Rethinking Holistic Dog Food: What Does It Really Mean?

Original post by Will Winter.

Winter received his DVM degree from Kansas State University in 1975. In 1980 he created the Uptown Veterinarian-A Holistic Practice, one of the largest and most successful holistic veterinary practices in the U.S. In 1983, he co-founded the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

Back in 1979, I had been reading books on natural cures for animals and had been exposed to information about raw, natural and balanced food for dogs and cats. I had actually undergone a complete mental shift that flew in the face of my conventional veterinary medicine training.

It was a dilemma. Furthermore, there was no going back to what I had been before! After several frustrating work situations where these contrasting paradigms clashed terribly, I decided I needed the freedom that could only be had by opening my own hospital. After much thought, I was determined to name it the Uptown Veterinarian-A Holistic Practice.

When I told my friends, they were apprehensive of the word holistic; they thought it might too "scary" or may be perceived as too bizarre for anyone to come in. To make it even worse, it was spelled Wholistict. Yet, I went ahead with the title in my business and the signs on the building. I never regretted it. 

Now, quite to my surprise, it seems the word is cropping up everywhere. I have seen several labels claiming that the contents are "holistic". As a student, defender and devotee of the whole school of thought around the word, I have seen it misused more and more these days.

Being an adjective, I believe it should only be used to describe a school of thought 
such as holistic medicine or holistic architecture, where the practitioner has taken care to engender whole systems in thinking. With, say, holistic pet nutrition for example we could include the fact that we source humanely-raised animals, use sustainable production, organic production, we balanced the ingredients to meet their needs, we use reusable or recyclable earth-friendly packaging, we have designed it for longevity, and on and on.

That being said, you can't have something called "holistic food". Just like you could have holistic architecture, you couldn't say you have a holistic hammer. The tool may be hand-carved from wood you grew from your own tree, you could forge the
metal yourself, make it ergonomic for the hand and for balance, but still, the hammer has no brain, no will, no conscience. It could be used for all sorts of unholistic mayhem. Therefore, the hammer isn't holistic.

Similarly, you can't call certain foods (no matter how well made) holistic pet food or say something like "I just ate a holistic carrot". That food itself can't think. It could be given to the wrong species, given in excess, served cooked, served moldy, and so on. However, all those bad things would be impossible if the tenants of holistic pet nutrition were followed, so, saying it in that context is something I believe to be a good thing.

I believe we should use the word holistic very liberally to describe our school of thought for how we formulate and manufacture our food. I strive with every single step we take to incorporate these guidelines of holism.  

Read more

B.A.R.F Diet for Dogs

The B.A.R.F diet stands for two common phrases: ‘Biologically Appropriate Raw Food’ and ‘Bones and Raw Food’. Founded by veterinarian and nutritionist Dr. Ian Billinghurst, the principle is to feed dogs the diet they evolved to eat—a raw diet composed of meats and greens that are fresh, uncooked and wild.

The genetic makeup of domesticated dogs supports this. From Boston Terriers to St. Bernards, dogs are essentially the same as their ancestors, gray wolves.

The raw diet is high in protein, moderate in fat, has minimal amounts of carbohydrates and consists of:

  • Muscle meat
  • Raw meaty bones
  • Organ meat
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Supplements

How Much Raw Food Should You Feed?

Regardless of food, whether it be dehydrated, raw or treats, it’s always important to take into account dog weight and age.

Try our handy feeding calculator to estimate how much food you should be feeding your pet based on these factors.

Benefits of Feeding Your Dog the B.A.R.F. Diet

There are numerous health benefits to feeding your dog raw food. These include:

  • Leaner, more muscular build; nearly 60% of dogs are overweight or obese based on body condition scoring, which leads to a number of related conditions
  • Skin and coat improvements
  • Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
  • Less odor
  • Vibrant, calm energy

And don't forget about the environmental benefits: feeding raw lowers our ecological footprint. A raw diet is more fully utilized by dogs’ and cats’ bodies, which equates to smaller stools and cleaner litter boxes.

The B.A.R.F. diet also uses animal parts like organ meats that, while safe for us to eat, are usually avoided by humans. Using these parts of the meat reduces waste.

In short: what’s good for our pets is also good for our environment. It’s truly a win-win. Read more about the benefits of raw and FAQs.

Choose a Balanced B.A.R.F. Diet

Despite the many health benefits, one drawback associated with a raw diet is the risk of giving your dog an unbalanced diet. Many owners want to do it themselves, which is great. Unfortunately, most do not know how to properly balance all of the micronutrients dogs need, which can lead to deficiencies and future health problems.

Raw Bistro has spent years perfecting its raw dog food recipes to offer the most nutritious diet possible. We use only USDA-inspected, human-grade ingredients, and each entrée is formulated to ensure the right balance of all ingredients—especially vitamins, minerals and other micro-nutrients.

Many companies add a basic one-size-fits-all vitamin and mineral supplement to their foods. The problem with their approach is that the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals between chicken, turkey and beef vary widely. At Raw Bistro, we precisely calibrate our supplement mix to optimize each different entrée—so you know that your pups are getting just what they need when it comes to micro-nutrients. Not too little and not too much.

Research Supports B.A.R.F.

Dr. Karen Becker, integrative wellness veterinarian, is a strong proponent of raw food diets for dogs, and her research backs up her claims.

Her writings on the B.A.R.F. diet shows how beneficial feeding raw can be for your pet compared to traditional kibble. Becker visited experienced veterinarian Dr. Anna Hielm-Björkman from Helsinki, Finland to learn more about her research from studying pet food and raw meat diets in pets from the last 20 years.

Dr. Björkman was studying levels of homocysteine in dogs, which is a marker of inflammation and chronic disease relating to diet. Her experiment involved four groups of dogs for six months. The first group consisted of previously raw fed dogs who were switched to dry food for the second half of the study. The second group consisted of dry-fed dogs that were switched to raw food for three months. The third and fourth groups continued eating their regular food (either dry or raw for the full six-month study).

The research showed that dogs fed raw food who continued to eat raw food had the lowest homocysteine levels, while dogs who ate dry food and continued eating dry food had the highest levels of homocysteine, 10 times more than the raw fed group. Similarly, the dogs raised on raw food and switched to kibble had a fivefold increase in levels of the disease marker in the body at the completion of the study.

How to Get Your Dog Started on Raw

Now that you’re well-informed about the advantages of feeding raw, it’s time to get started! Here are some steps to transition your dog to the B.A.R.F. diet:

If your dog is new to raw food, transition slowly. The complete transition can often be accomplished within a week; however, the key is to go slowly, as you would with any dietary change. Puppies can generally transition over the course of a few days, as they typically have healthier digestive systems than older dogs. The older the dog, the longer you should take to transition to the new raw diet.

To start, we recommend fasting your dog for a half day to a full day prior to the first meal to insure a good appetite, and then feed a little bit to see how he or she handles the fresh food. If all is well, continue replacing a little bit of the original diet with the new raw diet.

Monitor your pet. If your pet experiences loose stools, wait until the stool is firm to continue the transition.

B.A.R.F. Diet Products

You want your pet to enjoy their meals as much as you do, right? Don’t worry—our B.A.R.F.-friendly products are made from recipes designed to both fuel and delight your dog. Check out some of our most popular raw options:

Read more