The History of Pet Food Part I


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 beat root. These biscuits became incredible 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.

Commercial pet food, as we know it was born in the 1930’s. Cereal and grain companies were looking for a use for grains, wheat, corn, rice and other grains that failed USDA inspection due to mold, rancidity and other toxic contaminants. The meat and fishing industries were also dealing with a large amount of meat waste products such that humans don’t consume, or that were unfit for human consumption.

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 that contained heads, hooves, feet, hide, fur, other organs and waste as pet food instead of depositing it into a landfill.

Extrusion, a 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 would have to have a substantial amount of starch contained within it. Through extrusion, kibble is baked twice and therefore experiences a large amount of vitamin and enzyme loss that manufacturers have to add back, or supplement a large amount of vitamins and minerals to meet minimum nutritional requirements. Sometimes these sources are unnatural and minimally digestible which is a large cause of much of the digestive upset many of our pets’ experience.

In the mid 1960’s things became interesting. For hundreds of years prior to 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. Now, an organization called The Pet Food Institute (PFI) began a marketing campaign alerting consumers the dangers of feeding their pets table scraps and instead advocating for feeding processed, dry foods as an “complete and balanced” alternative. This further solidified the pet food industries success built upon grain and meat scraps unfit for human consumption.

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 only problem was the 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. These are foods that have a high amount of fillers with a very high price tag. Recently a class action lawsuit was filed against pet food manufacturers Nestle Purina, Mars Petcare, and Hill’s Pet Nutrition (makers of Science Diet), Banfield Pet Hospitals and PetSmart for “falsely promoting prescription pet food.” The complaint goes on to state that there is no justification for the prescription status of these foods based on the fact that “these products do not contain any drug or other ingredient not also common in non-prescription pet food. Retail consumer, including Plaintiffs, have overpaid and made purchases they otherwise would not have made on account of Defendants’ abuse and manipulation of the ‘prescription’ requirement” according to the lawsuit.

These “prescription” diets are not evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration and do not include any drug, regulated ingredients, or controlled substances.

Today and there are dozens of options for both cats and dogs in any given supermarket or big box retailer. The problem is that the majority of these foods are made by the same half-a-dozen-or-so companies with some really amazing marketing programs. Year after year many of these companies are plagued with FDA recalls, claims of sickly pets and a constant flow of pet owners asking the tough questions. However, these brands continually seem to break through these negative points in this multi-billion-dollar industry.

Unfortunately, many consumers are unaware of the better options the market now offers until their pet refuses to eat the grocery store brands – or becomes ill. There are many high quality and affordable options that many small family owned pet stores offer that are far more healthful because they are simply made with real food. With ingredients like whole meats, deboned meats, fresh whole vegetables and fruits, probiotics, and natural vitamins without synthetic preservatives, we wonder why there is even such an argument against real food in pet food.  There is no such thing has human food, it is all food. How we utilize the different foods for each animals optimal health is what matters.

…Stay tuned for Part II where we explore a little more about pet food offerings from small companies and how to find the best food for your pet.

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