Whether you call a BARF diet a 'Bones & Raw Food' or 'Biologically Appropriate Raw Food', the principal is the same as our horses; feed a species-appropriate diet and add in any missing nutrients.
Our domesticated dogs' physiology is no different to that of a wild dog - their gut system is evolved to eat every part of their prey that they catch - fur, bones, flesh and innards, where it's likely that their prey's gut contains plants, grains and seeds - all very different to a tin's cooked contents. A BARF feeding programme is the nearest to what a dog's system is designed for.
That said, plain raw mince from varying sources will not a complete nutrient-profile make, so, just like our EquiVita range for our horses, we need to add in the missing nutrient nuts and bolts. Enter our BARF-Balance, a completely natural organic supplement, with no artificial ingredients, premixes or fillers, to nutritionally balance the BARF diet.
Behavioural anxiety - maybe caused by past trauma or abuse; Separation anxiety - afraid of being left home alone or separated from their owner; Situational anxiety - storms, fireworks, vet visits. You name it, all can lead to destructive behaviour, barking or crying, pacing, trembling/shaking, increased urination/diarrhea, upset tum, aggression, loss of appetite - many of which we experienced with Doris.
As always, there are some lovely herbs that can help take the edge off. Probably my favourite of all the adaptogens, Ashwagandha helps the body adapt to stressors and works to normalise the stress response. Then there are the nervines, natures lovely nervous-system calmers. First up, Chamomile, a renowned relaxer and tummy soother, useful for car nerves or car sickness. I got very nifty at wielding the Chamomile tincture for Woodie if we were going to attempt a car journey.
Next, Passionflower, a really effective anxiolytic. Passionflower's very clever as it's medicinal ability prevents the vital 'happy' neurotransmitters (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) from breaking down, so if they can't break down, anxiety can't take hold. This makes Passionflower perfect for calming separation anxiety. If I didn't have the herbs available for Doris, I'd make a passionflower tea, let it cool, dilute it and give it her in her feed.
We also have Valerian, widely recognised as an effective herbal sedative, safe and gentle as it calms nerves and physically relaxes as it's also an antispasmodic. This makes it really useful for hysteria, overexciteability or stressful events. Bartie was terrified of loud storms and fireworks, and always got Valerian tincture in his feed during the Bonfire Night week.
This is a lovely effective blend to use in any event, or if there's something coming up that might affect your dog. Feed for 3-days before and continue for 3-days after. Equally each of these herbs are great to use independently - my preference is via tinctures.
NB: Don't give this blend to pregnant or lactating dogs, as passionflower is a uterine stimulant and may cause contractions.
Dogs with degenerative arthritis experience varying degrees of lameness, stiffness, and joint pain which tends to be more apparent in the morning or after getting up from a nap – a bit like me really 😉
Back to my favourite adaptogenic herbs, not just for me but with animals, especially as adaptogens are so brilliant at helping the body adapt to stressors without being stimulating or suppressing, and ... big bonus, almost every adaptogen herb has anti-inflammatory properties. Specifically, Eleuthero’s claim to fame is its increased circulatory action, helpful with any inflammation, especially joint, cartilage and tendon.
Meadowsweet and White Willow Bark are renowned analgesics to help with pain and inflammation – our equine DuoBute & TriBute are testimony to this. NB - they should not be used with cats!!! Devil’s Claw takes us to a higher level for pain and inflammation, ideal for chronic conditions. I keep a small jar of DC on the side and add into Pog’s meals daily.
Turmeric – well, nuff said - awesome. Again, we have a jar-full in the kitchen for Pog. And Boswellia Serrata contains phytochemicals that stop the production of leukotrienes, which cause inflammation. I personally swear by it, using it's essential oil version, Frankincense, topically for every ache and pain that comes my way.
Hemp seeds - no other single plant source has the essential amino acids in such an easily digestible form as Hemp seeds. Wonderful for joints, as well as a great vitamin source (B6, C, D & E) they contain Linolenic acid (GLA), Omega-3s, and are a pure protein source with anti-inflammatory effects.
Now to Collagen, and it seems only fair that the collagen we include is the one I use myself, and trust me when I say that for me I research the universe for the best! I’ve already got a bit of unfriendly arthritis knocking on my door – show me a middle-aged horse owner who hasn’t?! The one that packs a punch for me is Correxiko’s Premium Marine Collagen Peptides.
