The BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) Diet for Puppies

The raw food diet is designed to provide complete nutrition for dogs in a way that kibble cannot. The Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet (BARF) is a specific feeding model developed by Dr. Billinghurst, an Australian veterinary surgeon. He developed his model based on anecdotal observations of his canine patients—dogs who ate raw diets seemed to have longer, healthier lives than those raised on kibble.

The Biologically Appropriate Raw Food Diet

A typical raw diet for adult dogs consists of somewhere between 60 and 80 percent meaty bones and 20 to 40 percent meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables, and dairy foods. Dogs can chew bones, and they are considered essential to any raw food diet. Bones provide an almost complete range of minerals, and the process of grinding bones down is thought to be good for canine dental health. Some people choose to include organ meat to more closely mimic the wild diet of dogs' ancestors, wolves.

The same logic is applied when designing a raw diet specifically for puppies: observe what and how young wolves eat, and simulate that feeding system. A puppy’s diet should be about 80 percent meaty bones and entirely raw.

Other BARF guidelines for puppy diets include:

  • do not feed puppies as much as they want to eat
  • keep them lean
  • give them bits of every kind of food you might want to include in their diet (so they learn to eat everything that is good for them)
  • do not allow them to grow at maximum growth rate

Benefits of Raw Food

Proponents of the BARF diet point out that dogs’ ancestors, wolves, eat a diet consisting of raw meat and bones. Dogs evolved as carnivores; therefore, eating a raw meaty diet is natural and healthy. Additionally, processed food is grain-based, cooked, and does not provide the suitable balance of nutrients. Pet owners who have switched from kibble to raw observe positive effects such as better breath (and less dog smell overall), a softer, shinier coat and improvement in stool quality.

Drawbacks of Raw Food

Critics of raw diets point out the risks of consuming pieces of bone not thoroughly chewed­­­—choking or perforation of the stomach or intestinal tract—and of bacterial infections from eating raw meat. They also note the lack of scientific research to support the claims of raw food advocates. Cooked bones are, however, more dangerous for dogs to consume than raw bones. Cooking results in softer bones that are harder to grind down and splinter easily.

How to Feed Raw

If you decide to feed your puppy a raw diet, find a good local source for meat and meaty bones (many butchers have parts of animals left over that they can’t sell in a storefront). Do some research about different types of animal meat and bone. Choose a few types, and rotate your puppy’s meals—chicken one day, lamb the next, and so on. Most raw diets include whole eggs, but if your pup doesn’t eat them whole, crush eggs in the bowl and include the shell (eggshells are an excellent source of calcium).

When transitioning a puppy from kibble to raw, BARF guidelines suggest doing it quickly. Healthy puppies should have no trouble adjusting to the change. When changing the diet of an older or not completely healthy dog, do it gradually (one to three weeks). Either alternate between kibble and new raw food meals, or mix them together for each meal and gradually reduce the amount of kibble until your dog is eating entirely raw.