BARF or Conventional Dog Food?

Cutest poodle dog choosing between dry dog food and raw dog food

What feeding method is best for your dog?

Dry, wet or fresh and raw? The range of opinions on the right way to feed our four-legged friends are as diverse as the choice of foods commercially available. But is BARF really healthier? Does wet food taste better and is dry food cheaper? We'll show you the most important advantages and disadvantages of the different feeding methods.

In a nutshell, there isn't any one feeding method that is the best for all dogs to the same extent. Be it raw dog food, dry or wet food, every dog food has its advantages and disadvantages. In principle, you can give your dog a healthy diet with ideal energy and nutrient provision with all three varieties.

A question of taste?

There isn't so much a right or wrong answer to the question of what is the best feeding method. It's more a question of your personal opportunities and demands. What food does my dog tolerate best? How much time do I have for preparing dog food? Does my dog have illnesses that require a special type of diet? And can I actually afford the type of food I have chosen? In order to make this personal decision slightly easier for you, we want to outline first of all the differences between wet, dry and raw food and the positives and negatives of each.

The three dog food categories

Be it from the supermarket, a specialist pet store or online, the choice of food is much bigger for dogs than for any other pets. There is a special food for all dogs, be they puppies, adult or senior dogs, sporty or overweight, suffering from allergies or sick, or big or small breeds. It's no surprise then that first-time owners in particular are often overwhelmed by the choice. It helps to initially be aware of a few facts about the different types of food. Usually a distinction is made between three different dog food categories:

  1. Dry food
  2. Wet or moist food
  3. BARF (fresh raw food)

Useful facts about dry food, wet food and BARF

With traditional dry food, dried and ground raw materials are broken down by heat and pressed into biscuit form, which is usually available in large kilo bags and has low to medium durability. With wet or moist food, the raw ingredients are filled directly into airtight, sealed cans and heated once they have been crushed and mixed. This means that wet food has a softer consistency and a more intense taste, as well as a comparatively high water and protein content. By heating the sealed cans, the content lasts for a very long time.

What is known as BARF has become established as the third form of canine nutrition in recent years and involves unprocessed (raw) fresh meat being mixed with raw, mostly mashed fruit and vegetables. The acronym BARF originally stood for “born-again raw feeders” and later changed to “bone and raw food”. In the German language, the term is nowadays generally translated as “biologically appropriate raw food”. The BARF method developed in the 1990s by the Australian vet Ian Billinghurst is based on the natural diet of wolves. With portions of raw meat, innards, bones, vegetables, fruit and nuts, it roughly imitates the wolf's prey, which consists of bones and meat as well as the stomach contents with processed berries and plants.

Advantages of dry food

All three of these feeding methods have their advantages and disadvantages, so every dog owner ultimately has to decide for themselves what criteria are most important to them.

Without doubt, the biggest advantages of dry food are storage and practicality. You can stock up with light kilo bags and split it into portions without any problems. If you're off on the move with your dog, you will appreciate simple and clean portioning. The type of packaging also keeps the amount of rubbish generated in check. For holidays and days out, dry food is certainly the quickest and easiest solution. Another advantage is that dry food has very high nutrient content even with small amounts. Compared to wet food, the portions are therefore much smaller. As well, the nutrients are incorporated during the heating process in manufacturing and thereby ensure good digestibility. Depending on the size and density, dry biscuits can encourage dogs to chew. The size of the biscuits can be chosen based on the size of the dog and its jaw.

Disadvantages of dry food

At the same time though, the shape of the biscuits doesn't allow any conclusions to be drawn regarding the processed raw ingredients. The biggest disadvantage of dry food is definitely the associated uncertainty about the quality of ingredients. In fact, it's recommended to precisely read the declaration on the packaging, because many types contain a huge amount of carbohydrates, which can quickly lead to dogs becoming overweight. As well, a lack of fluid supply can also be problematic. Since dry food has a low moisture content, owners must ensure that their dog drinks enough water.

Two young labrador dogs eating raw food

Advantages of wet food

Wet food consists of around 70 to 80 percent fluid. Since dogs in particular drink very little, wet food is therefore a good option. Even fussy eaters often like wet food better than dry food, since it has a more intense taste. Small dog breeds in particular prefer the soft consistency of wet food. In addition, the amount of animal protein essential for dogs is mostly slightly higher in wet food than in dry food. Long durability is also achieved by heating the food in sealed packages like cans or pouches. As well, the ingredients are broken down during the heating process like with dry food, which has a positive impact on digestion.

