BARF.

My cats have of course already mastered the barf.
This morning, again, thank you guys….
I have been worrying about what to feed the beasties, and I did go and hunt around about making your own pet food.
The biggest splash is this BARF thing.
After a fair amount of thought. I don't think it really sounds like a good idea.
Here's what I've come up with.

First, the basic research they are relying upon, some Dr. Pender-something, all dates from the 30's, and was poorly designed.
If you dig around a bit, it appears that the cooked and raw diets he tested were not the exact same foods served cooked or raw, which makes the experiment pointless.
That is, he changed more than one variable — added a lot of milk to the cooked diet that replaced meat in the raw one –  so that he wasn't just testing cooked/uncooked.
And my own rule of thumb is that anything resting on research that old tends to be kooky.

Second, as I think someone over on CO pointed out, there are lots of animals who live to perfectly ripe old ages on commercial foods.
Current crisis aside, a high quality commercial food, one with no anything by-products, no anything meal, should be a viable option for most animals.
On the other hand, the anecdotal evidence from BARF feeders claims increased healthiness and vigor, and who's not for that?
And certainly there are common feline illnesses that might easily be caused by commercial diet — diabetes, FUS, heart problems?
My own suspicion is that the amount of grains and vegetables in these foods might be an issue.
Cats are true carnivores, and they just aren't built to live on this stuff: they have a short digestive system, and no flat molars for grinding vegetable foods.
The argument that people make for grains is that prey animals' stomachs contain their last meals of grains and that cats would routinely eat this too.
But how big a part of an entire mouse would this be, compared to how much grain product is in a given cat food?
Well, I don't know.
Andof course it's true that I've had cats who were just mad about corn chips, or toast, and the like.
(And Wolfie just stole and ate pistachio nuts this morning – unsalted!)
But I don't know whether something an animal has an occasional craving for ought to be in every bit of food that animal eats.
— I don't need chocolate at every meal. Or wait, maybe I do.
Anyway, this one I think is inconclusive.
Doesn't prove your animal needs this particular homemade diet, but points to some real concerns with commercial foods.
(There is also an issue with cranberries and cat metabolism, and cranberries are now being added to most high-end foods. Sigh.)
So certainly it's time to be reading labels carefully.

Third. The BARF folks do spend a lot of nuts and bolts time talking nutritional needs.
If you wanted to feed fresh foods to your cats, you might want to at least check out their recommendations for supplements to see about things to remember to add.
You need to be sure you aren't just giving cats muscle meat, since they do need a good calcium source, and trace minerals and such.
The BARF folks do go through what cats need and how to find sources for it.
Powered taurine, for example, isn't something I just keep around.
When they start listing the animals' needs, they base this on analyses of prey animals.
The BARF people discuss how cats eat in the wild in order to reproduce it.
It's true that the cats eating rodents that I have seen pretty much eaten the whole thing.
(Except for my BlackCat who carefully left the livers behind. On my mother's oriental carpets. She was so not amused.)
The BARF diet deals with this issue by including organ meats in the mix they grind up, and by grinding, or double-grinding, the bones as well, which might be a safety issue.
What they say is that raw bones don't splinter as dangerously as cooked ones.
The anti-Barf sites claim that there have been animal deaths from bone fragments.
I dunno — I haven't done it, and I don't know anyone who has with either good or bad results.
But I do know that mouse and rat bones are pretty tiny, even compared to a chicken or a rabbit.
I think I'd be nervous about this one.

Fourth. The BARF folks claim that there really aren't problems with salmonella or e coli, because cat and dog digestive systems are so powerful.
For those who are really uncertain, they suggest cleaning the surfaces of the meat before grinding it up.
For meat sources that might carry parasites, they recommend a long period of freezing to kill them off.
The anti-BARF sites claim there have been salmonella deaths, and say that vets complain about parasites.
Again, I don't know anything beyond the he-said/he-said here, but it would make me nervous.

Fifth. And it weirded me out, was a discussion of feeding live prey, either feeder mice for reptiles or day-old chicks.
I have had enough of a hard time over the years with hunting cats.
I know it's their nature.
I love almost everything about my beasties, but I just loathe it when one of them brings me anything much bigger than Motley's bug.
At the moment Henrietta who was a mighty hunter is retired; Motley is a bug hunter; Silmi can't be bothered; and Wolfie spent his impressionable months in a kennel waiting for a home.
(His idea of hunting a bird is to run at it really fast shouting Bird Bird at it. The birds mock him.)
The absolutely last thing I would do is set off the whole hunting thing on purpose myself. Ugh.

Anyway, what I have decided to do is:
I'm setting up a mixed system, based on the best commercial foods I can locate.
I will be doing a vast hunting among the cat foods available and reading of labels.
I'm looking for absolutely no by-products, no meat meal. Not at all, not ever.
I like the idea of human grade ingredients' I like organic, if possible, but these aren't deal breakers.
I want little or no grain, and I'd like a relatively low vegetable content too, but I can work around these.
I want to find at least two, maybe more, lines of products to use, and I want to switch among them often, so that the beasties aren't exposed to just one production line.
I will also be supplementing daily with a variety of real foods, which I will be cooking: chicken livers and hearts,  tiny whole small fish, chopped up a bit, canned whole fish — salmon or mackerel which have bones, or chopped up whatever I'm having.
I might consider mixing up a supplement of taurine powder, ground up people calcium tablets, and a tiny bit of kelp, and using it sparingly once we work out how much people meat they are getting.
So now for the next round of research.

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13 responses to this post.

