History of Pet Food

by Nicole Decrisantis
June 17, 2019

The beginning of pet food as we know it began in the year 1860 with the invention of the “dog biscuit” in England. A gentleman by the name of James Spratt made this biscuit from vegetables, beef blood, wheat, and beetroot. These biscuits became incredibly popular, and by 1890 the commercial pet food industry had made it to the United States with other companies making their own version of the dog biscuit.

In 1907 the Milk Bone was born in New York City. This was the time when commercial pet food became popular in the United States. Over the next several years several companies introduced different versions of canned cat and dog food containing ingredients such as horse meat. During World War II there was a metal rationing which halted all production of canned pet foods and manufacturers began focusing on dry foods, selling it to customers by promoting the convenience factor. By the mid 1940’s there were two types of dry food:

  • Biscuits & Kibble
  • Pellets – which had to be hand mixed

These versions were 85% percent of the entire pet food industry. As the economy post WWII began to flourish many well-known companies began adding pet food to their food product lines. Pet food at this time was an excellent way to market by-products as pet food instead of turning it to waste.

The extrusion process of making kibble was introduced by Purina in the 1950’s. This is a mechanical process which takes heated, liquefied food and pushes it through a machine that would aerate the food before baking it. In order for the extrusion process to work the food has to have a substantial amount of start contained within it. Because kibble is baked twice during an extrusion process, which is still widely used today, pet food manufacturers supplement the kibble with added vitamins and minerals to make up for nutrient loss.

In the mid 1960’s things became interesting. For hundreds and thousands of years prior commercial pet foods, pet owners fed their pets table scraps which consisted of whole fresh raw or cooked meat, vegetables and fruit. Many pets also foraged on various grasses, roots, berries and prey. The pet food companies formed an organization called The Pet Food Institute (PFI) and began a campaign alerting consumers of the dangers of feeding their pets table scraps and instead advocated for feeding processed, dry foods as an “complete and balanced” alternative.

Here is where the argument began to evolve to what we commonly hear from big name pet food companies today. Their stance is that every pet should eat a complete and balanced meal containing every essential vitamin, mineral and amino acid in dry form rather than consume all required nutrients over a day or several days’ time through fresh or lesser processed food. The problem was that many pets did not want to consume the dry processed version of pet food. To combat this problem, manufacturers began coating the food with flavorings, grease and animal fats (which are unstable at room temperature and when exposed to oxygen, but that is a discussion for another day). Now, pets were essentially consuming junk food in order for companies to continue selling by-products and ingredients not fit for human consumption to pet owners for consumption by their pets.

Soon after prescription diets made their debut to the spotlight which can only be purchased with a script from a veterinarian. These foods are treated as if they are pharmaceutical products with catchy names with the promise of treating your ailing pet and disease. Today, even reading the ingredient panel on the bag will show that there is no medication on regulated products contained within these pet foods. In fact – many of these foods actually contain by-products, corn, wheat, soy, cellulose etc. Nutrition after all, is not an exact science, and instead is deserving of an individualized approach.

In our experience we find that every pet has the greatest health when they are viewed as an individual instead of an animal viewed through a protocol. The healthiest pets I have owned, and have had the blessing to meet have had a unique balance of traditional medicine, holistic medicine and wholesome nutrition.

This doesn’t mean that every pet should be eating a fresh, organic raw meat diet. It is simply not feasible or affordable for most. However, something as simple as adding fresh food to your dry food can make all the difference. We like to help all of our clients do the best they can without straining their wallet. For example, we all have scraps we throw away. We trim meat in our kitchen, chop vegetables, fruit etc. Why not throw a small handful into your pets bowl? Cats can be more difficult than dogs, but it is worth a try.