Fri, Jan 13, 23
Today, feeding your dog isn’t much harder than opening a can or pouring dry kibble into a bowl. The convenience and variety of modern dog food is extraordinary, but it hasn’t always been this way.
In fact, for most of the shared history between humans and dogs, there was no unique, commercial dog food at all. Dogs ate table scraps of human food and leftovers, relying on whatever was available to fill their stomachs. Humans shared meals with their furry companions, but pet food companies weren’t a common concept until the 20th century.
Luckily, we have a lot more knowledge about canine nutrition than we ever did in the past. Your pup’s diet is a carefully crafted recipe of good ingredients that support their digestion, wellness, and longevity. For example, our Salmon & Brown Rice Recipe provides everything your dog needs to keeptheir digestion smooth and skin healthy, based on the most up-to-date research on doggy nutrition.
Let’s take a look at the history of the dog food industry, and how we jumped from milk bones and horse meat to the many great options available today.
What Did Dogs Eat Before Dog Food Existed?
Dogs have been living, working, and playing alongside humans for thousands and thousands of years. However, the modern concept of dog food is less than 200 years old. Prior to the industrial revolution and the invention of kibble, most dogs ate whatever their humans had in ready supply.
Throughout history, most dogs were fed some amount of meat, fat, and animal organs, along with grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. However, there was no standard idea of what pet nutrition was. Some people even believed that dogs belonged on a strict vegetarian diet in order to keep them domesticated and prevent their wild instincts from taking over.
To stay healthy, every dog needs plenty of meat in their diet. There were some attempts to make canine-specific recipes — more than 2,000 years ago, the Roman philosopher Marcus Terentius Varro wrote that farm dogs should be given sheep bones, meat, and barley bread soaked in milk.
In the 14th century, Count Gaston III wrote a book containing a detailed description of his greyhounds’ diet. It also included bread and meat, as well as a special recipe if the dogs became sick: buttered eggs, goat milk, and bean broth. Clearly, he cared about the wellbeing of his pups, but he didn’t have access to the detailed nutrition facts we have today.
Finally, the 1800s marked the creation of the first dog biscuit in history, but it took a while for it to spread. In the meantime, city dogs were often fed horse meat, since it was cheap and accessible due to many working horses dying on city streets.
Thankfully, that all changed with the momentum of the new commercial pet food industry.
What Was the First Dog Food?
The modern dog’s diet owes a lot to Mr. James Spratt, an American salesman from Ohio and the father of pet food.
When Spratt traveled to London, England around 1860, he observed sailors tossing biscuits to stray dogs living by the docks. Struck by inspiration, he invented the first dog “cake” soon after.
Spratt’s Patent Meal Fibrine Dog Cakes were the prototype for the biscuit treats you might feed dogs today. They were made of beef blood, vegetables, and wheat meals. They quickly became a hit among English gentlemen, who fed them to their sporting dogs.
When Spratt returned to the United States, he brought his new invention with him. In the late 1800s, the dog food craze spread like wildfire, and competitors began setting up shop.
One of them, the F.H. Bennet Biscuit Company, had the bright idea of creating a bone-shaped dog biscuit. They started production in 1908, and were renamed Milkbones in 1931 when Nabisco purchased the company. Bennet’s idea was immensely popular — today, there are hundreds of bone-shaped biscuits in every pet store.
While the turn of the century marked a new era in pet food, most dogs still ate scraps and raw meat on a regular basis. Biscuits were only used as an additional treat or a supplement, not a complete dog diet.
This didn’t change until the release of “Ken-L Ration” in 1922. This was the first canned dog food ever made, relying on new techniques of food preservation and processing. For a while, it also used horse meat as its first ingredient, but public outcry and new laws eventually ended this practice.
How Did World War II Change Dog Food?
In America, dog food was a rapidly growing industry. However, canned food was by far the most popular choice among pet owners. It was convenient, tasty, and more digestible than the dry food available at the time.
More than 90% of the dog food market was taken up by canned food — until the beginning of World War II. The government started rationing metal and meat, and the non-essential canned pet food industry was decimated.
Dry dog food stepped in to pick up the slack. However, lots of people complained about its inconsistent textures and unpleasant appearance. They wanted something better for their dogs, and eventually they got it.
Extrusion, a cooking process used to make crispy cereal, turned out to be the key. After three years of experimentation, Purina’s pet food division used extreme heat and a die mold to create the first dog kibble using an extrusion process.
It was instantly popular among dog owners and, more importantly, their dogs. Kibble was convenient, shelf-stable, and tasty, while providing the nutritional value that was previously only found in canned food.
What Happened to Dog Food After the War?
With the end of rationing, canned food returned to the market. The creation of dog kibble and new food-processing techniques ushered in another explosion of dog food options. This time, however, science played a greater role.
People wanted the healthiest, tastiest options available for their dogs, and dozens of competing brands sprang up. By this point, most dogs were viewed as another member of the family.
Based on new developments in canine research, the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council published the nutritional requirements for dog food to qualify as “complete and balanced.” Today, nearly all dog food made in the U.S. meets this standard, and provides all of the nutrients your pup needs to keep them healthy.
Dog Food: From Past to Present
As you can see, the average dog diet has changed dramatically over the centuries. Dogs were once considered working animals, and fed anything from animal by-products and scraps to lovingly prepared meals.
In the 1800s, dog biscuits were created and copied, much to the delight of dogs everywhere. The early dog food market was haphazard and experimental, with lots of ingredients we’d consider questionable today, but it gradually shifted to accommodate new scientific discoveries in dog nutrition.
With the industrial boom of the 20th century, new types of food processing took over, and standardized dog food was available to the public for the first time. As dogs became a member of the family, new standards were developed to make sure every dog food contained the right ingredients for your pup’s wellbeing.
While the quality has varied greatly, today we’re faced with so many wonderful options to keep our dogs fit, active, and happy. That’s a treat all of us can enjoy.
For more interesting articles on everything worth knowing about dog food, cat food, and pet care in general, explore Optimeal’s® blog here.