  1. lau, excellent work. tracking and reading and summarizing. I'm favoriting it to keep for reference.I can tell by reading this that the BARF peeps are all partisan on the raw v. cooked issue, and at this point that is not particularly important to me. what is important is to add more and different sources of food to the feline roommates.I think I'll begin by adding some organ meats (liver, kidneys, gizzards), lightly cooked, to their diet. and see what goes from there. we are lucky that the felines are healthy and young (steve is almost two, hank is four or five). so the goal is to keep them in this good health as long as possible.

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  2. I could never do it — I can barely feed myself.What problems have been recorded with cranberries? HRT and TK are eating food with them in it.The salmonella and bones thing would bother me. Esp. the bones. I mean, geez. And I couldn't do live prey — mine wouldn't know what to do with it, and I couldn't stand the squeaks and such from the little cute food animal even if they did. Plus leftover carcass bits around the house? No thanks.Research that old is suspect — they didn't even know about taurine back then, what else might they have missed?And why couldn't someone eventually come up with something that improves on nature? Think of ancestral humans' lives — nasty, brutish, short, etc. We've gone overboard the other way, but when we consider someone dying at 60 to be too young, we're a tad better off than the breed at 13, die at 30 times.

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  3. i am far too lazy to cook my own dog food or cat food. I can cook but i don't want to be chained to the stove. I try to get good foods for my pets. Sarah likes spots stew which seems to be good. I broke down and bought a can for the cats. They hated it. Far too many veggies in it. Sarah thought theirs was good though. She had the rest of their can for breakies. I had to break out a can of friskies tuna to get the cats talking to me again.

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  4. Yeah, I know all about the, "I take it all back. Here, have some tuna."-move.It's funny ow completely negative they are when they don't want a food.No maybes, just NO.They could teach a rabbit about disapproving at that point.The cranberry question I have to look into.One of the BARF people was saying that cat's don't metabolize — um. I think it was benzoic acid?– which cranberries contain.But I'd want to check it out directly myself before I'd start worrying.Maybe I'll try googling.

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  5. I've been strongly encouraging Mama Miao to at least cook the meat lightly for the Miao Bros. When she starts their new diet, that is, which will be about a month from now, so we still have time to continue doing research. I'll share your reflections with her.

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  6. I've tried looking around for confirmation of the BARF person's objection to cranberry for cats, and haven't found it.Doesn't mean it might not be there.I will go back and re-read her discussion, and look again, but in the short run, probably not an issue.

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  7. As long as it isn't poisonous, it seems there's no harm done if they don't metabolize it and it just goes out of their system.Plus the person might be a loony.With the "quality" of the meat supply these days, I'd cook my kitties' food too. I'd hate for the Miao Bros to get parasites or infections.

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  8. Ah, finally found it.Well the person is only sort of loony.Benzoic acid is one of those GRAS – generally recognized as safe — ingredients, and it comes in all sorts of things as a preservative.Cranberries can contain from .04% to .1% benzoic acid, it varies.What people do is turn this into a less active form and excrete it.Cats lack the pathway to turn it into the next compound along.So compared to us, cats have difficulties with benzoic acid, and they are also much more sensitive to it than, say mice.The LD50 is a toxicology term meaning the dose at which half the individuals given this substance die.It's the usual way of expressing toxicity.The LD50 for benzoic acid in mice is something like 3000/mg per kg of mouse.For cats it's like 300mg/kg of cat.So let me try to access my high school brain, which might still remember something. Aren't there two-and-some pounds/kg?So a ten pound cat is something like 5 kgs of cat.So the LD50 for a regular sized cat would be 1500 mg of benzoic acid.So if a cranberry weighs about a gram, and .1% of it is benzoic acid.Then, 1% X 1000 milligrams(1 gram) of cranberry contains at most 1 mg of benzoic acid.I think. Damn, this is like the GREs.My guess is that any can doesn't contain more than a single cranberry — mostly because my guys have been eating Wellness for a while, and I'd swear I've never seen any — and I do see carrotsSo, per can, that would be 1mg, where 1500 is a potentially fatal dose.And I've picked purposefully large choices each time, so the actual numbers would be much lower–with a lager cat, or a less than maximum possiblt=e random cranberry.Anyway, I think it's pretty certain nothing acute is going on.But I really don't like a constant low level of something a cat's body doesn't eliminate well.But I didn't see anything about long-term effects this time around.And, damn it, almost all the brands that otherwise look really good to me contain cranberries,Why do they have to mess with things like this? Arghhhhh.I can do another round of googling to see about long-term effects, but I've *got* to go mess with my taxes.

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  9. I haven't figured what to do about the kitties food yet. I've been trying to keep up with the recalls. Can't afford to spend a lot on people food but would consider the less expensive parts (kidneys, heart, liver) I'm going to search for a decent but cost efficient recipe. Has to make you wonder about OUR food. Sorry to sound paranoid, but it worries me :o(

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  10. BARF is a lot of work. My mom did this for a few months with our Golden but frankly she didn't see much a diff in energy and coat and all that and stopped doing it. And again, its a lot of work – especially for someone with a full time job who cooks every day as it is. Good luck with your continuing research!

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  11. Thanks for bringing up the subject. Your post made me do a bit of reading up. I don't think it is for me but let me know how your animals do on this diet.

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  12. Don't think I'm doing it either.Interesting, but a few too many questions.Think I am going to:1) carefully choose a small number of foods that I feel moderately safe feeding,2) supplement them with a lot of people food, and3) worry a lot.

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  13. Yeah that's my plan too.

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