Tag Archives: BARF

Half-Baked – BARF Diets For Dogs And Cats

Standard

Wolf KillWritten by Heather Clemenceau

The provision of food to our pets is an expression of affection and a symbol of the duty of care we owe to them. One thing I’ve learned from interactions on forums and Facebook groups is that you cannot ever underestimate the relationship between pets and their people. Kids, sure. But pets? Just don’t go down that path. People often react fiercely (and illogically) when it comes to discussing food for their pets. At one time, the majority of dogs and cats were fed commercially prepared foods without question. However, some pet owners have moved away from feeding commercial pet food products exclusively and more are asking questions and looking for alternatives. The 2007 pet food recall due to melamine contamination brought the issue of pet food safety to the forefront. As in any market-driven economy, there are many more alternative diets and food products available, but the dietary appropriateness, adequacy, and safety may be in question with alternative diets, especially those consisting primarily of raw meat.

BARF stands for Bones and Raw Food or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food diet. It’s also occasionally referred to as RMBD (raw meat based diet). These diets usually include uncooked ingredients derived from domesticated or wild-caught food animal species and that are fed to dogs or cats. These ingredients can include skeletal muscles, internal organs, and bones from mammals, fish, or poultry as well as uncooked eggs. The vast majority of pet foods are by-products of the human food industry.

Dogs Are Not Wolves

Adherents of BARF tell us that raw meat is an appropriate diet to feed our dogs because dogs are essentially wolves. Raw meat and bones are the major part of a wolf’s diet, along with offal such as organs, eggs, decaying material, birds with feathers – whatever they eat is obviously going to be raw. They may eat vegetables or foods left behind by humans if they are particularly hungry, but for the most part, the vegetables they consume come from the guts of the prey animals they eat. Taxonomically and phylogenetically, dogs, like wolves, are carnivores and they all belong to the order Carnivora, aptly named since most members are primarily meat consumers. Functionally however, dogs are scavenging carnivores, not obligate carnivores, and they can usually adapt quite easily to an omnivorous diet regardless of their taxonomic classification. Therefore, we could say that the concept of “evolutionary nutrition” ignores the simple fact that taxonomy and phylogeny are not necessarily destiny, nor do they predict the precise details of a species’ nutritional needs. A good example of this exception is with the giant panda, who, while possessing the same digestive system of a carnivore, is almost completely herbivorous.

The domestic dog is the most phenotypically diverse mammal on earth. Domestic dogs branched off from their wolf ancestor approximately 100,000 years ago, and artificial selection has shaped modern breeds and has been an important dog and bonesource of the extreme phenotypic variation present in modern-day dogs. Since then numerous anatomic and behavioural changes that have occurred as a result of dogs living with humans and sharing our food. In contrast, the modern wolf has not been exposed to 100,000 years of eating alongside humans, and therefore its nutritional needs were not altered in the same manner as dogs. To expect these different species to have the same nutritional needs is simply not substantiated via biology.

Domestic dogs exhibit many features of neoteny, which has occurred as a result of humans selecting dogs for “cute” characteristics such as large eyes, soft hair, rounder heads, smaller teeth, and floppy rather than upright ears. So their refined anatomical structures are significantly different from wolves. Of course, even if BARF advocates could demonstrate that dogs were the modern day equivalent to wolves in terms of diet, the evolutionary nutrition argument would still fail because at its heart it is nothing but a form of the naturalistic fallacy. It’s a fallacy that just because wolves get their nutrition from carcasses that raw meat is the appropriate source of food for domesticated dogs – “natural” cannot necessarily be equated with “optimal.”

Unsubstantiated Claims….

BARF advocates claim that dogs have better health and less disease on these diets. Claims are even made that bones boost the immune system. Proponents of raw meat diets also claim that other benefits consist of improvement in coat and skin; elimination of breath and fecal odour; improvement in energy, behaviour, and a reduction in medical conditions including allergies, arthritis, pancreatitis, dental disease, and oddly enough, parasitism. Once again, anecdotes are not evidence, and these claimed health benefits have not undergone scientific evaluation. Dr. Mark Crislip, an infectious disease specialist with a very listenable podcast on iTunes, repeatedly reminds his listeners that the phrase “in my experience” is a dangerous expression!

