Dr. Ian Billinghurst was at the forefront of the re-introduction and recognition of Vet’s who supported and showed the benefits of raw diet and was a major reference for owners around the world making the decision and transition.
Originally referred to as BARF “Biologically Appropriate Raw Food”, he wrote about his own experience as a vet following what his education had told him about feeding his dogs. This led to the realization that commercial food was damaging to his dogs and so he wrote his book “Give your dog a bone”
Here is his story taken from the Barf World website.
By defining something – or somebody- you are also limiting it. That is why I try not to be defined. However, if I am to be defined (and therefore limited) then I have to admit that by profession I am a Veterinary Surgeon. I am also a writer and a lecturer with my favorite topic being the nutrition of pet dogs and cats. My most important piece of writing is the book “Give Your Dog a Bone.” This book has changed the thinking of tens of thousands of people worldwide. More importantly, it has improved the health of these peoples dogs. Many of these people now look to me as the authority on feeding pets their evolutionary diet. Some say that “Give Your Dog a Bone” has become their “Bible.”
The fact that an evolutionary diet promotes health comes as no surprise. That a grain based product such as commercial pet food is destructive to a dogs health should also be no surprise. However, clever marketing (combined with very poor science) has resulted in these atrocious products being the major source of food fed to most pets in developed countries. And yet, feeding our pets according to the dictates of evolution (which is sound science in every sense of the word) is currently regarded by some as a fad, which they assume, will be short lived. I don’t think so!
How did I arrive at the point where “Give Your Dog A Bone” could be written? My high school years were spent at an agricultural high school (Hurlstone) on the western outskirts of Sydney. Here my love of plants, animals and all things natural was fostered through working with cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, the market garden the orchard, and more formal studies in agriculture and biology. There was never any question. My career would be both biological and medical.
I did not start out as a vet. In 1966 I graduated from Sydney University with a degree in Agricultural Science. I spent that year as a research Scientist at Orange Agricultural Research Station about 200 miles west of Sydney. The next four years were spent as a high school teacher during which time I obtained my Diploma in Education. However, despite having a young family, the desire to become a vet burned strongly. Its a long story which I shall not go into here, but in 1976 I realized my dream and graduated with an Honors degree in Veterinary Science from Sydney University.
At that time I believed the years studying Agricultural Science and teaching had been an enormous waste. In hindsight, the knowledge gained in that first degree, the teaching experience and the studies in education have combined to shape my unique approach to things veterinary, particularly as regards nutrition and disease. That early education allowed an understanding of the fundamental role that sound nutrition (translated today as evolutionary nutrition) plays in health. This concept dominates my writing, lecturing and research as well as my day-to-day veterinary practice.
Since 1976 I have worked full time as a veterinary surgeon. Although city born, my reason for becoming a vet was to work with cattle and horses. However, Fate, God or the Universe had other plans. Shortly after graduating I abandoned my dream of being a large animal practitioner. Family responsibilities pushed me to the Southern suburbs of Sydney where I established a small animal practice. Since that time events have kept me treating mostly cats and dogs and I must admit, a surprising number of horses. Right now I am in general veterinary practice in Bathurst New South Wales Australia. And still treating mostly cats and dogs, some horses and the very occasional bovine and budgie.
After being in practice for about six years I decided to heed the advice of my veterinary training and feed my own pets (as I was advising my clients at the time), a scientifically formulated complete and balanced commercial product. I wanted to make sure my dogs (particularly) stayed in the best of health. This was mainly because as a family, we had begun to breed and show dogs. I knew that they had to have the very best. I was determined that from now on I would do things properly.
My veterinary training had taught me that a diet based on raw meaty bones and household scraps, was a very poor way to feed pet cats and dogs. We had been taught that commercial pet food was the ultimate in pet nutrition. I selected the very best brands of commercial pet food, and I looked forward to outstanding fantastic results. How wrong you can be!
Over the next four to six months my own animals – who were supremely healthy – began for the first time ever to develop the same range of problems that my clients pets were suffering. However, the sad truth is, I failed to notice. It was only in retrospect that I could put this picture together. It took two years of watching my pets’ health deteriorate before I realized something was wrong. And that realization did not hit me until AFTER I removed the commercial pet food from their life, and witnessed the incredible transformation that occurred.
