Have you ever wondered how commercial dog food started? Surely there was no name-brand ‘prepared’ dog food a few hundred years ago and yet today, the business of manufacturing dog food is a multi-billion dollar industry and still growing. There’s just too many questions regarding the history of dog food and we’re hoping to be able to answer some of that for you as well as give you some new information.
Here’s what we are going to cover:
- What started the dog food ‘modernization’ and how did it change throughout history?
- Why are we no longer feeding our dogs people food?
- Is raw feeding for dogs a new thing?
- What dog food trend are we looking forward to in the future?
- What can you do to be a positive part of that trend?
Have you asked yourself any of the questions above? If so, you’re in luck! Like you, we at HomeoAnimal are somewhat skeptical pet parents. We don’t subscribe to convention and we are always looking for ways to help our puppy Westin (he’s an adorable golden-doodle) attain the best health he can have. That’s why we started gathering information on raw dog food and thought of writing this series to share what we’ve found out with you. Let’s start shall we?
For The Love of Man’s Best Friend
Hello fellow dog lover! We’ve written this article to share with you the history of dog food in a hopefully non-boring way. Ready for a blast from the past? Then keep reading!
As part of our mission to help everyone focus on their dog’s health and well-being, we thought that a backgrounder on raw dog food and manufactured dog food would be useful for everyone contemplating on starting their pet on a raw food diet. We are not trying to convince anyone to do something they don’t want to do but rather giving you, our readers the information you need to make smart decisions for your fur baby. We believe that when it comes to pet parenting, we are all on the same page, right?
We do adore our pooches and we love nothing else than pampering them, but how sure are you that you are giving your fur baby the best food you can provide?
Pre-Kibble Timeline of the History of Dog Food
2000 Years Ago
Things were very different back in this time, as dogs were treated more as working animals rather than pets (because they are indeed working animals before they became fur-mily members!). The first farming manual written by the Roman philosopher and poet Marcus Terentius Varro contained passages wherein he advised giving farm dogs the bones from dead sheep as well as barley bread soaked in milk. Hey, that’s not very appetizing!
What is known about the dogs from the Middle Ages is mostly from passages from the records kept by scribes for the European royalty. During that time, it is quite common for the grand houses and royals to keep hounds. The hounds were usually given their own kennels. The dogs kept in these kennels were fed stews made with meat by products such as the lungs, livers, and hearts of various animals plus various grains and vegetables. The ‘stew’ for the day is usually made by the kennel cook. The dogs living like this actually ate a lot better than the common folks of the day.
Dogs also lived with the common folks. In typical households during the middle ages, the dogs were given whatever food their owners can spare. This means that the typical domestic dog back then ate cabbage, potatoes, bare bones, crusts from bread, and whatever else the dogs can get on their own.
Farm dogs are becoming the norm and are often loved and valued animals. Owners of farm dogs often give them a mixture of lard and grain to keep them healthy so that they can do their job. Yes, the doggies are still somewhat classified as working animals at this time!
Dog food took a new turn with the advent of people making a living by searching for dead horses on city streets so that they could cut up the carcass and sell the meat to wealthy dog owners. Is this the first ‘specialized’ dog food? Not really.
What About Luxury Dog Food?
You see, throughout written history, the very wealthy and aristocrats have always fed their pets very special food. There are records of dogs being fed better than what most humans ate in their time. One such example are the Pekingese dogs of Empress Tzu Hsi of China who was known to have been feeding her dogs antelope milk, quail breasts, and shark fins. Not to be left out are the dogs of European nobility which was fed candies, liquor, roast duck, and even cakes.
The history of dog food truly took a drastic turn in the mid-1800s when the Industrial Revolution created a growing middle class. These ‘new rich’ loved luxury and had more leisure time, often treating dogs as ‘luxury items’ and ‘status symbols’. As a result of this, a trend towards more scrutiny of pet food began.
Say Hello to Veterinary Medicine
With more and more people lavishing affection to their pets, it means more money spent on the pet industry and thus, the profession of veterinary medicine was born.
Yes, it might be a bit shocking to us these days but the profession of veterinary medicine was born out of our love for our furry and four-legged babies! In fact, it was officially founded in 1895 in the United States.
Around the same time as the founding of veterinary medicine, there were more and more self-proclaimed experts who were giving advice on dog diets. The ‘experts’ are also commenting on the dogs’ behavior and the common thinking of the day is that the dogs need to be more civilized. This is when the strong preference for cooked meat as dog food started. People were truly thinking that only wild and ‘uncivilized’ dogs would eat raw meat. This same thinking strongly influenced the pet food industry for almost a century.
What Changed It All – Kibbles and Dog Biscuits!Would you believe that there is a story regarding how dry kibbles became the ‘standard’ dog food all over the world? It all started in the 1850s when James Spratt, a young electrician from Cincinnati went to London for his lighting rod business. He witnessed the crew members from the ship he boarded ‘threw’ some leftover ship biscuits to the waiting dogs at the dock. This gave Spratt the idea to create the convenient dog kibbles which became the usual stuff people feed their dogs these days.
Spratt knew that the hard tack (the other name for the ship biscuits) are what sailors usually eat. He also knew that the biscuits can be kept for months and it is relatively easy and cheap to make. After all, the biscuits were made with only some salt, water, and flour which was mixed together, baked, and allowed to harden and dry. Spratt knew that the biscuits have an extremely long shelf life (because there was no refrigeration back in those days) and he saw an opportunity in that. He thought that he can easily make and sell the cheap and convenient biscuits to urban dog owners and he was right! The public loved his dog food!