dogbreedtree1Sometimes the commercial pet food industry is demonized in the same way that the Complementary Alternative Medicine industry (CAM) attacks Big Pharma. CAM veterinarians frequently attack traditional veterinary medicine with often irrational and unfounded criticisms. In addition to suggesting that conventional medicine is misguided and ineffective, CAM practitioners frequently assert that it is actively harmful, particularly vaccines and medicines. The same arguments and logical fallacies are often used to promote alternative feeding methods. For instance, homeopathic veterinarian Dr. Richard Pitcairn, who claims medicine is “unscientific,” and is obsessed with “toxins,” describes a mystical “life energy” that dogs cannot, in his opinion, get from processed food. Why is it that so many followers of homeopathy claim to be able to detect “life energy” that other people cannot? And I wonder if Pitcairn eats all his food raw as well? Dr. Pitcairn also claims that euthanized cats and dogs are routinely disposed of by veterinary hospitals to be recycled into pet food. This simply isn’t true. Veterinarian Dr. Dan Scott claims that commercial pet foods are responsible for the majority of pet diseases. So where is the proof? Where is the evidence of widespread disease that can be attributed to commercial pet food? Scott doesn’t seem to provide any but his followers are expected to take him at his word. There is no evidence that manufactured pet foods cause disease (obviously this precludes foods made in China, which have caused the death of thousands of pets). Dr. Tom Lonsdale (who was kicked out of the Australian Veterinary Association) claims that fake animal rights activists conspire with veterinarians and the commercial food industry to keep pet owners in the dark about “junk food” for pets.

Benefits Vs. Risks

There is some evidence that raw diets afforded higher levels of protein for certain species of exotic and domesticated animals, but that this is offset by other specific risks. Furthermore, nutrients that are lost during the cooking process for manufactured pet foods are supplemented to account for this.

The FDA has warned against feeding bones to dogs, as they can cause fractured teeth, intestinal perforations leading to peritonitis, and obstipation/impactions in the GI dog swalowling bonetract. Dogs can die without veterinary intervention if they cannot pass an obstruction without help. And if a dog fractures a tooth, it is likely to be a “chewing tooth” such as a large molar and not a small pre-molar. Softer bones are also great for lodging themselves in the narrow spaces between teeth and becoming food for anaerobic bacteria, thus generating periodontal disease. Cats can also choke on bones,  particularly chicken bones.

There is mounting evidence of other potential harm as a result of BARF feeding. Renal failure is a common cause of death in older dogs and cats – protein is poorly metabolized by dogs with kidney failure. Most veterinary hospitals are unable to detect kidney failure until it is quite advanced, and in any case it is irreversible. Proponents of raw diets seem to ignore this common cause of death in older pets. Commercial pet foods are available for animals with renal failure or allergies to certain proteins.

We cook meat for a reason and most of us know that we have to take precautions when handling it. While dogs and cats can usually handle a larger burden of microbes in their food than humans, BARF feeders have no way of knowing whether their pets are acquiring parasites or infectious disease. The digestive systems of dogs and cats are short, acidic, and handle bacteria well. This is why they are not susceptible to Salmonella, parasites, or E.coli from tainted meat as humans are. Humans have very long digestive tracks which allow food to linger for 24 hours or more, thus allowing more time for parasites to get into their bloodstreams. The majority of dogs and cats with E.coli or Salmonella organisms may not even exhibit symptoms.

Dogs and cats will periodically shed parasites and this is a risk to children and owners who have compromised immune systems. In one study, approximately half the dogs fed a single meal of contaminated raw food shed Salmonella in their feces for up to 7 days  Other bacteria that have been found in raw meat diets include E. coli and Clostridium. Dogs also shed Salmonella in their saliva, so if your dog eats raw foods with Salmonella bacteria and then licks your hands or face, the dog may be transferring bacteria to you.

raw foodIn a large study conducted on 200 hundred healthy therapy dogs from Ontario and Alberta, some of whom were fed raw meat during the year, it was observed that the incidence rate of Salmonella shedding in the raw meat-fed dogs was 0.61 cases/dog-year, compared with 0.08 cases/dog-year in dogs that were not fed raw meat. Raw meat consumption was also significantly associated with shedding E. coli. One of the conclusions of the study was that dogs fed raw meat may be a risk to humans whose immune systems are not fully functioning, and should be excluded from AAI (animal assisted intervention) programmes, particularly when the programmes involve interaction with humans at high risk of infection.

