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Disagreement produces debate but dissent produces dissension....
Disagreement is the life blood of democracy, dissension is its cancer.

~Daniel J. Boorstin

Raw vs. BARF
Waging an Imaginary War

Several years ago, when I first started feeding my dogs a raw diet, Dr. Ian Billinghurst (www.drianbillinghurst.com) was "The Guy" for information on raw feeding. There were a couple of other books recommended, like Dr. Pitcairn's or Kymythy Schultze's, but by and large Dr. B's Give Your Dog A Bone was considered the "BARF Bible". BARF (Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) was a way of life for many, and Dr. B had a fan club of dedicated followers - and staunch defenders, should any criticism reach their inboxes.

Fast forward several years, to when Dr. Billinghurst developed his own line of raw foods. This offended a large number of his fans - apparently it is perfectly fine to sell books to tell people exactly how to feed a raw diet, but not to sell the actual components of the diet to those who are unable or unwilling to prepare it themselves. (Dr. Billinghurst does still sell his books, and encourages the "do-it-yourself" way of feeding.) The people who were once such passionate supporters of Dr. Billinghurst were now just as passionately opposed to him and the BARF diet. The "raw feeding" movement was born - and with it a host of myths, misinformation, and outright condescension.

As the BARF lists and websites were changed to, briefly, CARD (Cat/Canine Appropriate Raw Diet) and finally "raw feeding" lists and websites, the implied dichotomy between the two ways of feeding grew. However, objective analysis shows that the differences are actually quite minimal, if one looks at the whole picture. The largest perceived difference is in the feeding of vegetable matter - and that truly is mostly a perceived difference.

Dr. Billinghurst is "misquided" because he says dogs are omnivores.

This is probably the biggest - if you'll pardon the pun - bone of contention between raw feeders and Dr. Billinghurst. And it's not exactly true. Dr. Billinghurst says that dogs are carnivores, vegetarians, scavengers, hunters, and opportunists - which does make them omnivorous. [1] He also constantly states that the majority of the diet should be raw meaty bones. At one point the accepted term was "omnivorous carnivore" - before the split - and to me this remains the most accurate description of a dog's feeding habits. (Ironically, Dr. L. David Mech, who is an expert on wolves and often quoted by raw feeders, commented during a seminar on September 24, 2005, that "What scientists do know about wolves is that they are opportunistic omnivores. Left to their own devices, they will eat whatever they can whenever they can." This is not to say that Dr. Mech has suddenly decided that wolves are not carnivores; however, it does illustrate the point the Dr. Billinghurst and Dr. Lonsdale have made - canines are carnivores that also eat omnivore foods.)

The BARF diet consists of a lot of vegetables, and dogs don't need vegetables.

The BARF diet has gone through some changes since the original book was published, as more people fed it and more information became available. Dr. Billinghurst's latest book, The BARF Diet, recommends 15% crushed vegetable material, and 5% fruit. (The fruit is optional, however. [2].

Dr. Tom Lonsdale (www.rawmeatybones.com) - whose diet recommendations most raw feeders follow, and whose book they recommend above all others - freely admits that dogs do ingest some vegetable matter. [3] He does not object to vegetables, and in fact states that they may be beneficial [4], as a small portion of the diet. (His maximum for "omnivore foods" is actually one-third of the diet, much higher than Dr. Billinghurst's recommendation.) [5].

Wolves don't eat any vegetables at all - they don't eat the stomach contents of their prey.

Wolves do not eat the entire stomach contents of their ruminant prey, no. They do eat the stomach contents of smaller herbivorous prey like rabbits, rodents, fowl, etc. I've yet to see any documentary that shows a wolf disembowling a mouse and shaking out the stomach contents - yet wolves do eat mice on occasion.

On the other hand, wolves do eat the stomach lining of their ruminant prey, which contains a large amount of partially digested vegetable matter. This is sold commercially as "green tripe", and many anti-BARF raw feeders include it as a part of their dogs' diets. Wolves also eat the intestinal content of their prey, which also contains partially digested vegetable matter. Dr. Billinghurst - who mostly talks about what wild dogs eat, and not what wolves eat - discusses the "gut content" of the prey animal; Dr. Lonsdale notes that wild carnivores eat the intesines of their prey which includes part-digested omnivore food. [3]

Raw feeders feed only raw meaty bones.

This is not true. Raw feeders feed a "whole prey model" - raw meaty bones, organ meat including tripe, often whole eggs in the shell - and sometimes whole animals like chickens or other poultry, rabbits, or fish. [6], [7] The tripe and the whole animals do include a small amount of vegetable matter, as previously discussed.

BARFers add a lot of supplements to their dog's diets.

Some BARFers do. Some raw feeders do. Dr. Lonsdale does not recommend supplements, Dr. Billinghurst says that they are sometimes necessary. [8] If one has access to a wide variety of entirely organic, free-range meat sources and a healthy dog, supplementation is probably not necessary. If one is only able to obtain factory-farmed meat, or not much variety, or has a dog with health issues, supplementation may be advantageous. This area is really one that is best tailored to the dog, and not to any particular dietary regime.

The BARF Diet promotes a ratio of 50% bone, 50% meat - whole prey is less than 50% bone.