The Birth of the Pet Food Industry - Spratt’s Patent Fibrine Dog Cakes
The first dog biscuits were made with vegetables, beet root, and wheat which was mixed together with beef blood and then baked. The dogs loved it and so did the pet parents back then, making Spratt’s Dog Cakes a big hit in England once it was introduced to the market in 1860. Spratt was doing so well that he soon took his new product to New York in 1870 – thus giving rise to the American Pet Food Industry.
But, What About Raw Food?
You have to understand that all of these happened during the industrial revolution. The concept of convenience is something everyone was exploiting and science is not as advanced as what we have now.
People back then still fed their dogs human food and sometimes raw meat. However, as cities grew and people thought that going for the ‘convenient’ route is what progress is, they veered away from feeding their dogs raw meat and went more and more into feeding their dogs the dog biscuits which eventually became kibbles.
Here’s a Historical Timeline of Others Who Followed in Spratt’s Footsteps:
A.C. Daniel’s Medicated Dog Bread was introduced by a veterinarian from Boston, Massachusetts
The F.H. Bennet Biscuit Company began making bone-shaped biscuits and also began manufacturing the first puppy food. The concept of making dog food in different sized kibbles for different dog breeds and ages caught on.
Ken-L-Ration, which was introduced by the Chappel Brothers from Rockford Illinois, became the first canned dog food in the market. It was made with horse meat and the dogs did love them, especially once the Chappel Brothers began sponsoring events to market their products and advertised on popular radio shows such as The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin.
The canned dog food became so popular that the company had to begin breeding horses just so they can meet the consumers’ growing appetite for it, resulting in the slaughter of about 50,000 horses a year by the 1930s – and yes, that’s just for their brand of canned dog food.
Nabisco (The National Biscuit Company) bought Bennet’s company and renamed the dog biscuits as Milkbones. They also started a campaign to really start making Milkbones as the ‘standard’ dog food of the day. In fact, they even hired 3,000 salesmen whose job is centered on getting Milkbones into the national consciousness by making sure that every food store has it.
The campaign worked so well that dog biscuits became a regular part of grocery shopping for everyone who has a dog. You see, the concept of having dry kibbles, biscuits, whatever you call them is less than a 100 years old, whereas eating real food and raw feeding has been around for millennia after millennia.
As for canned dog food, it outshined the kibble form in popularity at this time. Why? Pet owners saw that their dogs preferred the commercial wet dog food as compared to the dry dog biscuits and kibbles and bought it more. That was how things were for a few years until something big caused a huge change.
Kibbles Take Center Stage
90% of the dog food market was all about canned dog food and pooches loved it! Things did change because WW2 happened. Dry dog food became popular again because manufacturing canned dog food took a downturn (because of scarcity of metals since they were used for the war) and the government had to start rationing food items such as meat.
The Ralston Purina Company began making their Chex cereal with a cooking extruder. Using the extruder, a mixture of cereals and other ingredients were pushed through a tube wherein they were cooked under high pressure and then puffed up with air. This resulted to the Chex we’ve come to know which stays crispy after milk has been added. But what does this have to do with dog food?
You see, around this time, a lot of pet parents has been complaining about the digestibility, texture, and appearance of their dog’s dry food. This prompted Purina’s pet division to try experimenting using an extruder from their cereal division to make better dog food and they’ve done it well. After 3 years, they came up with their Dog Chow, a brand and formulation which is still popular to this day.
Wait, No More People Food for the Dogs?
We all know the answer to that, but we’ll talk about how come that happened below.
Ken-L-Ration began advertising their canned dog food via television, hooking viewers with phrases such as: “This dog food uses only USDA government-inspected horse meat!” Their commercials were aired during popular shows of the time such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, prompting viewers to ‘love’ their product.
1964 to Present Time History of Dog Food
The Pet Food Institute began a campaign to get pet parents to only feed their dogs packaged dog food. We’re talking about them funding reports and getting those reports published in magazines and local papers. Some sponsored reports’ even talked about the dangers of table scraps and feeding the dogs raw meat. Can you believe that?
That’s what aggressive marketing and advertising is guys! We’re sure plenty of you are familiar with that, especially with the current world we live in where we are bombarded with ads everywhere (like in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and various other social media networks).
Do you know that as far back as 5 decades ago, the dog food industry was spending an incredible $50 million a year on advertising alone? That’s more than 50 years ago so you can just imagine how much they are spending now.
Where do they get the money and more so, how can they afford it? One theory is that they make huge profits by skimping on ingredients. Ouch! But we better not talk about that here since we’ve already touched up on that topic in our blog on the 10 Real Truths About Manufactured Food for Cats and Dogs. The thing is, most of the competing pet food companies are claiming that their dog food is made with pure beef, all in the name of advertising. Claims like that has been proven as nothing but claims and are far from the truth.
Ask yourself, won’t you rather give your pet REAL beef?
Today, manufactured dog food is a huge part of the $11 billion pet food industry. That industry is still growing but to what trend? Are we going to continue feeding our dogs GMO corn, wheat, and soy or are we going to change the course of history by going back to the basics?
The answer to all that is up to you, and so is the future history of dog food.
What are you going to do?
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this article on the history of dog food and that you’ll tune in for more parts of this series.
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Until next time fellow pet lovers!