An article from Phys.org entitled “Raw Meat May Not Be Enough for Cats or Tigers” found that:

“… raw meat diets met many nutrient requirements for (captive wild) cats, but there were some gaps. None of the diets contained the recommended levels of linoleic acid, the horsemeat did not provide the levels of arachidonic acid recommended for kittens, gestating females and lactating females.”

These same researchers were:

“…a bit wary” of pet owners feeding homemade raw diets. … pet owners risk exposing (domestic) cats to increased pathogens and nutrient imbalances. Pet owners often feed trimmed cuts of meat. These cuts lack fat,educated dog which is crucial in feline diets. According to the researchers, if pet owners feed raw meat diets, they will likely have to supplement it with other nutrients, including appropriate sources of fat and essential fatty acids. A high-protein diet can also change the types of microbes in the gut. The researchers write that increased protein fermentation in the bowel may lead to more “odiferous” feces, depending on the digestibility of the protein.”

Another study found that dogs fed raw chicken may be a source of contamination.

There don’t appear to be any measurable demonstrated benefits from a BARF diet, only theoretical benefits that are often based on erroneous assumptions or anecdotal observations, while there are documented risks, potential nutritional inadequacy and possible injury from raw bones. On the other hand, cooking food comes with advantages. Basically, cooking is just a method of doing some of the digesting beforehand. Ruminants ferment their food in their stomachs, and we cook ours. Do people eat raw eggs and raw meat? Yes, we do, but just because we occasionally eat raw meat doesn’t mean that it’s a particularly good idea.

The most common forms of commercial BARF diets consist of are fresh, frozen, and freeze-dried meats intended to be nutritionally complete and balanced. These diets are often formulated to meet values listed in the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles. However, some of these foods may be labelled as intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only, which means that they are not nutritionally complete and balanced. Traditional pet food manufacturers are regulated in that they must use ingredients that are “Generally Recognized As Safe” or GRAS. At the very minimum, canned food must contain minimum percentages of crude fat and crude protein. Commercial feeds often provide ingredients that BARF diets cannot possibly provide, such as foods for dogs or cats with renadoggie researchl failure and allergies. If you feed dry food it is very easily measured for consistent feeding and dogs and cats usually have solid poops that are easy to pick up. Dry food cleans teeth better than either soft or BARF food too. I wouldn’t give a dog rawhide either, because I have never been able to verify the country of origin for these products – for all I know they may originate in China as well.

The key factor is risk reduction and BARF is not exactly a low risk diet given the potential for contamination for both pets and humans. Given that dogs and cats do get foodborne illnesses there is all the more reason to cook their food beforehand. When I do give my dog and cat meat instead of commercial food, it is always pre-cooked.

Advertisements

Horsemeat – Hiding in Plain Sight

Standard

Butchers_Boy1Written by Heather Clemenceau

In South Florida, 18 horses have been found slaughtered since the beginning of the year – and many more have been stolen – making it obvious that many in our international community don’t view the consumption of horse meat as taboo.  While many countries have no qualms about depersonalizing North American horses and horsemeat, it appears that horsemeat permeates the food chain in ways unimagined.   In fact, European consumers may be eating horse meat without realising it, due to inadequate labelling, a recent survey for the Humane Society International (HIS) revealed.  Not only have Europeans been eating horsemeat without realizing it,  but it can also be found in the most innocuous of places,  including picturesque country bakeries and dog food outlets attempting to capitalize on the BARF (Bones And Raw Food) craze.  Not only is it available at various Italian butchers as I’ve previously identified,  I’ve found that horsemeat is available in Dutch bakeries in southern Ontario,  and offered for sale for dog food on Kijiji and Craigslist.

I think it’s fair to say that the purchasers and consumers of these products believe that the horses are raised locally and humanely and would be surprised to learn that they are not raised for consumption and certainly do not meet European and even Canadian standards in many cases.

“Horse meat imported to Europe from third countries may also pose a risk to human health,” said Joanna Swabe, HSI Europe’s director. “Horses in the US are companion, race or work horses routinely given veterinary drugs banned for use in food-producing animals in Europe. Current measures are failing to stop these drugs from entering the food chain.” Dutch activist group Wakker Dier commissioned a study that shocked international media with the news that up  to one-third of all dutch snacks contain horsemeat (also know as rookvlees).  Although horsem2010-07-20-1butchersstalleat consumption is declining in the Netherlands and the Dutch overall do not have a problem with horsemeat, the activist group maintains that labelling is critical so that people who do not want to eat non-food companion animals are able to distinguish via proper labelling.

