivore.

The BARF diet is based on these principles.

Essentially what is trying to be either replicated or fed in its entirety is the prey animal.

Raw meaty bones make up a majority of the diet - within a range of 60 to 80%. Many people feed chicken or turkey wings, necks backs or carcasses - the optimal RMB is 50% meat to 50% bone. Chicken is touted as great source of EFAs, though for wolfhounds, the first meat of choice may very well be pasture raised beef. What is stressed is feed a variety of meats - not one single source. Lamb, pork, rabbit, goat and venison may also be fed.

Larger less meaty bones, like knuckle joints can also be fed for chewing exercise. They massage the gums and satisfy the need to chew.

Bones provide the most important source for minerals, especially calcium. And of course the Ca P ratio is naturally balanced. No worries there.

Raw bones contain all the essential amino acids in adequate amounts other than methionine - but that is found in abundance in the raw meat. Lysine, the amino acid essential for normal bone growth is there in large quantities.

The EFAs are contained in the raw fat on the bones.

The fat soluble vitamins, A D and E are found in the bone as well as the fat.

Bones are essential to dental health - they are the dog’s natural tooth brush. You don’t find tartar, gum infections tooth rot or decay or abscesses in a BARF fed hound’s mouth. Though as they age you will find some wearing down of the teeth. You don’t have to risk their lives under general anesthesia to clean their teeth.

Filthy infected mouths can lead to liver and heart problems.

Cooked bones are never fed in a BARF diet - NEVER EVER. They are harder and more brittle and more likely to splinter. They can and do pierce the intestines, impact the bowels or cut like fish hooks in the rectum.

The meat supplies protein - a highly digestible one to your hound. It will also supply the EFAs and some of the minerals. It is deficient in some of the B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, iodine copper vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin D. A diet relying solely on meat is nothing short of a disaster for your hound.

A pure meat meal is fine once in a while. Raw fish can be fed – just feed it whole and avoid Pacific salmon which can contain lethal flukes. Organ meats are an essential part of the BARF diet - for adult wolfhounds this should be at about 15%. Liver, kidney and heart, especially heart is essential to your hound’s health for its high levels of taurine. Tripe is an excellent feed for IWs and is still the mainstay in quite a few raw feeding kennels.

Veggies are used to varying degrees. Any can be used other than onions. Leafy green ones are best. They must be finely pulped or minced. Juiced grasses are an even better source of nutrition and if you can, do use them. Fruits are best fed over ripe. Though nice crisp apples are never refused.

Healthy oils are used as well. Salmon oil and CLO are widely used. CLO is an essential part of the BARF diet - it facilitates the uptake of minerals. The use of healthy oils addresses the essential EFA imbalance caused by feeding livestock grain based diets. CLO is of particular importance in Northern climates with long winters and little sunshine. It provides Vitamin D.

Yogurt can be fed - as well as raw milk, if you can get it. Yogurt is fed to increase the gut content of healthy bacteria. Dairy is considered to be non- essential in the Shultze diet.

Eggs are great to feed and forget that nonsense about the avidan in egg whites blocking the uptake of biotin. Just remember to feed them whole - yolks and whites and you will have no problems. Some people feed with the shell on.

Grains are not recommended. As previously mentioned dogs have no need for grain. Fats are their best source of energy.

Switching to a raw diet

While the usual advice is to go slowly I have switched many dogs over cold turkey. I have noticed looser stools in the first few days and then blessedly diarrhea is never a problem again. I have had dogs diagnosed with chronic colitis never have a runny bowel movement again.

Dogs who have had bouts of pancreatitis will need to have the fat removed off their food first.

It is not advisable to feed kibble as part of a BARF diet.

Changes to expect

Clean, healthy mouths.

Brighter, clearer eyes.

The coat does soften somewhat - takes on a less harsh more polished look. If you have a good coat to begin with you will find it thicker though less hard.

Minimal inoffensive stools. The BARF fed dog produces hard small movements which will disintegrate when exposed to the elements. Yard pick up is a breeze, if you do indeed still need to do it. It has been estimated that there is a 90% reduction in stool volume. Which says a lot for digestibility.

More energy. Older dogs begin to play like puppies again.

Puppies grow slowly, with fewer spurts and awkward stages.

Arthritic dogs generally improve.

Many owners are reporting that dogs diagnosed with hypothyroidism prior to being switched to BARF now have dogs with normal levels. All of this done without medication.

Reduction if not eradication of allergies.

