The SkeptVet on Science-Based Medicine: BARF Diets

I just wanted to let everyone know that I have a guest post out today on the Science-Based Medicine blog, Raw Meat and Bones Diet for Dogs: It’s Enough to make you BARF. I have followed SBM for a long time, and I consider it the premier site for reliable, scientific analysis of alternative medical approaches, so I’m very pleased to have this opportunity to bring science-based veterinary medical information to a wider audience, and to illustrate the relationship between unscientific approaches in both human and veterinary medicine. Hopefully, if the response is positive I’ll be contributing additional articles in the future.

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11 Responses to The SkeptVet on Science-Based Medicine: BARF Diets

  1. Matt Turner says:

    An excellent article on SBM from an area that I suspect skeptics tend to have limited exposure to.

    I attended an event by Canine Health Concern in the UK recently – advocating the dangers of vaccines and promoting homeopathic nosodes – the resources on your site would have allowed me to prepare a little better that I did!

  2. Rita says:

    I thought it was you! Great stuff – many thanks!

  3. jre says:

    Great post!
    A fair amount of this stuff seems to have originated with Francis Pottenger and his notorious cat experiments of the 1940s. I was put onto the subject by a family member who happens to be a bit wacked on the topic. I was curious enough to get a copy of Pottenger’s Cats, a digest of his papers. I was later able to track down a copy of Pottenger’s original cat paper, in which he explains that cats fed cooked food develop heritable deformities caused by damage to their “germ plasm.” Granted, this was a few years before Watson and Crick, so Pottenger had an excuse; not so his modern disciples.

  4. skeptvet says:


    Yes, Pottenger’s study comes up often in discussions of raw diets. Though not bad for his era, his work with the cats is pretty sloppy by modern standards, and there is not enough information in his published writings to determine crucial things like whether there were differences other than cooking between the food the two groups received, whether the groups of cats themselves were different in terms of condition, health, age, sex, and all sorts of other relevant variables. And even from the information that is out there, it is clear that neither group received an adequate diet, especially in terms of taurine, not discovered to be an essential amino acid for cats until after Pottenger’s time. So his work cannot legitimately be regarded as scientific evidence in favor of raw diets, though it is often cited as such.

  5. v.t. says:

    Well, I think the response was positive, skeptvet, and would love to see more of yours and David Ramey’s vet articles on SBM. Likewise, I’d love to see more of the SBM regulars contribute to the comments, as it seems many of them have pets and an equal number of questions!

  6. Dianne says:

    I think you and others in your field are missing the point regarding the rise of interest and activity in the homeopathic field, both for human and pet consumption. The trust once garnered by the medical and scientific field has evaporated, due to it’s failure to prevent and address health from a common sense perspective (i.e., does it work?), and there is seemingly no attempt at trying to restore it. Because information is readily available and options have expanded, people are more able to try things on their own, and apparently many, including myself, have found things are not as claimed by the so-called experts. I gave my pets high quality, premium, “approved” foods, they had ailments, got sick, even died. I did my own research, changed their diets, the ailments went away, their health returned (as expressed by energy, playfulness, youthfulness, coat condition), outlasted their original prognosis by years with true quality of life. Though I don’t argue (much) with my vets, I take their advice with a grain of salt and don’t agree to anything without doing my own research. I trust them greatly, but I recognize they received biased training, have legal boundaries that must be respected, have their own opinions based on their own experience, but that ultimately the care of both my and my pets health is my responsibility, not theirs. I consider them, and blogs like yours, a helpful resource, nothing more.

    I am not alone in having lost confidence in “experts”, and if you think being critical of these views is going to change anything, you are merely re-enforcing the notion that your expertise is no longer needed.

  7. skeptvet says:

    There’s no question that there is distrust of mainstream medicine in some circles. The degree to which that is desevred is debatable. Mainstream medicine has many failings. It has also doubled our lifespan and dramatically reduced our suffering from disease, so arguably the record is pretty good on performance, though less good on communication with patients.

    The problem, is that your response to this mistrust is irrational. You elect to trust sources of information that have proven unreliable many times or that make claims with no evidence at all, and you trust your personal experience and Internet research despite the mountains of evidence showing those things are highly flawed and often wrong. Identifying and trying to solve problems in a system of scientific medicine is fair enough. Jumping ship to superstition and wishful thinking helps no one.