As a rash of horse killings plague South Florida, the odds of consumers unknowingly ingesting horse meat increases, especially if purchasing meat from an unlicensed meat vendor selling mystery meat from the back of their vehicle. Purchasers might not be able to tell the difference between horse and cow meat because they look very similar.  The slaughtered horsemeat is said to sell for up to $40 a pound. These horses are not bred for consumption, meaning they have almost certainly been treated with equine medications, resulting in contaminated meat – and that’s 50 shades of toxicity.  Not only that, but the horses have often been stolen from family farms or acquired by duplicitous means and cruelly slaughtered often while conscious.  Horsemeat is also a conduit for trichinosis, where there have been fatal outbreaks in Europe.  The dewormer that is effective against trich is also prohibited in animals used for food consumption.  Wormers are often not effective once a parasite encysts in the horse’s muscle.  So there the parasite waits, waiting to be eaten and colonized by a gourmand.  If that fact alone doesn’t result in late-night visits to WebMD,  I don’t know what will.

siftingthepast_kitchen-with-pieces-cook-and-kitchen-maid_unknown_16th-centuryWe must act to stop illegal slaughter..  Jorge Ortega, who was arrested for selling horsemeat in Florida, has made a plea deal – under this deal he will serve 18 months probation and will pay more than $1,000 in restitution to the USDA. He also must not have any contact with any horses, and after successfully completing probation, the charges will be dropped.

Dropping the charges sends the WRONG message about horse slaughter in Florida, an issue that puts horses and humans lives in danger.  We must send a strong message to law-makers in Florida that these types of lenient sentences are not acceptable! To quote Richard Couto of ARM – “Ortega had his hand in many of those farms, as far as killing the animals and selling their meat.” These slaughter farms are violent places that no one should have to live near.”  Please take action to encourage lawmakers to appropriately punish people who illegally slaughter horses!

Canada K-9

From Kijiji – Canada K-9 sells raw horsemeat for dogs. The proprietor claims that he has a “license” to obtain horsemeat or horses “when available.”

Across Canada, there appear to be a shocking number of potential suppliers of horsemeat.  I have no way to quickly authenticate or vet these links,  and it’s been some time since they were updated,  but this site lists 99 possible suppliers of horsemeat across Canada – far more than I ever imagined if the list is accurate.  A truly heartbreaking compilation of companies. Restaurants serving horsemeat are found in Calgary,  Toronto,  and British Columbia,  the site of the latest “Stop Slaughtering Us” billboard.  Horsemeat is also available variously throughout Quebec as well,  in grocery stores as well as restos.

horsemeat dog food

From Kijiji – Raw horsemeat available “government inspected.”

The Norwich Deli of Norwich, and the Dutch Village Bake Shops in Orono and Whitby sell smoked horsemeat sourced from Roos Meat in Brownsville, Ontario, which is supplied by Claude Bouvry in Alberta.  While that meat will be  legal for resale throughout Canada,  horsemeat is also advertised on Craigslist and Kijiji as dog food,  where it’s origin seems more than a little uncertain.  I wrote to two Kijiji advertisers offering horsemeat for dog food.  I figured there’s no pointing in mentioning the cruelty issue,  so I sent an attachment from a veterinary news article citing Ivermectin residues in horsemeat as being dangerous for collie breeds, with no response from the proprietor, although the ad is still running,  suggesting that the pursuit of profit trumps both science and good business practices.  I also contacted the propsiftingthepast-u_boy-with-sausages-and-dog_pieter-snyers1681e280911752_rietor at Canada K-9 dog foods in Oshawa, to ask where he sources his raw horsemeat supply.  His mysterious response?  “Well its not easy, but I have a licence to be able to get it when available.”  Sounds like someone with occasional access to a secret stash of Zyklon B….Recent discoveries in Ireland also revealed that horsemeat has been found in beef burgers,  in the case of Tesco burgers,  a DNA analysis revealed that the product contained 29% horsemeat.

Please take action in the Jorge Ortega case as outlined in the links above.  Please send a polite,  fact-based message to the delicatessens mentioned (on the web and on Facebook) as well as any horsemeat suppliers you may find on Kijiji or Craigslist.  The EU’s expanded residue testing program will eventually yield worse than anticipated results for North American horsemeat, if it has not already.  Businesses selling North American horsemeat need to be told why more than 100,000 horses slaughtered each year should never be consumed as food for humans or animals.