John Burns BVMS Lic.Ac. MRCVS
I am a veterinary surgeon, qualified acupuncturist and the founder and owner of Burns Pet Nutrition, which has been making high-quality pet foods for twenty years.
On this site I shall be writing mainly about pet health and nutrition although I may comment on whatever takes my fancy. To get a flavour of what I am about you can download a copy of My Dog Health and Nutrition Handbook. It takes less than 30 minutes to read but it took me about 30 years to assemble the information in it. I sometimes call it my bible. (Chambers Dictionary definition of bible: (i) a comprehensive book regarded as the ultimate authority on its subject; (ii) the third stomach of a ruminant with many folds like the leaves of a book.)
How it began.
I was asked recently how I came to be in the pet food business. Did I just decide one day to start making my own food? Nothing could be further from the truth. Burns Pet Nutrition dates from 1993 but it took me about 15 years of thinking and wondering how to go about it.
When I qualified as a vet in 1971 I went to work in a farm (mainly dairy) practice in Whitland in West Wales. We didn’t see many pets in the practice but I soon found myself telling owners of dogs with itchy skin or ears that the medication (steroids) would relieve the problem but it wasn’t a cure. When the drugs stopped, the problem came back. This wasn’t quite what I anticipated for my professional life.
I read an article about acupuncture which looked promising and so in the mid 70s I moved to London to take a course in acupuncture. At the same time, I became interested in Macrobiotics, a philosophy which tries to integrate Traditional Oriental Medicine into our modern Western lifestyle. This was a real life-changer for me. I learned that many (human) health problems are related to our lifestyle, especially diet. In particular, modern society has moved away from our traditional, centuries-old style of eating which was based on whole grains to a diet largely reliant on refined foods, meat, dairy and sugar.
When I went back to general practice (at the end of the 1970s) I felt that I had the best of both worlds – my training in veterinary science and the traditional, natural approach based on lifestyle, especially diet. Not only did I think I knew what caused many health problems, I believed I knew what to do about it. I was ready to change the world!
As a result, I recommended to the clients in my practice that they should avoid feeding any commercial pet food
What’s wrong with commercial pet foods?
That was a question I was often asked. The answer was that I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about the pet food industry. Also, it wasn’t possible to know what was in the food. Ingredients were listed as “meat and animal derivatives, cereals and cereal derivatives; permitted colourants.”
That wasn’t much help except to keep you in the dark) but what I did see was the effect the food was having on the pet’s health – itchy skin; itchy and discharging ears, diarrhoea; smelly coat; bad breath; tooth tartar; chewing the feet; constant moulting; dry flaky skin.
Through the 1980s and early 1990s I recommended the avoidance of commercial pet foods and that pets should be fed a home-cooked diet of brown rice, meat and vegetables. At that time, brown rice was a rarity in West Wales so I sold it in my surgery by the kg., or by the lb. in those days!
Why brown rice?
As I mentioned above, whole grains were the traditional diet of humans for many centuries. Of course brown rice isn’t native to Northern Europe but it did figure large in my Macrobiotic education. Of the grains it is possibly the easiest to digest. In more recent times I have been using other whole grains such as oats, which is traditional to the UK, and maize which is from the Americas.
When pet owners gave up on the commercial pet foods and followed my advice, results were spectacular; chronic and recurring health problems simply disappeared! When some clients asked how long they should feed their dogs like that and I said “For life,” their shoulders sagged. I’m sure many went to another vet who told them that their pet’s health problems were nothing to do with diet. No doubt I lost many clients that way.
It took a while but gradually I was forced to the reluctant conclusion that for most pet owners, home cooking for the pet is too daunting. If pets were to be fed as I thought they should, the food would have to be in a convenient form. That is why I decided to try to develop my own pet food.
How do you start a pet food business?
Although it isn’t so difficult now, twenty five years or so ago in the late 1980s it was alien to me so I spent several fruitless years looking into how to do it. After a lot of hard work and wasted effort I finally managed to get a food on the market in the summer of 1993.
So that’s some of the history.