Differences Between the BARF Diet and the Prey Model Diet
April 20, 20194 min read
In the raw feeding community, there is controversy over what is appropriate for our canine companions to consume. The two most prominent diet models are the Prey Model Diet and the BARF Diet. While both provide excellent nutrition for our dogs, there are subtle differences that may be more suitable for one type of dog or another. Let’s wade in.
What Is The Prey Model Diet For Dogs?
This diet operates on the principle that dogs are true carnivores and have no dietary requirements for plant ingredients. Prey model raw (PMR) feeders believe that domestic dogs should follow in their wolf ancestor’s footsteps, eating what they ate for thousands, if not millions of years. This means consuming a diet that mimics wild dogs and wolves.
A typical prey model diet is designed to mirror what a wolf would consume in the wild. If we dissect common prey animals, we will find the following is true on average:
38% organ meat (this figure includes skin but is replaced with other more readily available organs)
12% bone and supplements
What Is The BARF Diet For Dogs?
The BARF diet was pioneered by the well-known Australian Veterinarian and author Ian Billinghurst. Today, the BARF diet is commonly referred to as the “Bones And Raw Food” diet or the “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food” Diet. Regardless of what you call it, it is generally accepted that this diet model is a mix of meat and plant matter- acknowledging that dogs are sometimes opportunistic in their feeding behaviors and do not subsist on a diet entirely made up of meat.
The general blend for a BARF diet is outlined here:
There is a high degree of controversy in the raw feeding community over whether plant matter (fruits/vegetables) is an appropriate food for dogs. While it is widely accepted that dogs are carnivores, research data has shown to be quite skewed when it comes to plant matter content in the diet of wild wolves.
Early studies and field research observed almost no consumption of plant matter. However, more recent studies of wild wolf populations in the Northwest Territories indicate that vegetation was found in roughly 14% of scat collected by researchers. This level of occurrence would lead us to believe that these wolves were seeking out this vegetation, not just coming across it through the prey that they consumed.
To further complicate the matter, it is a known fact that dogs do not digest plant matter well, making the consumption of fruits and vegetables by wild wolves all the more curious. One theory is that these animals are seeking out nutrients that are deficient in the animals that they are eating. The other theory centers around the health benefits of this plant matter and its fiber for the wolf's gut microbiome (which we will get into more in our section about probiotics and prebiotics).
Differences in Feeding Guidelines
Prey Model Diet
When feeding a prey model diet, the energy content is much more condensed. As such, the general recommendation is to feed roughly 2% of body weight per day for adult dogs.
10lb Dog: 3.2oz (1/5lb)
25lb Dog: 8oz
50lb Dog: 1lb
75lb Dog: 1lb 8oz
100lb Dog: 2lbs
150lb Dog: 3lbs
200lb Dog: 4lbs
When feeding the BARF diet, like Cali Raw's menu, the energy potential is a little lower than that of an all-meat diet (prey model). As such, you will end up feeding your dog slightly more.
The general recommendation is to feed roughly 2.5-3% of body weight per day for adult dogs. A BARF diet using 15% vegetation would be closer to the 2.5% calculation, while a diet with 20-25% vegetation will be closer to 3%. We have outlined 2.5% below; as this is the structure that we follow:
10lb Dog: 4oz (1/4lb)
25lb Dog: 12oz (3/4lb)
50lb Dog: 1lb 8oz
75lb Dog: 2lbs 4oz
100lb Dog: 3lbs
150lb Dog: 4.5lbs
200lb Dog: 6lbs
*Please note that regardless of the diet model, if you have a very active dog or working dog, you may need to add 0.5-1% to the calculation outlined above. The key to finding the right percentage is actually in stool consistency.
When you’re spot on, the dog is keeping its weight, and their stool is small and hard. When you’re feeding too much, the stool will be soft and loose. You want a hard stool without causing the animal to strain while relieving itself.
Every dog is different. What might work for one dog may not work for another. Dogs with allergies or sensitivities will probably thrive on a prey model raw diet. However, they may drop weight like a stone towards their biologically appropriate set weight, which is pretty lean and might be disconcerting to some dog owners.
On the other side of the coin, dogs on the BARF diet may put on a few unwanted pounds and may have a softer stool consistency than desired. It will all depend on their activity level and individual metabolisms. It doesn’t make one diet better than the other.
The best way to determine what works best for your dog will be trial and error. If they are happy, energetic, and look to be a healthy weight, then you’re probably on the right track. It does not need to be any more complicated than this.