Disadvantages of wet food

Similarly to with dry food, you should also take a close look at the declaration for wet food in order to see which ingredients were used. There can be big differences between manufacturers regarding the quality of animal protein, though this is also the case with dry food and ready-made BARF menus. The proportion of meat and animal by-products  should be well balanced. Dog owners often list the very short shelf life of opened containers of wet food as a disadvantage. Once they are open, the food goes off quickly. Others also find the strong smell of wet food unpleasant. A further disadvantage is definitely the large amount of packaging waste, mainly with cans.

Advantages of the BARF method

In contrast to traditional dry or wet food, BARF is mainly considered by its fans to be more natural, species-appropriate and therefore healthier too. Up until now it hasn't been scientifically proven whether the BARF method really is healthier. Owners can focus more on the individual needs of their dog by putting together food portions themselves. For dogs suffering from allergies, for instance, a food component that triggers allergies can simply be replaced by a different ingredient. BARF can also take into account changes like size, weight or activity level on a more individual level. In addition, the use of individual ingredients like fresh meat, fruit and vegetables allows a better assessment of the quality.

Disadvantages of the BARF method

However, one of the problems of BARF lies in the individual composition of the products. In order to adapt portions as well as possible to your dog's individual nutrient requirements, some knowledge and experience is needed. An incorrect distribution of nutrients can lead to your dog being under or overweight, as well as it suffering from severe deficiency symptoms or over-provision that can bring serious health risks. A further risk are pathogens contained in raw meat, fish and eggs. Raw pork should not be given to dogs and cats. Most bacteria are killed during the cooking process but can survive for a very long time in the freezer and even multiply during the defrosting phase. As well, further disadvantages are the relatively high costs for fresh ingredients and the big time commitment that putting together food, going shopping, chopping and mixing entails for dog owners.

Dog eats dry food

Summary: all advantages and disadvantages at a glance

 

Advantages  

 

 

Disadvantages

Dry food •      Cheap in price

•      Medium durability

•      Easy to handle and take on trips away

•      High nutrient content allows small portions (with better digestibility)

•      Easy storage

•      Little packaging waste

•      Low moisture content (problematic with dogs that don't drink much)

•      Lack of transparency regarding the quality of ingredients used

•      Often high proportion of carbohydrates

Wet food •      High moisture content (improves water balance of dogs that don't drink much)

•      More intense taste

•      Soft consistency often preferred by small dogs

•      Largely high proportion of animal protein

•      Very long durability

•      Low durability once opened

•      More difficult to transport than dry food

•      Large amounts of packaging waste

BARF •      Use of fresh products allows good quality assessment

•      Portions can be individually tailored to the dog's needs

•      No unwanted ingredients in the food

•      Plenty of knowledge and expertise needed

•      More time-consuming and slightly more expensive than using conventional dog food

•      Increased risk of infection through bacteria and other pathogens in raw meat, fish and eggs

Conclusion

When looking at the table, you will see that the advantages and disadvantages of the three different feeding methods are very evenly distributed. The question of what type of food is the best or healthiest for dogs cannot be met with a generic answer. After all, dogs – just like us humans – are individuals and therefore have different needs, tastes and requirements. Only you personally can decide what food is right for your dog. Don't be unsettled by the opinions of other dog owners in Internet forums or dog parks. What's important is that you and your dog are satisfied with your choice.

It depends on content, not type

The chosen food must primarily cover your dog's nutrient requirements and provide it with everything it needs for healthy development. Whether this is the case or not depends on the content more than the type. If you take a close look at the individual ingredients and their quality, your dog can be fed in a satisfactory and healthy manner with both traditional dog food and the BARF method. It's important that your dog's age, weight, size and activity level are taken into account with the choice of food. Illnesses and potential allergies also play a decisive role. Personal circumstances will of course influence your decision too. Give thorough consideration to how much time you can spend on food preparation, how much food costs and whether you take your dog away often.

Find the best solution for you and your dog

Speak to your vet too about the different feeding options. Perhaps a mix of dry and wet food or BARF and conventional food is also possible. BARF menus sold online and packaged in portions can be a practical solution for beginners who would like to follow the BARF method. What's certain is that there is no incorrect method as long as the supply of calories and nutrients is guaranteed and your dog remains healthy and energetic.

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