View Full Version : Critique of BARF -- thoughtful not hysterical...

13th March 2005, 02:05 PM
John Burns is a UK vet who has a well-respected line of dog and cat food in Europe (also available in the US), called Burns. Very good ingredients, etc. The other day while looking for some ingredients info I noticed he has a link to a PDF file which is his critique of the BARF (bones and raw food) diet.

Of all that is written on BARF that isn't totally accepting of arguments for the diet, this is certainly the most calm and considered. It is well worth reading whatever you think about the diet.

Basically he is not taking issue with people who want to feed BARF, or do home-cooked meals. He does, however, challenge Ian Billinghurst's assertions about the diet, which he feels are not consistent. Personally, I would agree with Dr Burns's assessment on these points -- which is why I am comfortable feeding a mix of raw, cooked, and good kibble.

The PDF is here: http://www.burns-pet-nutrition.co.uk/BARF_Diet_JohnBurns03.pdf

There is also a text file downloadable here:


The site has some other great informational leaflets in this section too:


I enjoyed reading this because so many critiques are a bit on the hysterical side, and I felt this gave me something to think about that in the end, I agreed with, but you may not. Nonetheless it will help clarify your thinking if you do or don't feed BARF, I think. There's so little informed debate on this topic and it's especially rare to read something which isn't an attack on BARF, but a consideration and appraisal.

16th March 2005, 02:12 PM
I finally had a chance to read this.. and yes it is very thoughtful. I don't agree completely with it, but have often laughed the the rightousness of some raw feeders (there is one board out there that if you even mention you feed veggies will flame you for days upon days). I do still have a personal issue with the grains (I've seen the poor results they can cause in my dogs in larger quantities ie kibble or raw with oats mixed in) and don't believe they are a nutritional requirement for dogs. Do grains affect all dogs, obviously not because there are lots of dogs that survive on kibble, even crappy kibble for a long time.

As for the veggies, we do better when they are feed pureed... why?? because the dogs tend to try to re-eat them when they are fed whole. Carrots come out much the same way the go in... so to me that DOES say something about the digestability of whole vegetables. That doesn't mean that I don't give them to the kids. Frequently on Sundays they are given bowlfuls of lettuce (thanks to Laura for this idea... I was wasting a ton of lettuce each week!!) and they often get green beans when I am preparing them, they love squash, apples, etc. So yes, I'm going to give them... but I do notice a big difference and an increase in "poop" eating when we feed large whole veggies.

I don't cook their food frankly because I don't have time and don't see the need. If I had more time, or worked from home I would probably do this some. This isn't to say that they don't get cooked chicken when we have extra, or extra beef when there are steak leftovers.

I am considering adding Evo back in.. but as I said in a different post I am worried about it having "detrimental" effects. When I was feeding Farmore and Evo they had stinky breath... I never knew which is was from. I do think I discovered the problem was Farmore though because they have OATS (grr) in their formula. Starches, just like in humans, react with the saliva and stick to the teeth causing plaque and odor. Unless you are brushing dogs teeth every day (or twice a day like humans) you are not removing this plaque.

I'm definitely far removed from a raw purest form... (but probably the purest left on this board). Each side of the arguement has "scientific" backing. As many of you know... research has to be repeatable, evaluated by peers, etc... but no one will invest this in to raw or even home cooked dog diets.

16th March 2005, 09:56 PM
Thanks for sharing. I agree with a lot of things he says, but he doesn't address some of my concerns with raw diet -- Most importantly that the slaughter-house conditions are nothing like the killing of a bunny in a field by a wild dog and nodoubt introduces countless contaminations that no animal can possibly be adapted to dealing with. I believe that a cooked diet could provide the same benefits.
BUT, I am also concerned that these diets, especially home made diets, don't provide adequate nutrition - especially vitamins and minerals. Commercial diets must do lab analysis, and feeding trials to make sure the diets are providing adequate levels of all the vitamins and minerals, and obviously home made diets don't. (In fact, many of the raw diets out there now are not AAFCO certified, so they also have probably not done feeding trials to be sure their diets are whole and complete and do not cause deficiencies or even toxicities.) The nutritionists at the vet hospittal at Davis have more examples of deficiency or toxicity cases from animals on home cooked diets than any other diet! It's scary.

