Brief History Of Dog Food

By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz May 2, 2021

Dogs have lived beside humans for thousands of years. Only in the past century have commercial dog foods been available for purchase. As people become more conscious of feeding themselves wholesome diets, they have begun to question whether the highly processed dog food that is available on store shelves are really the best for the health and longevity of their dogs, or whether they should be feeding a diet that is more similar to what dogs would have eaten in the past.

What Did People Feed Their Dogs Before Dog Food Existed In Packaged Form?

Before dog food was available in packaged form, people simply fed their dogs their leftovers and table scraps (Parr and Remillard, 2014). Dogs in homes of different social classes were therefore eating vastly different food. Dogs in working class families may have subsided on a diet of leftover cabbage, potatoes, and bread and may have had to forage for the remainder of their meal. On the other hand, dogs kept by wealthy landowners may have gotten to eat chef prepared stews consisting of meat, grains, and vegetables. In one of the earliest books on hunting that was originally published in the early 1400’s, the diet of hunting dogs was discussed. It seems these dogs were mostly fed bread but were rewarded with fresh meat whenever they made a kill (Edward of Norwich, 2005). It is also believed that horse meat (from dead carriage horses) was commonly fed to dogs of families that could afford it (Wilson and Edwards, 1993).

When Did The Concept Of Dog Food First Appear? Who Created The First Mass Consumed Dog Food and What Was It Made From?

The inspiration for the first commercial dog food came from discarded hardtack biscuits that were thrown away by sailors. An entrepreneur named James Spratt created the first commercial dog food in the 1870s after watching street dogs eat these thrown away biscuits. Thanks to aggressive advertising, Spratt’s dog food quickly began to replace table scraps in the American dog’s diet (Case et al., 2011). In 1922, a new pet food option sold under the name of Ken-L Ration gained popularity in the United States. This time the food was sold in a can and consisted mainly of horse meat (Case et al., 2011). Dry dog food kibble did not become commercially available until the 1960s and 1970s when extrusion technology allowed for the creation of a variety of kibble options.

What Led To The Adoption Of Using All-natural Ingredients In Dog Food?

It may not be surprising that dog food trends follow human food trends. As we move to cut out highly processed foods from our diet and reach for fresh produce, we are looking to do the same for our four-legged family members (APPA, 2020). This has led to a rapid increase in the number of “all-natural” dog options as well as those that are grain-free, gluten-free, GMO-free, or organic. Trends toward supporting sustainable agricultural practices and the welfare of those animals that become meat products have led to even more options for consumers in the grocery store aisles, pet stores, and online marketplaces. In the past, pet food trends used to follow human food trends by about three to five years, but in many cases the pet food industry is now leading the human food industry (Cottenie and Snaet, 2018). 

What Regulating Entities Exist To Ensure The Quality Of Dog Food Out On The Market?

There are quite a few regulating entities that exist to ensure the food we feed our pets is safe and nutritious. The following are a list of some of these groups and a brief description of how they protect the quality of dog food (Case et al., 2011).

  • Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - Dog food is regulated by the FDA as an “animal feed”. The FDA requires all labels to list ingredients and must approve any ingredient before it can be used in dog food. The FDA also works to ensure the safety of the product.
  • Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) - The association sets standards for claims that pet food companies can make and help advise state legislation.
  • National Research Council (NRC) - The council researches and makes nutrient recommendations (NRC, 2006).
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) - The department regulates pet food labels and research facilities.
  • Pet Food Institute (PFI) - The institute has no regulatory powers and represents pet food manufacturers.
  • State Feed Control Offices - Enforces the Commercial Feed Law (a law that regulates the manufacturing and distribution of commercial feeds) within states.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Regulates pesticide use on raw materials (e.g., grains).
  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) - Regulates trade and advertising of dog food.

What Kinds Of Innovations Have Occurred To Bring Better Quality Dog Food To The Market?

Advancements in technology and knowledge of dogs’ dietary needs have led to a wealth of dog food options on the market. The following are some of the most popular food types available for purchase as well as their pros and cons.