At that time (1984) I had begun to study acupuncture and was being introduced to a broad range of complementary healing modalities including whole food nutrition. This led me to read a book on pet nutrition by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. Her book was an inspiration. I did not agree with everything she had to say, but her words made me realize that my old method of feeding, using bones and food scraps was probably much closer to an ideal diet for pets than the approved veterinary method which relied on commercial pet food. A glut of lamb at that time made it easy for me to make the switch. For the next few years my pets were fed mainly lamb – together with general household food scraps. However, we did not have to wait years to see results. The change in our pets was immediate and dramatic. We were amazed. Like most people experiencing this incredible improvement in health, we had not realized the extent to which our pets health had deteriorated on commercial pet food. I should also add, there was another pleasant surprise. Apart from being simple and easy, we discovered this method of feeding was also very inexpensive.
By now it had become clear to me that processed pet foods, not only did not promote good health, they produced positively bad health. This dismal failure of commercial pet foods to keep my pets healthy forced me to read what ever I could find that dealt with nutrition. I needed to understand nutrition both at a fundamental level and also at a very practical level. I was also looking for answers to the question – “Why does commercially processed pet food cause health problems?” I eagerly devoured books by Pat Lazarus, Drs. Pitcairn and Belfield together with numerous others on human nutrition. Eventually I realized a very simple truth. Raw meaty bones and vegetable scraps were very close to the evolutionary diet of cats and dogs. No cooking or processing to remove the “unwanted” or “unnecessary” bits. No adulteration with chemicals. No massive amounts of cooked grains. The evolutionary approach to nutrition was obvious and common sense. It was also good science.
Clearly, small animal nutrition was one area where my veterinary training had let me down. I had to rethink the way I answered the question “What should we feed our cat/dog?” This being the most common question we vets are asked.
Having witnessed first hand the health destroying attributes of commercial pet food together with the health promoting benefits of an evolutionary diet, I had no option but to share this information with my clients. I began to hand out simple diet sheets to any client who was interested, mostly the owners of young pups and people whose pets had severe or long term health problems.
The results were consistent and seemingly amazing as over the next few years we had the wonderful experience of clients extolling the virtues of this way of feeding. We watched as puppies that followed this regime grew beautifully and trouble free. We were astounded as unhealthy pets experienced the same dramatic improvements in health that ours had, with many animals becoming totally drug free.
Most noticeable among the problems that cleared up were skin and arthritic problems. However, we saw improvements across the broad spectrum of health issues that we encountered on a day-to-day basis. Over a period of several years this included incredible improvements in reproductive health, and also in orthopedic problems in young dogs of the giant breeds. Problems such as Hip and Elbow Dysplasia.
By now I realized that most of the disease problems I was seeing in cats and dogs were due to nothing other than poor nutrition. That most of those diseases did not have to be. They could be eliminated with correct nutrition. To me this was both a revolutionary thought and an incredible revelation. I wanted to tell everybody! The only problem as I saw it back then was that this philosophy of feeding may not be accepted by my fellow vets who rely heavily on ill health in their patients for their daily bread.
By the mid to late 1980’s these revolutionary thoughts regarding nutrition and disease in cats and dogs had taken over my thinking. I had become obsessed. By the end of the 1980’s I had spent years questioning the owners of both healthy and unhealthy pets about their pets’ diets. I was told continually that healthy dogs lived and thrived on raw meaty bones. In Australia at least – Raw Meaty Bones were the major contributor to health in both cats and dogs. It was commercial dog foods that were the major cause of ill health.
I should point out that during our undergraduate years, we veterinary students accepted the proposition that disease in cats and dogs was inevitable. Rather like human beings! We accepted without question the idea that disease was not something that was in any way preventable. There were a few exceptions such as the small number of diseases we vaccinated animals for, and a limited number of specific deficiency diseases. Those aside, our training did not involve looking for any such basic causes of disease. Our job was to diagnose disease and on the basis of that diagnosis institute treatment using surgery and drugs.
It was not part of our training to look for basic (e.g. nutritional) causes of disease, and follow that up by instituting sound management (e.g. dietary) regimes as a preventative measure. Most certainly the idea of preventing the vast majority of the diseases we see in cats and dogs via nutrition was an unheard of concept. By contrast, the concept of disease prevention via nutrition was (and is) well accepted in farm animals being used to produce meat, milk, wool and eggs etc.
