BARF means Biologically Appropriate Raw Food which is simply the food the animal would have eaten in the wild, away from human intervention. This is clearly raw as animals don’t cook their food. Some animals do bury fresh food to allow the enzymes in the food to begin breaking it down. This is known as predigestion or rotting!
What Would Dogs And Cats Eat In The Wild?
In the wild, both dogs and cats would eat other animals, usually herbivores. They would consume virtually everything, comprising mainly meat, bone, gut contents, offal, fat and skin. Dogs are also scavengers and would eat a range of vegetation as well as any rotting carcasses they found. Both dogs and cats would eat eggs too.
What’s In The Herbivore’s Gut?
Larger herbivores like sheep, cattle, horses and rabbits are designed to eat grass and other equally fibrous, abrasive vegetation. Smaller animals like mice and the types of birds our carnivores could catch also eat vegetation including grass, berries and other fruit. Grain is largely produced by humans and would not be readily available in large quantities in the wild. However, the survival instinct is great, so opportunistic animals will eat whatever they can.
All this food is well chewed and ground into a pulp. Ruminants regurgitate their food and chew it again many times. This begins the process which releases the nutrients packed inside the cellulose cell walls of all plant matter. It also increases the surface area available for the digestive enzymes to work on.
The herbivore’s gut contains numerous bacteria, probiotics, which are essential for the breakdown of plant material. In ruminants, like sheep and cows, the bacterial fermentation chamber (the rumen) is at the beginning of the digestive tract, one of their four stomachs. In other herbivores like horses and rabbits, fermentation takes place at the end of the gut, so they have to eat some of their faeces to gain the nutrients they need from the grass they eat, a habit called coprophagia.
How Can We Do This For Our Dogs And Cats?
We need to do our best to imitate this wild diet.
Raw meat and bone
Various frozen minced meat and bone mixes are readily available. I use Nutriment most of the time, and there are now plenty of raw pet food manufacturers like Natural Instinct, Honeys and Natures Menu. I also feed whole organic chicken carcasses from Riverford Organics 2-3 times a week. When in season (January – May) I buy frozen wild rabbit carcasses from many sources, including Farmer’s Choice and feed these 2-3 times a week alternating with the chicken carcasses.
Offal is included in many of the minces, but I also feed some offal at least once a week. Excess liver can result in hypervitaminosis A which is one of the causes of osteoporosis in both people and pets, so I am very cautious and aim to give it in the proportions it would be found in a wild herbivore, so I give minced offal once a week.
Variety is the key. No animal would live on just one type of meat for ever!
Dogs and cats do not chew their food anything like as thoroughly as herbivores, so they are largely unable to access those essential nutrients hiding in plant cells, unless it’s already been eaten by a herbivore! The enzymes in the herbivore digestive system are also specifically designed to digest the cellulose cell walls, but carnivores lack these enzymes. We have put them in Pet Plus to help our carnivores to access these important plant nutrients. To emulate the herbivores’ grinding teeth, liquidize or pulverize green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, celery, parsley; you can even use grass, but be very careful! Ensure it is clean and free from weedkillers, fertilizers and any other chemicals or pollutants.
Mix this pulp with the minced meat and bone, even if it already contains vegetables, as it is the green leafy vegetables that are important. Dogs thrive on about 1 part veg to 1 or 2 parts meat and bone mince. For cats, mix a teaspoonful of veg with their meat and bone mince. Some cats just won’t eat their greens, so we have to rely on the greens in Pet Plus! I generally prefer to use just the frozen minced meat and bone and add my own freshly pulverised green leafy vegetables.
Green tripe has a lot of green vegetation in amongst the stomach walls that comprise the tripe. It stinks, but both cats and dogs love it raw!
Pet Plus is an excellent source of wheat grass, barley grass and alfalfa, so mix this in as well.
Liquidized greens don’t contain everything that would be found in the guts of the herbivore. We need to add probiotics and the very best one is found in Pet Plus. These friendly bacteria contribute hugely to the breakdown of the vegetation and also help to stabilize and protect the gut from pathogens.
Raw meat and bone, liquidized greens and Pet Plus all mixed together form the mainstay of the raw diet for cats and dogs. 2-3 times a week, give raw meaty bones like chicken wings, chicken drumsticks, chicken carcasses, wild rabbit carcasses but be careful to ensure the bones are raw and well covered with meat. Green tripe and offal once a week is a deliciously smelly, nutritious treat!
If you are just beginning, start with the minced meat and bone with liquidized veg and make sure your dog or cat is used to eating raw before you offer them a bone. If you give raw meaty bones to pets that have been on processed food all their lives, they’ll be so excited at getting real food, they might just wolf it down without chewing it, which might cause a problem.