If you are concerned about this and want to have your food analyzed, I do believe they do this in the Nutrition center at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Also - Burns makes a great point that grinding up veggies doesn't mimic at ALL the actions of the rumen or cecum in a herbivore's gut. The only way these animals are able to digest the cellulose and other indigestable parts of plant material that we can't digest is because they have a symbiotic relationship with billions of bacteria and protozoa in their gut that digest these carbs for them. Not even cows or horses or rabbits who subsist entirely on plant material have the enzymes required to digest these materials. So just grinding the veggies may increase availability of some of the digestable parts of the plant, but most of it is still undigestible and does not at all mimic the partially digested food in the gut of the bunny that the dog is eating. More reason why these diets may not have sufficient vitamins and minerals because they are not bioavailable to the dogs.

17th March 2005, 01:06 AM
Thanks Rory,

You brought up some important issues I had not thought about. The slaughter house for one. I purchased a bag of Evo today. All the talk abut poop made me want less of it!!! :lol: I'll let ya'll know what I think of it after they have eaten the bag.

Leigh Ann
19th March 2005, 12:03 AM
Thanks for sharing. I agree with a lot of things he says, but he doesn't address some of my concerns with raw diet -- Most importantly that the slaughter-house conditions are nothing like the killing of a bunny in a field by a wild dog and nodoubt introduces countless contaminations that no animal can possibly be adapted to dealing with.

Have you read Fast Food Nation? I'm not much of an alarmist, but we don't eat beef any more. If we can ever afford a good steak, I'll probably get one and sometimes I'll have a hamburger at a restaurant, but that's it.

19th March 2005, 01:05 AM
Carrots come out much the same way the go in.

Oh yes indeed! Slices of red bell pepper too! :shock:

The Davis experience of toxity doesn't surprise me at all; I think a lot of people who decide to do home prepared meals, raw or otherwise, do so without ever reading up on nutrition etc. There's widespread lack of knowledge even on the foods that are dangerous to pets. And some disagreement on same because as info gets passed along often it gets mangled. Hence I have read several times that tomatoes are very bad for dogs but turns out to be the stems and leaves.

And yes slaughterhouses are not at all like a fresh kill -- but might not be too unlike a scavenged carcass in some ways. However feed lot animals are exposed to a lot of disease and pumped full of antibiotics etc to prevent spread of disease and growth hormones are legal in many places. Hence the average supermarket meat is full of who knows what.

I still think the argument about dogs only benefiting from predigested fruit and veg does not match any studies on wild canids that show they are opportunists and will scavenge windfall fruits and berries etc. Clearly they get some benefit.

Coyotes are known to feed on rabbits, rodents, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, carrion (including each other), all sorts of vegetable matter, and even small pieces of tanned leather. In a comprehensive study done on the results of a stomach analysis of over 8,000 coyotes, Bueler (1973) mentions, “One stomach contained 20 almost whole mice, as well as a song sparrow. The remainder of the diet is filled by domestic livestock, large game animals, birds, non-mammalian vertebrates, insects, and vegetable matter." (http://bss.sfsu.edu/holzman/courses/Fall01%20projects/coyote.htm)

Another quote from another study:

A study of the foods of 770 coyotes from Missouri showed the following major food groups and their percentages by volume: rabbits 53.7; mice and rats 8.7; other wild mammals 7.5; livestock 8.9; poultry 11.3; wild birds 0.5; known carrion 5.8; insects. 0.8; plants 2.0; and miscellaneous 0.8.

And all THAT said -- dogs have lived with humans now for at least 20,000 years in which time they have adapted very well to eating what comes from hanging around humans. A dog is no longer a coyote or a wolf though no doubt it can get by fairly well on the diet of either of those creatures.

