Pet Owners Cater to Canine Palate

People work with boxes at BARF distribution center i i

At the BARF distribution center in Anaheim, Calif., volunteers and staff meet once a month to organize customer orders. Alex Cohen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Cohen, NPR
People work with boxes at BARF distribution center

At the BARF distribution center in Anaheim, Calif., volunteers and staff meet once a month to organize customer orders.

Alex Cohen, NPR
A package from Suzy's Doggie Delights is among the pet foods being readied for distribution. i i

A package from Suzy's Doggie Delights is among the pet foods being readied for distribution. Alex Cohen, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Alex Cohen, NPR
A package from Suzy's Doggie Delights is among the pet foods being readied for distribution.

A package from Suzy's Doggie Delights is among the pet foods being readied for distribution.

Alex Cohen, NPR

In the wake of a recall of contaminated pet food, some pet owners are feeding their pets a different kind of diet. The Biologically Appropriate Raw Food — or "BARF" — diet encourages pet owners to replace kibble with foods that are closer to what an animal's less-domesticated ancestors once ate: raw meat, bone and vegetables.

Once a month, pet owners gather at a cold storage facility in southern California to stock up on foods that are part of the BARF diet: turkey necks, chicken backs, pork feet, and whole fish.

"It's a species-appropriate diet," says Pam Puckett, who runs southern California's BARF group. "A bowl of water and a bowl of Cheerios would not maintain human health, and a bowl of kibble and some water doesn't maintain canine health."

The BARF diet isn't for everyone; compared with manufactured foods, it can be more expensive. It requires adequate storage space to keep raw food frozen, and also time to thaw the meat. And some animal lovers find it difficult to feed their pets other furry beings — such as rabbits, head and all.

Yet those who subscribe to the BARF diet swear by it. Amber Malfavon says she started giving raw beef and vegetables to her American bulldogs, Chico and Heidi, when she found that Chico was suffering from hip dysplasia. Malfavon says the diet has improved Chico's gait and skin.

Despite the enthusiasm of some pet owners, the BARF diet isn't without its own set of health risks.

"We have seen the adverse consequences of home cooking," says Andrea Fascetti, a veterinary nutritionist at University of California Davis.

Unlike commercial pet foods, Fascetti says, raw food diets often lack the proper amounts of vitamins and nutrients. For example, many humans prepare meals with insufficient calcium, while others go overboard. There is also the concern that raw food can harbor bacteria.

"Things like salmonella have been linked to raw food diets, [and] E. coli as well," Fascetti says. "Those are certainly problems that can be passed along to people and make us sick."

Though proponents of the raw food diet say it is closer to the diet that dogs once ate, there is the question of whether today's dogs are anything like their ancestors.

Fascetti cautions anyone who is thinking about ditching manufactured pet food for a homemade or raw diet should be sure to consult a veterinarian. She says she feeds her two cats and her Labrador retriever commercial food.

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