It’s a sound principle. Dogs and cats should be nourished with the food their bodies are designed by nature to thrive on.
But species-appropriate nutrition cannot be found in the vast majority of commercially available pet foods – a fact many savvy folks are catching onto. Add in the rash of pet food recalls, starting with the 2007 recall for melamine contamination, and the result is a growing number of people looking for alternatives to low quality processed foods.
Both the prey model and B.A.R.F. (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, or Bones And Raw Food) diets are founded on the principle of natural nutrition. The basic difference between the two is that the prey model attempts to be a near-perfect replication of the diet of canines and felines living in the wild. It has a couple of variations. One is to feed whole prey and nothing else. The other is to feed chunks of meat with some bone, plus organs and eggs.
The B.A.R.F. diet usually consists of feeding ground meat with a calcium supplement or edible bones (i.e. chicken wings, backs and necks) that can be fed ground or whole, organ meats, eggs and fish, pureed veggies and a small amount of fruit (to mimic intestinal contents of prey) as well as supplements necessary to balance the diet.
Prey model pointers
While it’s feasible that you can give your companion balanced nutrition using the prey model, there are some important things to consider.
- First and foremost, you’ll be faced with a significant sourcing problem. Exactly how and where will you find enough whole prey to feed your companion? I can’t in good conscience recommend this option for the majority of proactive dog and cat lovers, given the challenges of finding a good variety of fresh, raw, whole, legally obtained wild game.
- If you’re considering the second option, be aware that feeding chunks of meat and bone doesn’t equate to feeding whole prey. Many people who think they are feeding their animals a prey model diet are really feeding a pieces-and-parts diet that, over time, can cause serious nutritional imbalances.
For example, when a wolf eats a deer, he eats the entire animal save for the stomach contents and a few very hard skull and leg bones. He may gnaw on the larger bones, but he doesn’t crunch them up and swallow them as a source of calcium and trace minerals. The wolf will eat muscle meat, smaller bones, internal organs (kidneys, lungs, blood, intestines, liver, heart and brain), the eyes, tongue, thyroid, adrenal and other glands, and assorted additional goodies.
Many of these parts of the prey animal provide important nutrients for your dog (or kitty), so if you’re not feeding the whole prey, your animal is not getting all the essentials he needs to be healthy.
- Another consideration is that large, wild, grass-fed prey (deer, bison, etc.) are different nutritionally than animals bred on farms. The way an animal is raised determines its nutrient content and fatty acid profile as food for your companion. So if you feed your dog whole small prey like chickens or rabbits, she will still benefit from the nutritional variety provided by cattle, bison, moose, deer, etc. Large prey cannot be fed whole, obviously, but have great nutritional value.
- Whether your animal eats small prey, large prey or a combination, he will still require additions to his diet for nutritional balance.
B.A.R.F. for balance
I recommend B.A.R.F. diets over the prey model because again, sourcing and nutritional balance are major roadblocks to feeding the prey model successfully. I believe we can improve on the diets our companions’ wild counterparts eat by adding certain carefully-selected foods and supplements that provide optimal balanced nutrition. After all, we must account for nutrients lost through soil depletion, antibiotics and hormones added to meat sources, contaminated water and produce, not to mention our inability to provide prey-derived sources of whole blood, pituitary glands, raw whole pancreas, etc.
For instance, instead of feeding our carnivorous companions entrails (guts) found in whole prey, I advocate a “gut replacement” of pureed veggies and probiotics. Guts can contain parasites that negatively affect your dog or cat’s health. A veggie replacement is guaranteed parasite free. If you do feed whole prey (including entrails, which may contain parasites), please check a stool sample with your vet at least every six months.
In the wild, dogs and cats consume small prey whole (such as moles, voles and mice), but eat selectively from larger prey, sometimes leaving the stomach and entrails behind. When canines and felines consume intestinal contents, they receive a rich dose of their prey’s diet passed up the food chain, including finely chewed grasses and berries. Like most raw feeders, I believe feeding foods that mimic a prey’s intestinal contents provides sources of phytonutrients, antioxidants, enzymes and vitamins not found in muscle meats, and are very beneficial to our companions’ overall health.
However you decide to feed your companion, it’s always important to do some homework first. Prey model and B.A.R.F. diets are both fundamentally excellent choices, but it’s wise to educate yourself about the potential drawbacks as well as the benefits, so you can ensure your best friend will enjoy optimal nourishment. Most importantly, it’s our job as guardians to make sure the diets we choose for our companions are nutritionally balanced to provide the optimal requirements for overall health.