BARF Diet for Dogs

Okay, so the acronym for this diet is pretty disgusting, but the BARF diet is actually the healthiest way to feed your dog because you are totally in control of what goes into the food.

dog eating raw fish
BARF diet gives you total control of your dog's food content.

BARF stands for Bones And Raw Food, so it’s really not as gross as it sounds.

While commercial dog foods range nutritionally from average (corn and grains are the first ingredients) to premium (protein is the first ingredient), nothing is as nutritionally balanced as the food you can make at home. As an added bonus, feeding your dog a healthy diet means his or her body will use more of the food, resulting in less waste for you to clean up in your yard.

What types of food should I include in my dog’s diet?

In case you hadn’t noticed, most dogs are omnivores. They will eat anything you put in front of them, edible or not, so it’s up to you to make sure they get the proper nutrition in every bowl.

Proteins: A dog’s biggest need is protein. In addition to the obvious sources of protein such as beef, poultry, and fish, don’t overlook less obvious proteins like beans, soy, cheese and eggs.

Carbohydrates: Your dog also needs carbohydrates, both for energy and to help them feel full after a good meal so they don’t beg for more food than they should have. Just as for humans, it’s important to provide carbohydrates that burn slowly to provide energy over the course of the whole day.

Complex carbs
Carbohydrates should give your dog sustained energy throughout the day.

Each type of carbohydrate has a “glycemic index” value that tells how quickly it is metabolized; the science can get pretty in depth, but a good rule of thumb is to avoid foods colored white. Foods like white rice, white bread, and sugar are good for fast energy but the body burns them very quickly, causing an energy crash when the fuel runs out. You may have experienced this an hour or so after eating a carbohydrate-laden meal or a high sugar snack.

Good, slow burning carbohydrates include oatmeal, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, legumes, lentils, and most fruits. Fresh fruits and vegetables are best, but canned or frozen will work, too. For more information on the glycemic index and examples of foods with high, medium, and low values on the scale, check out the American Diabetes Association.

Fats: Your dog’s brain and coat require fat to stay healthy. You don’t want to go overboard, but your dog should eat a small amount of fat every day. You can provide this with fattier cuts of meat like ground beef or by adding fish oil, which includes the important omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Calcium: In addition to the omega fatty acids mentioned above, your dog also needs a boost of calcium to keep his or her bones strong. I give my dogs egg shells to provide calcium, but you may wish to give them canned fish that still contains small bones, or you might want to give them beef bones to chew on between meals. You could also give calcium supplements if it appears your dog needs extra calcium.

Portions and Proportions

When you first switch to a BARF diet, you may have to do a little experimenting to decide on how much food your dog needs. Ideally, you want to feed him or her enough to prevent hunger pangs and to fuel daily activities, but not so much that the dog begins to gain weight. It will take a little experimenting, and your portion sizes may vary based on what ingredients you put in the dog’s food, as well as how many between-meal snacks your dog eats.

When your dog is at his or her ideal weight, you will be able to see a definite waistline between the bottom of the ribs and the tail. You should also be able to feel the dog’s ribs when you place your hands on the fur around the rib cage. The ribs should not stand out in sharp relief unless you have a breed that is meant to be that skinny such as a Vizsla or a Greyhound.

As a starting point, try giving your miniature dog about 1/3 cup of food twice a day. Small dogs should get about 1/2 cup twice daily. Medium dogs might get 3/4 of a cup twice a day, while large dogs may take a full cup morning and evening. Giant breeds may need as much as 2 cups twice daily. After you’ve fed your dog the BARF diet for a week or two, take a look at his or her figure. Can you see a waistline? Can you feel (but not see) his or her ribs? If so, continue with the same serving size. If you start to see ribs sticking out or if you notice your dog pooping out during activities, try increasing the servings. If you notice your dog gaining weight, cut back a little.

As far as the proportion of proteins to carbs to fats, each meal should include at least 50% protein by weight. The remaining half should be about 2/3 carbohydrate and 1/3 fat. It’s not going to be exactly the same each day, but your overall average should approximate these proportions.

Raw? What about e coli and salmonella?

We’ve all heard of the dangers of eating raw meat. Every once in a while, there will be news of an outbreak of e coli or salmonella caused by a restaurant undercooking their entrees. It’s true, human beings are susceptible to diseases carried by the animals we eat if the meat is not handled and cooked properly. The good news is that your dog’s gastro-intestinal tract is built a little differently, and these diseases do not usually afflict canines.

dog raw meat
Diseases associated with raw foods don't affect dogs.

