The BARF Diet

Under the "The Other Dana" thread, a reader named Johnnie Ann asks:

I have a question for you, off-topic of your girl crush and off-topic of low carb (for humans anyway!) It's for my beloved doggies & kitties!

I have researching about feeding my dogs and cats raw meat and bones instead of the bagged, processed dog food that I have been feeding them. I remember a while back you wrote something about that topic and I can not find that blog for the life of me. All these websites keep saying that raw feeding is actually cheaper than kibble feed. They say to contact your local butchers because many of them sell the off-cuts, carcasses, bones etc for a very cheap price. However, I have contacted several local butchers, carnicerias, and even the meat department at grocery stores and all of them say they do not sell any of that to the public. Do you purchase the meat and bones from the regular grocery store for your animals? Or is there a special place you get it from?

Hey, Johnnie Ann --

I have a few sources. For breakfast, my dogs get raw eggs and either plain yogurt or cottage cheese. This time of year, the eggs come straight out of my back yard; we have chickens. When our new pullets start laying, we'll probably have enough home-grown eggs even through the winter. The past couple of years, though, when we've had only eight hens, we've barely had enough eggs for us, so we've bought grocery store eggs for the dogs. We give them the same cottage cheese I buy for smoothies -- 4% milk fat, whatever's cheap -- or I give them homemade yogurt. Since the yogurt's fat free, I'll sometimes add a spoonful of meat drippings I've saved. I always add supplements: a little powdered MSM, a little plain gelatin powder, and fish oil (I poke a hole in a capsule and squeeze it over their food). These three are great for joint health, and my big dog, Jed, is nine, and gets a bit stiff in wet weather. I also add a kelp tablet for trace minerals.

I get the supplements fairly cheap, by the way. I order the MSM and fish oil from Puritans Pride during their biggest sale of the year (which is on currently, by the way. I need to order our year's supply of vitamins.) I bought a 5 pound box of plain gelatin powder at a local health food store a good 15 years ago; the stuff doesn't go bad. They had to special-order it. But I just looked, and Amazon carries a few brands. I like this company , and it's two 1 pound jars for just over $20; not bad.

(I should cook with gelatin more, and write about it. It's healthful stuff, and very good for joints. After all, it's connective tissue. That's all Jell-O is: Connective tissue and Kool-Aid. Makes you hungry, doesn't it?)

For supper, our dogs generally get raw chicken, bones, skin, meat and all. I know you've heard that chicken bones are terribly dangerous for dogs, but Dr. Ian Billinghurst, Aussie vet and author of Give Your Dog a Bone, the seminal work of the BARF (Bones And Raw Food) movement, assures us that it's only cooked chicken bones that are dangerous, because the heat denatures the protein and makes them brittle. Raw chicken bones are far softer, and easy for dogs to chew.

We buy chicken backs in fifty pound lots from a local poultry processing plant. I found them in the local Yellow Pages, called 'em up, and said, "Will you sell me bulk lots of chicken backs?" They said sure, just come on in. We break them down into plastic bags in quantities good for a couple of days, and stash them in a deep freeze in the garage. Recently I've been paying 25c/pound. According to PeaPod, an online grocery delivery site, Purina One dry kibble is currently running $8.99 for a 4 lb. bag, or $2.25 per pound. I also buy chicken livers from the same processing plant; a 5 lb bag runs me 79c/pound. I love chicken livers, but also give them to my dogs now and then as a nutritional supplement. Again, I divide the 5 lb bag up into smaller packages and freeze.

For Jed, the big dog, we just toss a few chicken backs on the back step; he has no trouble chewing them up. For Dexter the Pug, however, we use a huge, heavy, scary serial-killer meat cleaver to whack the chicken backs into bits. It's not that he can't chew up the chicken-on-the-bone, you understand, he just doesn't want to take the time, and I don't want to take the risk of him choking. I've done the Heimlich Maneuver on a pug -- no, I'm not joking -- and while it worked nicely, I'd rather not have to do it again.

The dogs also get bits and pieces -- nuts when I'm eating a handful, a particularly yummy pan to lick, that sort of thing. Dexter loves fruits and vegetables, so I'll feed him everything from bits of cauliflower to pitted fresh cherries. Jed turns up his nose at vegetables.

One more supplement Jed gets: I give him about 1/4 of a 2 mg. melatonin capsule at bedtime. I just pull apart the gel cap and tip a little of the powder into his cheek. I don't do this because he has trouble sleeping, but because melatonin is a powerful anti-aging supplement, and I love him like crazy. (That Nice Boy I Married and I take melatonin, too.)

