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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

BARF - A Diet for Cats

I was planning on writing a post about the pros and cons of canned versus dry diets for cats, but Dr. Vivian Cardoso-Carroll beat me to the punch with an excellent column on some of the short-comings of dry food. I’ll probably come back to this topic in the future, because it is an important one and I don’t think that feeding dry food is always a bad choice (it’s what my cats eat). Instead I think I’ll talk about another type of diet – BARF.

I like to think of myself as being a fairly broad-minded person. There are many different paths that can lead to success, and this is true whether we are talking about career, family life, religion, politics, or what to feed the family cat. But I’ll admit that whenever I am faced with a client that adheres to a BARF feeding protocol, I can barely stop myself from rolling my eyes and launching into a "holier-than-thou" type sermon.

For those of you out there who are thinking, "Why in the world would someone feed their cat barf?" let me explain. B.A.R.F. is an acronym for either "biologically appropriate raw foods" or "bones and raw food." Basically, a BARF diet for cats consists primarily of uncooked meat, bones, and organs. Some owners make their own BARF cat food, while others buy prepackaged versions made by pet food manufacturers.

BARF proponents state that this type of food is much closer to a cat’s natural diet, and on that point, at least, I have to agree (although I would point out that much of our time as pet owners is spent thwarting what is "natural," like infectious disease and predation). Also, I probably have to concede that some health problems, like diabetes, would be seen much less frequently if more cats ate a BARF diet. There are, however, much safer ways of doing this, like discontinuing free-choice feeding and promoting exercise.

I don’t like BARF diets for two main reasons:

  1. Feeding raw meat greatly increases the chances of food-borne illness from pathogens like Salmonella, E.Coli, etc. Both cats and their owners are at higher than average risk, particularly if proper food handling techniques aren’t strictly followed. In fact, Primal Pet Foods recently recalled its raw cat food due to concerns over Salmonella contamination.
  2. Home prepared BARF diets may not be nutritionally complete. Adding too much or too little of a vitamin and mineral supplement to meat, bones, and offal can lead to health problems down the road. A recent study of canine BARF diets showed that 76 percent had at least one nutritional imbalance.

Cats can enjoy the benefits of a BARF diet without all the risk. Veterinary nutritionists have designed many well-balanced, nutritionally complete home-COOKED diets for owners who are willing to dedicate the time necessary to prepare them for their pets. BalanceIt.com, Petdiets.com, and the nutritionists employed by veterinary colleges are all great resources for home-cooked recipes for both dogs and cats.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: "Rrrrr" by Hotash

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