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Bones and Raw Food (B.A.R.F.) Diet Guidelines for Dogs

Mychelle Blake
Woman giving two dogs raw food

The bones and raw food diet for dogs suggests that dogs are healthier eating a diet based on their pre-commercial dog food days. This means a diet primarily composed of raw meaty bones and organ meats, as well as fruits and vegetables and supplements. There are various ways to feed a raw food diet for dogs, including making the food yourself or buying commercially prepared frozen, freeze-dried or dehydrated raw dog foods.

What Is the B.A.R.F. Diet?

The B.A.R.F. diet began back in 1993 when Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst's book, Give Your Dog a Bone, promoted the idea that dogs are suffering from eating commercially prepared kibble and would be healthier on a diet featuring raw meaty bones. The B.A.R.F. diet acronym stands for biologically appropriate raw food or bones and raw food. The diet has many passionate supporters who believe their dogs have improved significantly on a raw food diet, but veterinarians and health organizations recommend against it because of the risk of foodborne illness, choking, stomach obstructions and tears and the lack of a balanced nutritional profile.

Getting Your Dog Started on the B.A.R.F. Diet

When you first start a dog on the B.A.R.F. diet, it's best to work the changes in slowly to reduce the chances for diarrhea and stomach upset. Some dogs will also be confused by eating the diet, especially older dogs who have lived all their lives on kibble. It's best to mix in a bit of the raw food with their regular kibble and slowly over the course of a week or two add in more raw and less of the kibble until they are eating a 100% raw food meal. You should also keep an eye on your dog during this time to look for signs of diarrhea, vomiting and other signs of medical distress.

What Foods to Include

Typically B.A.R.F. diets include:

  • Bones with muscle meat on them as well as bones that are ground up or whole
  • Organ meats like livers, kidneys and hearts
  • Eggs, raw and crushed shells as well which are a great source of calcium
  • Fruits and vegetables, ideally chopped and pulverised in a blender for easier digestion. Starchy vegetables should be pre-cooked first and fed in limited amounts.
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese
  • Oils like safflower, flaxseed, olive or coconut oil
  • Seeds and nuts, ground for easier feeding
  • Supplements and vitamins such as fish oil, vitamin E, calcium, and zinc

Food Ratio

The common ratio used for combining these ingredients is about:

  • 70% meat, primarily lean proteins such as poultry, pork, beef, venison, rabbit or duck
  • 10% raw bones
  • 7% vegetables such as kale, spinach, squash, pumpkin, carrots, celery, and dark leafy greens
  • 5% liver
  • 5% hearts or kidneys
  • 2% seeds or nuts
  • 1% fruit such as cranberries, blueberries, apples and bananas

You can also substitute fatty fish for some of the meat once a week, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, and salmon.

Ingredients for homemade raw dog food

Using Bones in the Diet

When choosing bones, adherents of the B.A.R.F. diet recommends using bones that are fitting for your dog's size. Bones are included as about 10 to 15% of each dog's meal.

  • Small to medium size dogs do best with rabbit bones and chicken necks, feet and wings.
  • Large breed and giant breed dogs can be fed larger bones like chicken backs, frames and leg quarters, as well as turkey wings, backs and necks.
  • Do not feed large bones or "weight-bearing bones", such as legs and thighs from turkeys and leg, knee and marrow bones from large animals like cows.

Feeding Schedule

The best way to determine how much to feed your dog is to figure out what two to three percent of their body weight is. That is the amount you would feed each day. So, for example, a 30 pound dog would need to eat 0.6 to 0.9 pounds of food a day. You will likely need to adjust your amount as you begin the diet for the first few weeks. You may see your dog losing or gaining weight before you settle on the perfect amount to maintain a healthy body weight.

B.A.R.F. Alternatives

The B.A.R.F. diet isn't for everyone, as there are people who may love the idea of feeding their dog this way but feel overwhelmed at all the work and food preparation. In these cases, you can consider feeding a commercially prepared raw diet. You have several options to choose from.

  • Frozen raw food diets are ones that are freshly prepared and then immediately frozen, often in small, easy-to-thaw portion sizes. All you need to do is safely thaw these foods in the refrigerator and then feed to your dog.
  • Freeze-dried foods are prepared and then put through a special drying process to preserve the nutrients but allows the food to stay good longer. Freeze-dried foods can be fed to dogs right out of the bag. Some owners will combine the freeze-dried foods, which are usually in nuggets or patties, with fresh foods like yogurt, vegetables and fruits and some raw bones.
  • Dehydrated foods have been put through an air-drying process that allows for longer-term storage without reducing the nutritional value of the food. With these foods all you need to do is add water and serve. Like freeze-dried food, some owners will combine dehydrated foods with some fresh options. There are also dehydrated formulas on the market specifically designed to be mixed with raw meat and bones.
  • Another option that some owners will employ is continuing to feed a high quality kibble while pairing it with either a commercially prepared raw food product or with fresh raw foods like meat, fruits, veggies and some dairy.

Benefits and Risks of the B.A.R.F. Diet

There are definite pros and cons to feeding the B.A.R.F. diet. It's definitely a topic that will elicit strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

Benefits of the B.A.R.F. Diet

Owners who feed the B.A.R.F. diet report that their dogs are healthier overall. This includes a shinier coat, healthier allergy-free skin, cleaner teeth and gums and a higher energy level. They also report that their dogs seem to visit the veterinarian less and have fewer health issues. However, all of this is anecdotal and there is no serious body of research yet that shows a clear difference from feeding the B.A.R.F. diet. B.A.R.F. feeders also claim that the diet saves them money over the lifetime of their dog. While it may cost more to feed them day to day, they spend less overall at the veterinarian on expensive health conditions and believe the diet helps their dogs to live longer.

Risks of the B.A.R.F. Diet

Veterinarians for the most part recommend against feeding the B.A.R.F. diet and report that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that dogs on the B.A.R.F. diets are healthier and commercial kibble is hurting the health of dogs. They also are concerned about the serious risk of eating raw bones which can lead to choking, stomach and bowel obstructions, intestinal tears and fractured teeth. It is also very difficult for the average dog owner to create a nutritionally balanced meal for dogs, and a lack of necessary vitamins and minerals can lead to mild to serious illnesses in dogs. Finally there is a serious risk of foodborne illness from feeding raw meat and bones, and this risk is not only to the dogs but to the humans handling the food.

Getting Your Dog on the B.A.R.F. Diet

If you're seriously planning to get your dog on to the B.A.R.F. diet, it's important to do all of your research first. Make sure you have a place to buy your ingredients regularly, a safe place to store them such as a standalone freezer, a blender for pureeing your fruits and vegetables and safe ways to store your food if you make a large amount ahead of time. You should also be sure that you are providing your dog with all of their necessary nutrients for a truly balanced meal.

Bones and Raw Food (B.A.R.F.) Diet Guidelines for Dogs