Raw feeding is the practice of feeding domestic dogs & cats and other animals a diet primarily of uncooked meat, edible bones, and organs.
Supporters of raw feeding believe that the natural diet of raw meat, bones, and organs is superior nutritionally to highly processed commercial pet food. They mimic a similar diet for their domestic companion, as it is believed that a balanced raw diet has the benefits of giving the animal a healthier coat, cleaner teeth and breath, reduced stool volume and odor, and better overall health. They are commonly opposed to commercial pet foods , which they believe are detrimental to an animal's health. Opponents believe that the risk of nutritional imbalance, intestinal perforations and foodbourne illness posed by the handling and feeding of raw meat and bones would outweigh any benefits.
Few studies have been done to prove or disprove the numerous beneficial claims of a raw diet.
Raw food proponent Dr Ian Billinghurst (owner of the registered trademark 'Barf Diet' and the BARF World Distributor Network) argues in his books that the dog has evolved over many million years on a natural raw diet and logically, this is the ideal food source. He claims that processed foods are "not what [the] dog was programmed to eat during its long process of evolution" and says that foods similar to those eaten by the dog's wild ancestors are more biologically appropriate.
Proponents have also pointed at the practices of some modern zoos which feed their captive carnivores raw meat and bones or whole carcasses.
Common sense suggests that there is no more nutritious food we can offer to a carnivore than the entire carcass of their natural prey type.
While raw feeding is generally well accepted in European zoos, it is a controversial topic within American zoos.
Concerns are similar to those expressed by opponents of raw feeding and includes dental impactions, airway obstructions, intestinal perforations, food contamination and social aggression. Benefits include better oral health, mental stimulation through processing of carcass.
Critics have pointed out the flaws in associating "natural" with better and Billinghurst himself warns against that stating Tthere are grave dangers that go along with the natural diet and natural conditions the ancestors or wild cousins of our dogs live with.
Objection to commercial pet food
The intense heat used to process commercial pet food destroys and reduces nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Studies with rats showed that the digestibility of amino acidsA in cat food is changed significantly by heat processing. Pet food manufacturers must supplement the food after heat processing to replace those nutrients. Most raw feeders believe that supplements have reduced nutritional value compared to the same nutrients in raw food and that possible nutrients not yet recognized as essential by nutritional science cannot be replaced. The same rationale is used by some to reject supplemented home cooked pet food. Most owners claim a distinct change in pets' general health once shifting towards a raw food source.
Commercial pet foods, dry foods in particular, often contain a large amount of grains, which proponents of grain-free food feel are inappropriate for dogs and cats. Because cats are obligate carnivores, it is believed that a switch to a predominantly meat based raw diet would be especially beneficial (as compared to a raw diet for dogs) due to cats' relative inability to digest grains. Studies comparing the source of protein in dry cat food concluded that the digestibility of meat-based protein is superior to corn-based protein.
Veterinary surgeon and raw feeding proponent Tom Lonsdale states that food from dry or canned commercial kibble sticks to teeth and enables bacteria to proliferate, causing "sore gums, bad breath and bacterial poisons that affect the rest of the body". Lonsdale further states that dogs lack the necessary enzymes to digest grains and plant material and claims that grains cooked at high temperature can cause starch, proteins and fats to become denatured or toxic in variable degrees." The poorly digested grain is said to support toxin-producing bacteria in the lower bowel which may eventually lead to "poisons pass[ing] through the bowel wall into blood circulation" creating further problems in other organs.
The "BARF" diet, an acronym for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food or Bones And Raw Food was created by Billinghurst. A typical BARF diet is made up of 60-80% of raw meaty bones(RMB), that is bones with about 50% (e.g. chicken neck, back and wings) and 20-40% of fruits and vegetables, offal, meat, eggs, or dairy foods.
This acronym was originally coined by Debra Tripp to mean "Born Again Raw Feeders". Debra later changed it to "Bones and Raw Food" after trying the diet on her own dogs. Debra met Dr. Billinghurst later at one of his seminars and he signed a copy of his book (Give Your Dog a Bone) thanking her for the BARF acronym.
The "Prey model" diet attempts to simulate the proportions of an actual prey animal in a pet's diet. Actual whole prey are used whenever possible, including whole rabbits, chickens, game hens and turkeys. Generally, the diet recommends 80% meat (including some 'meaty' organs such as heart), 10% bone and 10% organs (of which half is liver). Proponents of the whole prey model diet believe dogs and cats are both natural carnivores and therefore there is no nutritional or dietary need for anything other than meat, bones, and organs,.
The supporters of the prey model also focus on feeding meats from a wide variety of animals, and some add small amounts of vegetable matter.
Supplements are generally not used in a prey model diet although some followers do add fish oil to the diet to compensate for the reduced amount of omega-3 fatty acid in commercially raised grain-fed livestock