And according to Bowman, even the best grade of meat can carry diseases: "Even human-grade meat that's processed and shipped distances carries bacteria, and it's not meant for raw consumption." Bowman suggests that pet owners at least sear the meat first, since the bacteria tend to be on the surface.
Dr. Rebecca Remillard, a veterinarian and pet nutritionist, is one of the harshest critics of the raw diet. "This is not a safe practice," she writes on her Web site. "Dogs fed raw meat or eggs may develop mild to severe gastrointestinal disease from consuming products contaminated" with disease-causing bacteria.
Koss says that's just misinformation. "Bacteria and pathogens are a concern in the entire food industry," he said. "But if the food is handled properly, there is no danger at all to pets."
Susan Lauten, who has a master's degree in animal nutrition and a doctorate in biomedical science, runs a veterinary consulting business in Knoxville, Tenn. She agrees that, for the most part, healthy dogs and cats can safely eat raw food. But she's less enthusiastic about comparisons to the diet these creatures ate in the wild.
"In the wild, dogs didn't live very long," she told me. "And one reason was that they got sick from eating contaminated meat."
Lauten has a different concern about the raw diet. Animals that eat raw meat can release salmonella and other dangerous pathogens in their stool. "You don't want that around if you have kids or immune-compromised people," she said. "You can clean up after your dog, but you might not get everything."
And she raised another issue: economics. "Do you tell people that they can't have a cat unless they can afford the most expensive kind of food?"
Dr. Hannah Good, who practices holistic veterinary medicine in Santa Cruz, argues that "there's a lot that can be accomplished by going in a different direction than kibble." She noted that "a lot of diets are 100 percent garbage."
But she also said that high-grade kibble diets are balanced to include all the nutrients an animal needs.
And what do the vets feed their pets? Good said her dog "eats whatever I eat"; she prepares a version of her own meals for her canine companion. Lauten's dog has inflammatory bowel disease "and does very well on a commercial veterinary diet."
Bryan, who thinks what a dog eats is an important factor in its health, doesn't do the BARF thing either: "I give my dog Science Diet."