Posted: 28 May 2009 12:16 PM PDT
There has been a lot of interest in BARF diets over the last decade and lots of confusion too. BARF stands for Bones and Raw Food and the proponents of this type of feeding think it's a healthier alternative to ready made kibble type pet foods. Fresh meat like beef or chicken are often combined with uncooked bones and various vegetables in a BARF diet.
The thinking on uncooked bones is that these bones are less likely to splinter than cooked bones and are therefore safer for dogs. BARF proponents believe that fresh, unprocessed ingredients contain more enzymes and available nutrients than commercially prepared products. In short, they believe that it's a healthier, more natural way to feed.
On the other hand there are several legitimate nutritional and food safety issues with BARF diets. Some nutritionists are concerned with potential nutritional deficiencies...
or imbalances with BARF diets. Others point to the food safety problems inherent in handling raw food, especially raw meat.
Raw meat and poultry can become contaminated with disease causing microorganisms at any stage of processing from slaughter through storage. Testing has confirmed the presence of many disease causing bacteria in raw meat. E. coli, Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens are just a few of the pathogens that have been detected during testing.
In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration developed guidelines for making and labeling raw meat pet foods. Included in these guidelines was the following warning: "The FDA states that it 'does not believe raw meat foods for animals are consistent with the gaol of protecting the public from significant health risks, particularly when such products are brought into the home and used to feed domestic pets.'"
Raw eggs that are sometimes added to BARF diets can also be a source of Salmonella, even after cleaning and disinfecting. Salmonella is capable of contaminating an egg during ovulation prior to the formation of the shell.
Uncooked bones can cause injuries in both dogs and cats. Jagged edges or points can lead to oral trauma and small pieces can be swallowed leading to intestinal obstruction or even perforation.
The microorganisms in BARF diets may also be a public health concern for pet owners. Household members that handle or prepare these products are at risk for bacterial infections if proper handling procedures are not followed. Even raw meat labeled for human consumption can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. We know this from handling raw chicken. BARF feeders should wash their hands and any surfaces or any pet bowls used in preparation and feeding.
You also have to be careful when handling the feces of pets fed BARF diets. Pets fed BARF diets may retain and shed pathogenic organisms in their feces. A recent study looking at bacterial contamination in both diets and feces was troubling. All commercial diets and the feces of dogs fed these diets tested negative for Salmonella while 8 of 10 BARF diets and 3 or 10 fecal samples in dogs fed these diets tested positive for Salmonella.
So what do I think, and for those of you that care, what would I recommend?
I can understand why feeding BARF diets appeal to certain people. Except for all the meat, it's the way I like to eat. I disagree with the idea that commercially prepared foods are lacking in nutrition. After all, there is an awful lot of testing with actual feeding trials that confirm the nutritional performance of commercial foods. Purina, for instance, tests all their formulas in compliance with regulatory bodies to insure that a given product will support all life stages, adult maintenance, growth or whatever the product is designed to do. I'm sure it's possible to formulate BARF diets adequately for the changing needs of pets too and I'm sure BARF diet manufacturers test their products. At least I hope they do.
I also know that commercially prepared foods are safe and that there are numerous quality control regulations and hurdles that manufacturers are required to follow. Bizarre incidents like the melamine contamination tragedy are definitely the exception. Frankly, I would worry more about contamination in human food than commercially prepared pet food.
In the end you have to make the decision yourself. If you are careful in the handling and preparation of raw food you can certainly minimize the chances that you or your pets will get sick. I'd be particularly careful with small children, older folks or immune compromised individuals in any event. For me though there are enough interesting, thoroughly tested and safe commercially prepared products out there to chose from. After all, Darcie ate either Pro Plan or Purina ONE all her life and she made it to almost nineteen years.
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