Disease prevention via nutrition is still an unheard of concept in small animal veterinary circles. However, by the mid to late 1980’s it had become obvious to me that those – never discussed – basic causes of disease had their roots in poor and inappropriate nutrition. I was also aware that while most medical practitioners and veterinary surgeons had no idea of this concept, many of the patients and clients of those two healing professions, had begun to embrace this approach to health for themselves, if not for their pets.
The word had to be spread! And who better to spread it – I thought – than my fellow vets. That meant telling them. I penned an article in a newsletter circulated by the Postgraduate Foundation in Veterinary Science of the University of Sydney. It explained to my colleagues my experiences with this evolutionary (revolutionary) diet. I outlined its enormous and far reaching implications for our patients’ health. This article reached every vet in Australia.
My thoughts were greeted (1986/7) with (almost) deafening silence. I received phone calls and letters from about ten vets all of whom wholeheartedly agreed. However, it was obvious that by talking to vets I was not about to set the world on fire. Being a slow learner, I did try once more. The next attempt was a paper circulated at a Postgraduate conference dealing with small animal and equine nutrition in 1988. This too passed without comment by the profession. I was totally ignored. Was I ignored because my ideas would reduce patient numbers and therefore income? Not at all. I was ignored because these ideas did not fit the current mode of thinking. The current dogma was – and still is – that small animal nutrition is something left to the experts employed by pet food companies. That the “so called” super premium products are the pinnacle of pet nutrition. If the manufacturers of super premium pet foods and the prescription diets don’t know the answers, then it would not be possible for any else to. On that basis, my thoughts on the matter did not deserve a moment of their time.
However, from my point of view the message was too important to let lie. Since the vets could not be persuaded to believe me, let alone tell pet owners, I would have to educate the pet owners directly. This required a book. The book’s aim was simple. It was to free pet owners from the tyranny of only being able or allowed or trained to feed their pets processed commercial pet food. I wanted them to know that there was a healthy simple cheap and viable alternative. I was also aware that most books on nutrition are deadly boring, difficult to understand and highly impractical. I was determined that mine would be easy to understand, highly practical and hopefully entertaining.
There was so much to be said! And not one of the books that I had read was saying what I was experiencing, particularly with regards to the importance of bones. I could not find one book which promoted the feeding of raw meaty bones. All the books on so called natural feeding relied heavily on grains and with the exception of the book by Levy specifically warned against feeding bones.
Because cats and dogs have different food requirements, (cats are obligate carnivores while dogs are omnivores with a carnivorous background)), I decided they each needed their own book, and that I would write the dog book first. Thus was born “Give Your Dog a Bone.” This book was launched at a 3 day Bichon Frise conference in western Sydney on the 17th November 1993. The book was advertised in all the canine breeder magazines throughout Australia.
“Give Your Dog a Bone” proved an instant hit, with many breeders adopting its ideas. Since that time it has been making steady inroads into the minds of breeders and dog owners throughout Australia and around the world. By 1995 Give Your Dog a Bone had found its way to England where it developed a steady following. This culminated with an invitation for me to be the principal speaker in a four seminar lecture tour in England during the month of September 1997. The seminars proved an outstanding success. They were well attended and began a strong movement of raw feeders in England. They also attracted interest in the United States.
By 1997 “Give Your Dog a Bone” was beginning to sell in ever increasing volumes in the United States. Following the success of the English tour I was invited to present an even more extensive series of seminars across the United States. The American tour proved an enormous success. It was during this US tour that I released my second book “Grow Your Pups With Bones.” This new book has formalized the concept of BARF, an acronym that stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw (or Real) Food. I wrote this book for breeders and the owners of large dogs. It covers feeding to prevent (and treat) skeletal disease in growing pups and feeding for breeding. When I wrote, “Give Your Dog a Bone” I was confident it would be successful in some limited sort of way. However, I had no idea that it would start a revolution in raw feeding that would sweep across Australia, England and more particularly North America the way it has.
Dr Billinghurst lives with his wife Ros, on a small farm on the outskirts of Bathurst, 10 minutes from their surgery. Their family consists of 5 children, 3 dogs, 2 cats, 1 budgie, 5 geese and 17 cows. Life is a busy round of working in their Veterinary practice, traveling, writing, and gardening. Most of their spare time is spent dealing with the many BARF inquiries. Theirs is a life of dedication, helping pet owners both at home and throughout the world, restoring health to their pets.
Let me wish you and your dog(s) – GOOD HEALTH