Dr. Billinghurst's recommendations for raw meaty bones is a 50/50 ratio, with chicken . However, the rest of the diet includes boneless meat to more closely approximate a prey animal. Dr. Lonsdale notes that chicken carcasses, after the meat has been removed for human consumption, are suitable.

The BARF diet includes recreational bones, which are completely unnecessary and will damage your dog's teeth.

Recreational bones - typically cow or lamb femurs - are certainly capable of damaging a dog's teeth, and should be given (or not) with a large dose of common sense. If your dog tries to crack open the bone, it's probably best to avoid them. Many dogs, however, do just fine with recreational bones - and I certainly have seen footage of wolves gnawing on the mostly meatless leg bones of their prey. Recreational bones are not an ingredient in the BARF diet, per se - they are given for, well, recreation. There are physiological and psychological benefits to gnawing and chewing, and recreational bones are a way to embrace these benefits. If your dog is fed RMBs that require a great deal of chewing, ripping, and tearing, then recreational bones are probably extraneous. If your dog is fed RMBs that are typically swallowed whole, or chewed only very minimally, or if you are feeding ground RMBs, gnawing on recreational bones might be a useful pasttime for your dog.

An Observation

Hopefully this analysis has shown that, while there are differences in interpretations between raw feeding and BARF, generally speaking the diets are quite similar. Ultimately, what is important is to find what works best for your dog - and this is quite often not what works best for your neighbor's dog. One of the main benefits of a raw diet is that it is so easy to individualize, and for some that may include no beef, and for others it may include a small amount of vegetables. A phrase that has often been used by those feeding a raw diet is "Know your dog". This applies equally as well to those who style themselves raw feeders as it does to those who use the term BARFers. It is the dogs, after all, who are most important in this controversy.

As such, it is beyond my comprehension why some would belittle others for making these individual tweaks to the diet. Yet this happens, frequently, on one of the largest raw feeding e-mail lists. I personally was called "stupid" at least a half-dozen times, by a moderator of that list, because I mentioned surprise at the extreme anti-Billinghurst stance, and because I mentioned that a couple of my dogs do, indeed, need a small amount of vegetable matter in their diet.

I would think, in light of the still very strong anti-raw feelings of many pet owners and veterinarians (not to mention pet food manufacturers), that those who believe that dogs were designed to eat a diet consisting mainly of raw meaty bones would band together against those naysayers, instead of fighting with each other over small differences. To quote one of my favorite characters from one of my favorite books, "...we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided....Differences of habit...are nothing at all if your aims are identical and our hearts are open." [9]


1. The bottom line so our dogs tell us, is that because they are carnivores, vegetarians, scavengers, hunters, and opportunists, they are omnivores. As omnivores, our dogs assure us they can eat practically anything in the way of food, including most human food.
(The BARF Diet, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, 2001, p. 17.)

2. Is it essential that dogs eat fruit? No. All of the nutrients present in fruit can be obtained from other sources.
(BARF Diet Specifics, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, http://www.barfworld.com/html/barf_diet/barfdiet_specific.shtml.)

3. Wild carnivores eat small amounts of omnivore food, part-digested in liquid form, when they eat the intestines of their prey.
(Diet Guide for Domestic Dogs and Cats, Dr. Tom Lonsdale, http://www.rawmeatybones.com/diet/ExpDiet.html.)

4. Q. My pet dog/cat/ferret likes to eat lots of vegetables. Is that OK? A. Lots of vegetables appears to do no harm and may be beneficial on condition that the rest of the diet is adequate.
(FAQ - Vegetables, Dr. Tom Lonsdale, http://www.rawmeatybones.com/faq.htm#Vegetables.)

5. Our table scraps, and some fruit and vegetable peelings, are omnivore food which has not been ingested. Providing scraps do not form too great a proportion of the diet they appear to do no harm and may do some good. I advise an upper limit of one-third scraps for dogs and rather less for cats.
(Diet Guide for Domestic Dogs and Cats, Dr. Tom Lonsdale, http://www.rawmeatybones.com/diet/ExpDiet.html.)

6. Start with the basics - a range of different raw meaty bones, or preferably whole items, such as chicken, quail, fish, eggs. For the majority of raw feeders - chicken is the base of the majority of their dogs meals. However, if chicken is not available readily, use what is available locally - raw meaty - lamb, beef, venison, duck, rabbit, kangaroo, pig, raw whole fish. You get the picture.
(Raw Feeding FAQ, Jane Anderson, http://www.rawlearning.com/rawfaq.html.)

7. Raw meaty bones/chicken wings/whole fish/rabbit or similar should form the bulk of the diet.
(Diet is the Cornerstone of Good Health, Dr. Tom Lonsdale, http://www.rawmeatybones.com/Diet.html.)

8. There are a number of valid reasons why you might choose to supplement your pet's diet. These include the polluted nature of our world, the low mineral levels of the soils on which certain foods have been grown, limited availablility of ingredients in some areas and variability in the needs of individual animals. This variability in nutritional needs has many causes. Those causes can include inherited factors, particular life stages and the presence of a disease state.
(The BARF Diet, Dr. Ian Bilinghurst, 2001, p. 28.)

9. (Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, pg. 723.)



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