Better developed muscles and overall toning. Converts are often amazed at the physical changes their hounds undergo - loss of a bloated look, better tuck up, defined muscles especially in the neck, spine and hind quarters.

Bowel problems generally disappear.

According to a survey conducted by the Canine Health Concern your vet bills will go down dramatically. An 85% reduction in vet visits during the first year on a BARF diet was found to be average.

Some owners have reported improvements in temperaments. Calmer, less hyper dogs in some, more energetic and less lethargy in others.

Dogs do not become nasty when fed raw meat. Though I might add that bone guarding and jealously can be an unfortunate consequence. Always have more bones available than hounds and the problem is solved.

Criticism of the BARF diet

Yes a dog can choke on a bone. It is extremely rare but not in the realm of impossibility. They have also choked to death on kibble.

Bacterial contamination.

Much has been made of this by vets and commercial pet food companies. But it just is not happening.

According to the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, salmonella exposure does not pose any real threat to healthy animals.

In a recent study it was found that ALL commercial pet foods were contaminated with some form of dangerous bacteria or endtoxins.

Yet, AFS, a raw diet company in the States has not once, in twenty five years ever had a dog sicken on their food. What the BARF diet does, in some opinion, is produce even stronger stomach acids which quickly destroy potentially bad bacteria.

Raw food digests twice as fast as cooked food. With a short transit time there is even less likelyhood for dangerous bacteria to colonize and grow.


There seems to be increased resistance to parasites with most owners reporting much less need it worm their dogs. One of the problems I have heard about though is dogs contracting tape from eating wild rabbit – as I only feed domestic meat rabbit raised in a suitable environment I have not had this problem. It must be remembered that fleas are the principle vectors for tape.

Trichinosis is a potential problem if wild boar or bear is fed – however this is just not done. Most dogs refuse bear meat anyway. Raw pork is fed so long as it is purchased from a supermarket. All of the pork produced in Canada is now considered to be trich free.

It is often said that BARF diets are unbalanced when in fact they follow a principle alien to foods created in a laboratory . The BARF diet follows the principle of balance over time. Just fall with a loose set of ratios and you have provided a balanced diet.

Just what does complete and balanced mean? According to the National Research Council if a pet food contains or exceeds a specific anount of protein, fat, minerals and certain vitamins it can be called "complete and balanced".

But complete and balanced as determined in a laboratory setting and what is found in nature seems to be very different.

In the wild dogs do not eat refined starch. It is simply not there.

The Omega 3 EFAs are not part of the NRC guidelines, yet are present and balanced in the prey animals eaten by carnivores (so long as they have not been fed grain.)

There is no distinction made between fresh, unrefined oils and the spent, damaged trans fatty acid containing oils used in pet foods.

Friendly bacteria is found in nature but is not included in the NRC guidelines. These bacteria are killed when foods are cooked.

So are the enzymes.

On BARF diets you think food groups and general proportions of these food groups. You feed in ranges - say 60% RMB, 15% Offal a percentage of muscle meat and the rest is some fruit and vegetation to mimic some of what may be scavenged and what can be hound in the stomach contents of prey animals. You don’t think 21% protein, 20% fat, and whatever in carbohydrates and filler.

Drawbacks in feeding a BARF diet

While it costs about the same if not less than commercial pet foods a homemade BARF diet is inconvenient.

You need a freezer, if not several. I have three for four hounds.

You need either a juicer or a food processor to pulverize veggies – you are trying to mimic the gut contents of the prey animal .

Your suppliers may be miles away - while the pet store is a lot closer.

Sometimes it is difficult to find suppliers. Many of use ethnic or farmers markets and private abattoirs.

Because of the quality of ingredients used most commercially available BARF diets are impossibly expensive for the average wolfhound owner. The average price is about $2.50 a pound. A home prepared diet runs from 10 cents to 50 cents a pound in my area - others pay more.

It takes more time to prepare than scooping kibble into a bowel.

Where I live I have problems with wolves, coyotes and foxes.

Your vet may freak on you - you may have to find a vet who supports raw feeding. Fortunately more and more do. We do keep track of the vets who support raw feeding - as well as those more in tune with other healing methods.

You must educate yourself. Don’t even think of doing this without reading at least Give Your Dog a Bone or The Ultimate Diet. Far too many dogs have been crippled or suffer from ill health because of ill-educated owners or breeders who attempt to feed a home-based diet based on calcium supplements and not bone. Or they devise diets based on raw meats and very little else.

It is wise to have a mentor.

Join IW-BARF or WhippetBARF on Yahoogroups or another raw feeding list. We will be glad to help you.