Feel free to cook for your dog if you want to, but it’s perfectly fine to just serve everything raw. In fact, cooking often removes nutrients from food so the recommendation of experts is to feed everything raw. If you do opt to cook, remember to leave out the seasonings. Have you ever seen your dog eat slowly enough to actually taste the food? Probably not, so don’t waste your time. In addition, many seasonings contain ingredients that are toxic to your dog such as onions and garlic. Avoid using leftovers from your own table, as they will likely be seasoned.


Feeding the BARF diet can become rather expensive as compared to most commercially produced dog foods. The key is to try to buy meat when it is on sale, then store it in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. There’s no “magic” formula, and you can change it up every time. Rather than giving you an exact recipe, it might be better to just list the ingredients I use, and you can choose the ones you want to start with.

I usually make enough for several days at one time, then make something with completely different ingredients for the next few days to give my dogs a variety. You can feed the food in chunks, or use your mixer to blend everything together.

Protein Carbohydrates Fats
Canned or fresh tuna Sweet potatoes Fish oil capsules
Canned or fresh salmon Yams Fats included in protein sources
Canned or fresh crab meat Corn Peanut butter
Ground beef Whole wheat bread  
Ground turkey Oatmeal Calcium
Chicken Brown rice Egg shells
Gizzards Pumpkin Cheese
Liver Carrots Bones
Eggs (include the shells) Broccoli  
Soybeans Cauliflower  
Tofu Apples  
Cheese Pears  
Peanut butter Peaches  

Foods to avoid

The following foods can be toxic to dogs and should not be included in a BARF diet. A more detailed list is available from the ASPCA.

  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Raisins
  • Avocado
  • Alcohol

Twitter- The Dog Den

Doggies Den: Latest Articles

Homemade Thanksgiving Treats for Your Dog Homemade Thanksgiving Treats for Your Dog

NUTRITION We all want to include our dogs in our holiday celebrations, but hopefully, you're aware that sharing table scraps with your dog isn't always the best idea.

Keeping Your Dog Safe during the Summer Months Keeping Your Dog Safe during the Summer Months

HEALTH Summer is coming on fast, so it’s time to plan how you will keep your dog safe and healthy through the lazy, carefree, warm days.

Vaccination Time Again-Keeping Your Puppy Healthy Vaccination Time Again-Keeping Your Puppy Healthy

DOG HEALTH So you have your new puppy picked out. There are quite a few shots, treatments and examinations that will keep the newest member of your family healthy.

Canine Thanksgiving Feast Canine Thanksgiving Feast

NUTRITION With the wide variety of food at Thanksgiving dinner, chances are you'll want to give your dog something special, too. If you're contemplating what to feed your dog for the holiday, here is a guide to a great Canine Thanksgiving Feast.

Dog Walking Tips Every Owner Should Know Dog Walking Tips Every Owner Should Know

DOG FUN Walking your dog is not only crucial to keeping him healthy and happy, it strengthens the bond between your canine friend and his caregiver. There are a lot of obstacles out there. Don’t forget these simple tips to keep your walk fun and safe in the outside world.

The Benefits of Physiotherapy for your Dog The Benefits of Physiotherapy for your Dog

HEALTH The same techniques that physiotherapists use to treat a variety of injuries and conditions in humans have been adapted to suit animals with great success. Family pets, show dogs, and working dogs can all benefit greatly from physiotherapy.  Dogs whose activities involve a lot of agility are especially susceptible to the types of problems that physiotherapy can address.

The Decision- Adding a Dog to Your Family The Decision- Adding a Dog to Your Family

FIRST TIME OWNERSBringing a dog into your family is a decision where many people don’t realize it’s magnitude until after they have the dog. There are a number of things that you need to research before you decide to purchase a dog, and it starts right in your own home.

Bringing Your Dog Into Your New Baby's Life Bringing Your Dog Into Your New Baby's Life

HEALTH Many believe that a dog and a new baby cannot happily coexist, so therefore the dog has to go.  This is not necessarily the case.  A new baby does not mean you have to abandon your dog.

Doggies den logo

Doggies Den:
Most Popular Articles