I've had various sources of recreational bones -- the big, meaty bones dogs can chew on for a long, long time. Over a year ago, I got huge quantities of fresh beef and pork bones through freecycle -- I mean a whole beverage-cooling tub piled to overflowing, plus a 50-gallon grocery sack. Froze 'em, of course, and doled them out over the months. I have friends who buy a calf in the spring, pasture it on a relative's farm for the summer, then get it processed in the fall; they've been known to bring me soup bones they weren't going to eat -- some get made into soup, some go to the dogs.

Another great but strictly seasonal source of raw meaty bones is the local deer processor. Most hunters don't want the bones, or at least not most of 'em. The processor showed me to his garbage cans and let me take as many as I wanted. (They were fresh, by the way, didn't smell "off" at all. I considered cutting some of the meat off to make venison chili.) This did lead to me breaking down a whole deer rib cage on my kitchen floor, but resulted in a lot of great free dog food. If you live in an area where hunting is popular, call around. I'll bet you get some bones.

When all those sources fail, I buy big raw soup bones at the grocery store. That's pricier, but hardly prohibitive.

For those of you who are wondering why I bother with all this, the answer is simple: Pets now have the same problems with obesity, diabetes, and dental health that their humans do, and it's for the same reason: A diet full of carbs. Most pet foods are loaded with grain, especially corn. (You've seen the Beneful ads: "Grains for energy!" Yeah, right.) They also often have questionable protein sources and damaged fats. Not only is that processed pet food expensive, so are vet bills. My pets are well.

I think it's really sad that so many people have been snookered into believing that they can only give their pets adequate nutrition by feeding them packaged, processed food. Do they really think that no one ever had a healthy dog till the Purina company was founded? Anyway, pet food was not invented to provide optimal nutrition for pets. Pet food was invented to create a market for foodstuffs that were not good enough to legally sell for human consumption.

How about my cat, the sweet and affable Spike? I'm afraid he does eat processed food; we give him Eukanuba kibble. I read the labels on all the kibble at the pet store, and it had the most real animal bits and the best protein/carb ratio. We started this because Spike free-feeds, and his food bowl lives on his kitty tree in our bedroom; I didn't want fresh food going bad and smelling up the joint. I've tried him on other stuff, with varying degrees of success -- he loves tuna, but won't touch raw chicken liver. Go figure.

Oh, and when we go out of town, and leave the pets in the care of Joe the Wonderful Pet Sitter (not to be confused with the evil girl whose neglect led to the tragic death of Nick the Pug two years ago), I buy Innova Evo grain-free kibble . You'll have to call around to find a store that sells it; only two around us do. The big chains do not. Anyway, we do this so that Joe doesn't have to deal with thawing and chopping up chicken.

Anyway, yeah, we spend less money on the BARF diet than we would on dog food, and far less on vet bills, not to mention the emotional strain of having sick pets.

Hope this helps!

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No Grains For Dogs

My dog has had osteosarcoma for one year. Our holistic vet said no grains because the sugar "FEEDS THE CANCER". So he eats meat and vegetables(although I cook them) and has been doing very well with his Atkins diet. Prognosis for this type of cancer is extremely poor with survival rates at less than 2 years(with chemo). I believe his diet has prolonged his life. Does anyone know if this can be applied to people??

Thanks so much!

Wow, Dana- all that information really helps a lot. Thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate it.

Johnnie Ann

You're very welcome

You're very welcome. We're quite happy with how the diet has worked for our pooches.


I'm very frustrated. I've called every meat and/or chicken processing place I could possibly find in this area and none of them will sell bones, chicken backs or ANYTHING of the sort to me. I did find one single, solitary farm store who sells chicken backs for $.85 per pound, but they do not sell in bulk- he said they put out small bags every now and then. I have 3 dogs to feed, one who is pregnant. =O(

Just wanted to vent!

how you look now

Dear Dana,
You weren't joking when you said that low carb helps you look better as you age! The picture from the cruise is great. You look like you are in your thirties.
I am getting back to your blog after a computer lapse, and really enjoying it. Thanks for providing all this information, motivation, and good writing.


Thanks for the compliment! Keep in mind the overexposure blurs things a bit. :-)

BARF diet may not be so great . . .

Here's an alternative view of the BARF diet from the Science-Based Medicine blog:


BARF diet

My vet approves -- indeed, specifically recommends low carbohydrate diets for dogs and cats -- and my dogs are manifestly healthy, so I think I'll stick with it.