Switching your dog to the BARF diet (biologically appropriate raw foods) can greatly increase their health and longevity. A raw food diet for dogs is a healthier, more natural, and more nutritionally complete diet than cooked or store bought foods. It can soften their coat, increase their energy, and help with a variety of allergies and digestive problems. Nonetheless, when making any change to your dog’s diet, there are a number of important factors to consider.
- Determine how much raw to cooked food to use. When switching a dog to a raw foods diet, some people go entirely raw where as others still incorporate a degree of cooked food. Dogs are omnivores by nature, not carnivores. Thus, it is important to incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, and starches into your dog’s meals. Many vegetables require cooking in order for your dog to be able to digest them fully, so you may consider incorporating cooked foods into the diet as well. For example, my dog has been on a partial raw diet, consisting of raw meat, organs, eggs, fruits, nuts, and seed, and cooked sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. Cooking the latter ingredients will soften them and make them more readily digestible for your dog.
- Find your recipe. There are a variety of great recipes all over the web, to cater to a variety of raw diets. When finding your recipe, consider any health problems or digestive problems your dog has, to find the recipe that is right for you. For example, dogs with inflammatory bowel problems, will require diets with lower fat contents; whereas dogs without this problem can benefit from additional fat. Some dogs have lactose intolerance, so you would want to steer away from recipes incorporating lactose.
- Making it nutritionally complete. So many people switch their dogs to home cooked or raw foods, without regard to the nutrition that goes into it. Dogs, like humans, need balanced diets to thrive. Be sure all basic food groups are covered, as well as adding any additional nutritional supplements as needed. A lot of home-cooked meals can be deficient in vitamin c, as this is lacking in animal products and most vegetables. Be sure to incorporate ample berries and fresh fruit into the diet, or consider adding a vitamin c supplement, to prevent deficiency. It is also important to add a probiotic to the meals. I use unsweetened organic kefir for my dog. However, if your dog is lactose intolerant, consider a powdered supplement.
- Transition your dog slowly. This is perhaps the most important. Dogs get used to digesting the same food day after day, and a radical change in diet can render them painfully ill. Out of courtesy to your dog, as well as the carpets in your home, transition your dog very slowly onto the new, raw food. For my dog, who eats 1 cup twice a day, I started by incorporating 1/8 cup morning and night into her regular food. Over the course of three weeks, I slowly increased the raw food each day, until her food was exclusively raw.
- Pay attention to your dog’s health. Every dog is different and just because one dog may thrive on a raw foods diet, doesn’t mean it is right for every dog. Pay close attention to the health of your dog to ensure the diet is a good fit. Their coat, eyes, nose, energy levels, and fecal matter are all signs of whether the diet is working. If you notice any irregularities after switching to a raw foods diet, contact a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to see what changes need to be made.