  • Kibble
    • Food that is processed and cooked. Often include protein, grains, cereals, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and preservatives.
    • Pros: Affordable, reduce dental plaque, healthier gums, reduced risk of bacteria, easy storage, low risk of spoilage.
    • Cons: Low quality dry kibble may contain contaminants (Gazzotti et al., 2015; Martisen and Casper, 2013), does not contribute to water intake potentially putting stress on vital organs such as the kidneys, and nutrients are lost during the cooking process.
  • Canned Wet Food
    • Canned wet foods are high in protein and water content.
    • Pros: Generally higher protein and lower carb than dried kibble, stays preserved for long periods, food is fresh each time a new can is opened, more flavorful, easy for senior dogs to eat, high moisture content, good for weight loss, low risk of causing bloat, and easy to digest.
    • Cons: More expensive than dried kibble
  • Frozen Raw
    • Raw food that is pre-mixed and pre-portioned and sold frozen. Food is thawed out before feeding. Often contain muscle meat, bones, organ meat, vegetables, eggs, fruit, or dairy such as yogurt.
    • Pros: More “natural” diet, shinier coats, healthier skin, cleaner teeth, higher energy levels, and smaller stools.
    • Cons: Risk to human and dog health from bacteria in raw meat, can lead to an imbalanced diet if not formulated by a professional nutritionist (Freeman and Michel, 2001; Dillitzer et al., 2011), potential for bone shards to break teeth or cause internal puncture wounds, often high in fat (Freeman et al., 2013).
  • Freeze Dried
    • Freeze drying is a technique which removes the moisture from food at very low temperatures.
    • Pros: Creates a safe product, shelf-stable, lightweight, preserves nutrient content, and is minimally processed
    • Cons: Higher cost and some brands are more processed than others.
  • Dehydrated
    • Another method to preserve raw food. Involves a slow and gentle process of removing moisture with heat.
    • Pros: Free of preservatives, keeps nutrients and enzymes intact, no defrosting hassle, lightweight, nutrient dense, and shelf stable.
    • Cons: Some vitamins are lost during dehydration.
  • Made to Order
    • Many companies are now offering food specifically designed for your individual dog.
    • Pros: Consider factors such as: breed, age, lifestyle, allergies, chronic conditions, taste, and weight. Ingredients in the food is controlled.
    • Cons: Higher cost and the food have to be shipped directly to you.

Did The Quality Of Dog Food Increase Since Inception?

It is safe to say that overall, the quality of dog food has increased since its inception. Our understanding of dog nutrition has advanced considerably and modern-day dog food is dramatically different than the original dog biscuits invented over 100 years ago. Dog foods today have set standards for vitamin, mineral, and protein content to ensure our dogs are eating a balanced diet. Our preservation techniques have also come along way which ensure dog food remains safe, full of nutrients, and shelf stable for long periods of time. While dog food recalls occur on occasion, the risk of food contamination can be greatly reduced through careful selection of ingredients, good quality control, and good production practices (Fernandes et al., 2018). Trends towards minimally processed dog foods with high quality ingredients have increased the supply and accessibility of highly nutritious and easy to feed options.


The current trend seems to be that dog parents are looking to get back to feeding their dogs fresh, unprocessed meats, fruits, and vegetables. While this is similar to how dogs have been fed for thousands of years, we now have the knowledge and technology to ensure diets are appropriately formulated and convenient to feed. Regulatory agencies allow for transparency of ingredients and help ensure the food is safe and properly balanced. There are a variety of commercial dog food options out there to fit different lifestyles and financial situations. Feel free to mix food styles as well, such as topping dry kibble with something more appealing to your dog. Feeding a dog food that is nutritious and appropriate for your individual dog can help keep them healthy and by your side for many years to come!

Petozy is a brand dedicated to pet and pet parent happiness. Learn more about us here.

Works Cited

American Pet Products Association. "2019–2020 APPA national pet owners survey." Greenwich, CT: American Pet Products Association (2020).

Case, L. P., L. Daristotle, M. G. Hayek, and M. F. Raasch. "Chapter 14-History and Regulation of Pet Foods Canine and Feline Nutrition (pp. 121-129)." Saint Louis: Mosby (2011).

Cottenie, B., and M. Snaet. "Consumer trends driving pet food development globally." Agro Food Industry Hi-Tech 29, no. 6 (2018): 45-47.

Dillitzer, Natalie, Nicola Becker, and Ellen Kienzle. "Intake of minerals, trace elements and vitamins in bone and raw food rations in adult dogs." British Journal of Nutrition 106, no. S1 (2011): S53-S56.

Edward of Norwich, H. G. The master of game. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.

Fernandes, Elisabete A. De Nadai, Camila Elias, Márcio Arruda Bacchi, and Peter Bode. "Trace element measurement for assessment of dog food safety." Environmental Science and Pollution Research 25, no. 3 (2018): 2045-2050.

Freeman, L. M., Chandler, M. L., Hamper, B. A., & Weeth, L. P. (2013). Current knowledge about the risks and benefits of raw meat–based diets for dogs and cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association243(11), 1549-1558.

Freeman, Lisa M., and Kathryn E. Michel. "Evaluation of raw food diets for dogs." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 218, no. 5 (2001): 705-709.

Gazzotti, T., G. Biagi, G. Pagliuca, C. Pinna, M. Scardilli, M. Grandi, and G. Zaghini. "Occurrence of mycotoxins in extruded commercial dog food." Animal Feed Science and Technology 202 (2015): 81-89.

Martisen, N., and J. Casper. "Allergies and elemental minerals: a new understanding." Dogs Naturally 4 (2013): 56-59.

National Research Council. Nutrient requirements of dogs and cats. National Academies Press, 2006.

Parr, Jacqueline M., and Rebecca L. Remillard. "Handling alternative dietary requests from pet owners." Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice 44, no. 4 (2014): 667-688.

Wilson, Bob, and Peter Edwards. "Butchery of horse and dog at Witney Palace, Oxfordshire, and the knackering and feeding of meat to hounds during the post-medieval period." Post-Medieval Archaeology 27, no. 1 (1993): 43-56.