Why this brand? For me the main fact is that it’s sourced from wild-caught fish from Canada, not farmed, plus they use the fish skin and not the less effective fish scales. Another biggie for me is that it’s completely tasteless which, as I can’t tolerate anything fishy-tasting (shudder), is a no-brainer. (Hence, if you're interested, why I also take the NothingFishy Omega-3 supplements as it’s made from the algae that the wild fish eat at the bottom of the ocean, not the fish oil itself.)
Back to collagen, and when it's in peptide form it’s more bioavailable with enhanced absorption, going straight to the cartilage, tendons and bones for better joint flexibility and bone strength. Correxiko’s brand is completely non-GMO (well, you know me) and with an doctor as its founder. If you're interested in it for yourself, I get it via Amazon here.
Finally, don't forget Vitamin E, as it's an important antioxidant that prevents oxidation in the body. Essential to the use of oxygen by muscles, vitamin E helps improve circulation, prolonging the life of red blood cells. The best way to get vit.E into mealtimes is via whole-food sources; chop up Swiss chard, spinach, kale or broccoli and add in a small sloshes of olive oil 😉
The skin is an indicator of health, and apparently, doggie skin conditions are the No.1 reason for vet visits. You can understand why - skin isn't a separate system from the rest of the body; skin functions as a complex integrated organ communicating with the rest of the body through systemic pathways, i.e. the lymphatics, kidneys, liver and immune systems.
There are many reasons why a dog may have over-sensitive skin, i.e. stress, malnutrition, food allergies, immunity imbalance, old age, or as with our Bartie, external environmental factors.
I love Burdock for its blood cleansing anti-inflammatory support, plus it works well with Dandelion to help clear out toxins - dogs love to dig up dandelions to chew on. Calendula and Cleavers always feature for skin as together they're an effective lymphatics tonic combo, upon which the skin relies on to draw out congestion. Nettle is packed with nutrients, and an excellent anti-inflammatory kidney support which makes it useful for environmentally skin-reactive dogs.
I made up our ComfySkin herbal blend, very much based on our EquiNatural SkinTonic, to help Bartie, who would develop sore red skin on the back of his legs and his underbelly from the grass in summer.
Like our horses (and not forgetting us humans!), what comes out the other end tells us everything we need to know about how a gut is functioning. Even if we’re paying for prime steak, the best bones and organic veggies, there’s no guarantee our dog is utilising it all.
So, what can you see? Are they constipated, is there diarrhea, and what about poop size and frequency – this will tell us how fast - or slow - our dog is digesting their food and how much of it is being used.
Constipation, and this is our Pog - he gets completely constipated if he has a bone, which breaks my heart as he loves them. Too much bone means his poop will be much lighter in colour, and after a bone his poop is always lighter, almost white - my heart goes out to him as he shuffles round the garden in poop-squat mode with nothing coming out. It also means his next meal will be very sloppy, courtesy of me to try and loosen up the solid mass in his intestines 😉
If this is your dog, make sure he’s drinking enough water - I know I'm stating the obvious here but I usually tell by how often I’m filling the water bowl.
Psyllium is basically my initial go-to for all-things-dog-gut, as they work well on both constipation and diarrhea. Psyllium swells into a gloopy mucilaginous gel when it contacts water, sticking together and bonding to the waste to help move it through the intestines. Mix ¼-1 teaspoon psyllium husks with 250ml water then add a small dose and increase each mealtime.
NB. Psyllium will basically clear out the gut so if your dog is on vet meds it may interact with them. It may also be contraindicated for dogs with kidney disease.
Diarrhea should be taken seriously - the more liquid it is, and if it continues 3-4 times in one day, the dog needs a 24-hr fast. This gives the body a rest and a chance to heal itself. In lieu of food, serve a bone broth - I buy it ready made from Waitrose, chook or beef. Again, Psyllium is a godsend, and you could add a small amount of fresh grated ginger into it to calm the tum.
If the fast doesn’t help, check the urine output – if it seems abnormally high it could indicate kidney problems. Bone broth added to tiny meals may help.
Now to Size &Frequency, and the larger the poop size, the less food is being digested. This is why commercial dry food causes big stinky poos as they’re mostly undigestible filler. If you feed BARF and there's a size increase, it may be time to add probiotics to help digestion. How often a dog eliminates tells you how long it takes to digest their meal - any changes may be a signal there’s a small battle going on inside.
One of the best surprises of switching my dogs to a BARF diet was infinitely better poop! Much less of a pong, and the output was noticeably less than when our dogs had been on tinned and/or dry food. Happy Days 😊