  8. v.t. says:

    Any failings of modern medicine have absolutely nothing to do with the lack of evidence concerning homeopathy. Because modern medicine isn’t perfect, does that mean homeopathy works? Not even. Maybe you are missing the point.

  9. SChrist82 says:

    I work for a Vet and I’m certainly not missing the point regarding the rise of interest in homeopathy (I think you mean Holistic medicine, Homeopathy has nothing to do with BARF or changes in diets). Interest is rising, but SO WHAT? Interest doesnt mean a thing. Just because something is interesting doesnt mean it works, you did want medicine to address health problems from a common sense point of view (i.e, does it work?), right. Or should it be (is it interesting?). Common sense to me at least means prove it!

    AAFCO approved diets have the balance of nutrients the average dog or cat needs. One diet wont work for all dogs or cats, because they each have different specific needs, especially dogs with all their different variations from breed to breed. AAFCO is held to a standard based on research. You may not approve of the standards, but at least a standard is there. As more research becomes available, the standards improve. BARF/holistic diets are not held to any standard other than ‘dogs have long canine teeth so they need raw meat’, or ‘how many wolves do you know that eat corn?’ There are real veterinary nutritionists who can formulate home made diets for pets, and diets can even be formulated for specific conditions like pets with kidney disease, all based on scientific research. The advantage of commercial dog food like kibble is that they get all the nutrition they need per meal, each piece of kibble contains certian amounts of certain nutrients, they CANT be separated. (Unlike us humans who usually choose to eat burgers and fries and avoid vegetables). Home cooked diets can work well if they are nutritionally complete and if the pet eats the whole thing and not just the tasty ingredients. Example: we have some clients who cook their own chicken, rice, and veggies for their dog, but they eat the chicken, leave the rice, and only eat certain vegetables (or none at all). Anyways, if there was truth to the holistic stuff, they would rely on research instead of criticizing medicine.

  10. fluidtherapy says:


    Your letter is so filled with erroneous generalizations and unfounded conclusions that it’s difficult to know where to begin. But, let’s start with this gem of a comment:
    I gave my pets high quality, premium, “approved” foods, they had ailments, got sick, even died.

    You’ve listed 4 events in reference to your animal companion(s): giving high quality, premium foods, having ailments, getting sick, and dying – with no apparent association other than being on the same list. And, while, in your mind, you meant to infer a negative causal relationship between the first item and the second, third and fourth, you failed in doing such. I see no association; I see a list. Guess what, Dianne, I eat premium, high quality foods, have ailments, get sick and, according to the “experts”, someday, I’m going to die. So, what’s your point?

    But, in reference to your pathetic attempt at associating “approved” veterinary foods and animals dying: we know that your animal companion didn’t die as a direct result of the food recommended by your vet. And, you have no documentation that any such thing ever transpired. Nor do you have any specific information or proof that “approved” diets are in any way dangerous to animals. Yet, you’ve included such a scenario in your sentence to infer that “approved” pet foods kill animals. How, quintessentially simplistic of you – and, yet, how very convincing for your anencephalic ilk.

    Here’s another great comment (in reference to your veterinarians):
    I trust them greatly, but I recognize they received biased training, have legal boundaries that must be respected…

    I’m not sure I understand the reference to “biased training”. Do you mean, because veterinary schools teach their students established, medical facts, based on proven scientific data, that veterinarians are biased? Against what? The quackery and idiocy known as complementary medicine, as exemplified by homeopathy? In which case you’d be correct. But I was unaware that siding with reality over make-believe/ignorance/idiocy makes one biased.

    And, what “legal boundaries” would you recognize a veterinarian as having in practicing medicine? To gross, unsubstantiated, irrational, unfounded experimentation with our patients’ health and well being? Again, that would be correct. However, there are no legal “boundaries” to practicing sound, effective and scientifically established medicine.

    You don’t trust your veterinarians (or the medical community) and yet you continue to patronize them. Why? You question everything they tell you because, of course, it’s a conspiracy and you, the leader of the commoners, have had enough of being kept in the dark. You literally think you know more than the “experts” yet you display no evidence whatsoever of any medical aptitude, experience or knowledge.

    Tell me again, why is it that you visit websites like this?

  11. clara says:

    I agree. Dianne, you have absolutely no proof that the food you were giving your pets caused their sickness. I’m not saying the food didn’t, i’m saying that until you give me some solid proof that your dog’s food did kill them, I’m not believing a word of it.

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