BARF Diet for Cats - Health & Nutrition
When most people hear the acronym "BARF," they immediately think of vomit or an upset tummy. However, BARF stands for "biologically appropriate raw foods" or "bones and raw foods".
Since cats are carnivores by nature, a BARF diet will provide them with plenty of muscle meat, bones and organs. Here, we will discuss what BARF diets can do for your cat as well as the benefits and safety precautions to take when preparing it.
What nutrition does a cat need?
One of the best ways to keep cats healthy and happy is to feed them properly. Felines require all the necessary nutrients in balanced proportions to grow, be active, prevent and/or recover from illness or injury.
With healthy eating being essential for wellbeing, pet owners must understand what makes cat food nutritious. Here are the top six cat nutrients that you need to know:
Protein is an essential source of nutrients. It aids in the development and maintenance of skin, fur, nails, muscle, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and other tissues.
Fat is energy-rich, and helps control inflammation by producing metabolites.
Carbohydrate is only required in a small amount as too much will result in weight gain.
Vitamins are organic compounds and required for a cat's metabolism.
Minerals are inorganic compounds that are important for a feline body to function effectively.
- Water makes up a large part of a cat's body and is required for every metabolic function.
Fats, proteins, and carbohydrates provide dietary energy in the form of kilocalories (also known as calories). It’s essential that the food you give your cat meets its daily caloric needs.
For more information, you can read “What Is AAFCO’s Cat Food Nutrient Profile?”
Is a BARF diet for cats safe?
It's critical for you to know if their diet is safe for them as a fur-parent. The main concerns about the safety of BARF diets for cats are nutritional imbalances and bacterial contamination.
Only about half of store-bought raw pet food options are complete and balanced. Those that are balanced should confirm by stating they follow the nutritional adequacy guidelines by AAFCO . With this, pet food must have a label to show that it meets nutritional minimums. If this isn't stated on the package, there will be a statement stating that the food is only intended for supplemental or intermittent feeding.
Apart from that, when switching to a BARF diet, one of the most common mistakes pet owners make is not knowing how to prepare a complete BARF meal. BARF diets made at home should be as close to a wild cat's diet as possible. This entails getting a sufficient portion of organs, bones, vitamins, and supplements into their diet. A nutritional deficiency caused by an incomplete or unbalanced raw diet can lead to a variety of health problems.
If the proper handling and cleaning procedures are not followed, homemade raw diets can pose a great bacterial health risk.
When it comes to bacteria and pathogens, manufacturers of prepared raw foods follow a zero-tolerance policy. To remove harmful bacteria, some use FDA-approved high-pressure processing (HPP), while others use stringent safety measures and testing procedures to ensure that it is pathogen-free.
BARF diet vs cooked cat food?
It's never easy for paw-parents to decide whether BARF or cooked food is better for their cats. Here's a breakdown on how cooked food affects a purrrfect meal!
- Nutrition reduction occurs when some nutrients are destroyed by heat. Thiamine is one of the most heat-sensitive B vitamins. It can be reduced in cooked meat by up to 70%.
- Heat denatures proteins, causing them to change structure. While this reduces digestibility for our pets, it does require less work for the body to break down once ingested. This can be beneficial for some animals with compromised gastrointestinal (GI) systems.
- Possible production of carcinogenic compounds. High heat, such as grilling, frying, or roasting at temperatures above 310°F, produces cancerous compounds (heterocyclic amines (HCAs).
- Cooking destroys the enzymes found in all foods. There is no way to keep them alive when cooking.
Some commercial fresh diets are gently cooked which can make all the difference. They are cooked at high enough temperature to kill pathogens but without significantly affecting protein and nutritional integrity of the diet. Not all cooked diets are the same. Find out what temperature and how long the food is cooked for. Anything above 80 degrees celsius will negatively affect the digestibility and bioavailability of the diet.
Does the BARF diet benefit your cats?
Cats are well known carnivores, they require nutrients found only in meat to survive. Raw diets based on what a wild cat would eat can provide the nutrition, protein, and hydration felines require to live a healthy life.
The following are the benefits of a BARF diet for cats:
- Improved digestion
- Stool odor and volume are reduced
- Healthy coat (less shedding)
- Increased vitality
- Improvement in urinary health
- Effective weight management
- Great dental health
BARF diet provides better quality and higher levels of proteins and nutrients due to the lack of heat processing.
It also improves hydration levels significantly, because cats’ bodies are designed to get moisture from their prey. Cats, unlike dogs, do not have a natural thirst drive, which is why many modern cats develop kidney and urinary problems. Because raw meat isn't cooked, it retains a lot of moisture. This is good for urinary health and helps the kidneys process waste more efficiently.
How to prepare a BARF diet for cats?
At the start, preparing a homemade BARF diet for your cat can be a difficult task. But once you understand how to safely prepare raw food and practice those steps, it shouldn’t be a problem anymore.
Firstly, make sure you have all the necessary ingredients to prepare a complete and balanced raw diet for your cat. Because you must ensure that your cat receives all the important nutrients for a wholesome diet, education is essential. Raw diets made at home should contain the following ingredients:
- Meat – chicken, beef, or lamb meat.
- Organs – kidney, liver, or heart.
- Bone – raw chicken bones (the soft cartilage)
- Fat – fish oil
- Egg yolks
- Supplements - Taurine, vitamin E, vitamin B complex, etc.
Secondly, proper food handling, serving, and storage are all essential to minimise the risk of bacterial cross-contamination to humans. When making a homemade BARF diet for cats, pet owners should follow these CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines:
- Before and after handling raw food, wash your hands with soap and water.
- Keep the raw food out of children's reach.
- Keep all raw foods and ingredients separate from human food.
- For raw food, use a separate scooper and bowl, and clean it thoroughly between uses.
- Clean and disinfect any areas where food may have come into contact.