19th March 2005, 01:35 AM
Oh, I agree that animals get something from eating veggies and such! Absolutely!! I am just disagreeing w/ the theory that putting veggies in with raw meat is approximating the contents of a rabbit. (Which is what I take to be the message from the BARF diet -- recreating a bunny. And the proponants who believe dogs are purely carnivores and therefore only get minimum amt of grain from the stomach/GI contents of their prey.) There was actually a study I saw where they gave dogs free choice of protein content and they dogs consistently ate about 30% protein diets. Even when given choice of 40% and 10%, they'd split it and end up eating about 20-30%. This indicates to me that dogs do not naturally want to eat a very high protein diet.

Another concern I have with the theory behind the BARF diet is one that Burns brings up in the article Karlin linked. Wild wolves are not the healthiest animals!! They often DIE very young for various reasons. I honestly don't know enough about wild wolves, but I would be inclined to think that they often die of infections from eating foul meat (I know people will say that they have the instincts to avoid this, but I don't believe this is 100% fool-proof. If so, why do dogs eat socks or other foreign undigestible objects :roll:) Or a blockage from a bone or puncture in their gut?
Just because this is what wild dogs would be eating if they were left to their own devices doesn't mean it is the healthiest. Only a little over 100 years ago, before antibiotics were discovered, people died of common infections. Naturally. Does this make it healthier?? Obviously not!! They were dying!! Should we ignore all advances in science at the benefit of what is "natural" and ignorantly believe that everything that is "natural" is healthier? I guess I'm a scientist at heart, so I have trouble with theories that tend to be based on a lot of fear of science, often due to a lack of knowledge.

I'm suspicious of most everything I hear unless I can get proof, hence my suspicion of the BARF diet that seems to have a lot of nice sounding theories, but minimum science or proof to back them up...

19th March 2005, 12:29 PM
Oh, I agree that animals get something from eating veggies and such! Absolutely!! I am just disagreeing w/ the theory that putting veggies in with raw meat is approximating the contents of a rabbit.

Yes that's what I took from your post. I was more making a general point -- in agreement, and in opposition to the total purists that I think we all find scary! I could't bear to feed whole dead rats for example... icon_yikes

I like giving a mix of foods. They sometimes get kibble, along with finely grated veg or chunks of veg (I don't care how much nurtitional value the veg might be giving -- the bulk/fibre is good for them). Sometimes some cooked meat and leftovers. Some fresh fruit; yogurt, cottage cheese (dairy in small amounts, just a spoonful). Sometimes chicken necks raw. They love cooked chicken more than anything, I'm sure because that is very common as a puppy food (along with kibble) in the UK and Ireland and has been for several decades.

29th April 2005, 07:03 AM
We started Lester on just regular brand (Science Diet) pup food plus a puppy vitamin (as I take one everyday) swearing he would never have "people food." That lasted for about the first 3 months until he got into some cooked popcorn and ate the whole bag in record time. I read about all the awful things that go into dried dog food and started reading. We are kind of going towards feeding him raw food for the last couple of weeks, but I'm getting very confused about what to give him, when, how it is to be prepared, what he absolutely cannot have and now I'm more confused reading this article.

Ideally, I would like to feed him a healthy diet that is no more difficult than preparing something for myself. I also do not want to change his diet back and forth. He gets everything from pork necks to chicken necks to bits of salmon, chicken gizzards and livers, eggs, lettuce, broccoli, mushrooms, strawberries...

We had some rib eye a couple nights ago. I couldn't eat all of mine so since I don't put any spices or flavoring on my meat, I gave the rest to Lester (much to my fiance's horror)! I told him, "dogs eat meat in the wild!" He said, "Can you seriously see Lester taking down a cow?? I'll take that steak next time!"

He likes strawberries (fell on the floor, he grabbed it and ran), but I don't know if they are ok for him. He likes fresh mushrooms (never heard of a dog liking mushrooms), lettuce and broccoli. Basically, he is an eating machine and could care less what's put before him.

I'm concerned that maybe we are taking him off dog food too hastily now. We still have a huge bag of doggie cookies which I'm sure are much like dog food, but give him one or two a day just because he has been conditioned to get one when he behaves well and we potty trained him using those cookies so everytime he comes back from a potty walk he sits and waits for a cookie and won't move until you give him one.

Other than the falling syndrome, I think he is pretty healthy. He smells just like a brand new puppy since we took him off dog food and has twice as much energy (as if he didn't have enough), but we really haven't a clue if he is getting everything he needs nutritionally. I know for myself as a human, I really don't eat exactly right all the time...

I bought "Give Your Dog A Bone" and wanted to try that because of the dog food "badness" and now I'm unsure again. Where do you get the information on the combo diet? Does anyone just go with the flow and feed their dogs whatever he/she is in the mood for? Does anyone mix kibble and meat and/or veggies? I know it's rude to feed the dog from the table, but does anyone feed their dog table scraps?

He really seems to like this new routine and these new tastes, but I don't want to give him some food that will be bad for him. I was telling a coworker about feeding Lester veggies and he said, "No grapes! No raisins! No citrus or strawberries!! No onions or green peppers!"

What's the answer? I want to be a good Cavalier owner, but sometimes can't help but revert to my mutt-owning days and sneak scraps to him when no one is looking. What's really bad for my doodle doggie?


29th April 2005, 10:53 AM
Just a quick one for now - mushrooms are a no-no - can't remember why, but there is a reason!

Most things are ok in small quantities - but not citrus, or raisins or grapes {one dog died from only eathing 7 raisins - there's a post on here about it}

Mine like a little bit of strawberry - I've never heard that is harmful?

They love lettuce, and tomato, also apple {no pips}, frozen green beans, frozen sweetcorn and frozen peas - also all in moderation. They have chunks of raw carrot {yes it reappers almost the same as it went in <YUK> but they have it for chewing exercise and fibre, and just 'cos they enjoy it!!}

Someone scared me about tea yesterday, officially it's a poison due to the caffeine, but mine only have decaffienated tea and very rarely.

Onions are a no-no too.

Hope this helps - there is so much information out there, and it's hard to know what is right.

I do feed mainly Burns, but supplement it slightly. I did a lot of research, and Burns seemed to me to be the best option from the foods available here if you don't want to {or can't} go down the "doing your own food preparation" route. It's also ethically sound - none of the horrid testing like IAMS carried out {IAMS and Eukanuba are the same company}

I give them the organic variety - there is no way I could afford to prepare an organic diet for them, meat is much more expensive here than in America.

I avoid anything that says "meat and animal derivatives", as that is basically the cr*p that is left over from human food production. Yes it probably does has a protein content when analysed in the lab, but that doesn't mean it's a digestable protein icon_yikes

OK so that was a quick note!! icon_whistling

29th April 2005, 11:08 AM
PS tea {and honey} contain a natural antiseptic - with tea, it's tannin - so there are times it's useful - just go for the decaffeinated ones!

Also, avoid nuts:

Walnuts are poisonous to dogs and should be avoided. In particular,
there is a type of fungus common to walnuts (especially wet deadfall
walnuts) that will cause severe episodes of seizuring. Many nuts are
not good for dogs in general, their high phosphorous content is said
to possibly lead to bladder stones."

Dogs can't seem to digest them anyway.

OK I'll shut up now!

4th May 2005, 07:21 PM
Wonderful! Very helpful. Of course, I'm learning more everyday. He tried a sardine cake (a recipe I may have gotten from this site) last night and absolutely hated it! He barked at me!! Well, can't win 'em all! I gave him a little kibble mixed with chicken livers and hearts and wrapped it up with a pork neck bone. Going day by day. The guy is not really a picky eater, but seems to be becoming one. He seems to prefer the dog food (and cheese and strawberries and of course the pork neck). I couldn't believe he turned up his nose at the sardine concoction!