From Dog Cakes to Kibble: The History of Dog Food

There’s a lot of talk about what is "natural" for dogs to eat. What have dogs eaten historically, and how did pet food get to where it is now? The history of the pet food industry may surprise you. 

Dogs have evolved with humans, and have evolved to eat what is available — typically table scraps like bones and bread. As scavengers during the development of agriculture, they adapted to feed on starchy foods left over from humans. Up until the mid-1800s, pets did not sleep inside and were not considered part of the family as they are today.

The first idea for packaged dog food came in 1860 with James Spratt, an entrepreneurial electrician from Ohio who had an idea while in England. He saw dogs hanging around the shipyard, and the sailors offering up scraps of leftover biscuits.

Spratt came up with the idea for the first dog biscuit: it was called a "dog cake" and it was a mix of wheat meal, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood. It was very successful, and led to many more dog food ventures.

In 1922, canned dog food was introduced. Its main ingredient was horse meat, as after World War I, horses were no longer needed for war and were used in the new dog food industry. It was such a success that the dog food manufacturers began breeding horses just for dog food and slaughtering 50,000 of them a year.

Canned dog food was wildly popular and by 1941 held 90% of the pet food market. Then the US entered World War II and people were asked to give up aluminum for the war efforts. Dry dog food became the norm.

There were few nutritional guidelines or regulations when the pet food industry first began but they have continued to advance over the years. The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, was founded in 1909. In 1969 they established a definition and guidelines for pet food to be called “complete and balanced." 

In 1950 a new method was developed for dog food production: the extruder. First used in cereal manufacturing to keep cereal flakes crispy, this method pushes ingredients through a tube, cooks it under high pressure and puffs it up with air. This new way of processing food set off the direction for most dry dog food formulas today. This allows for ease and consistency in nutrition and availability, providing shelf stable and convenient food for our pets.

Most commercial dog foods contain meat or meat byproducts. Where does this meat come from in the present-day pet food industry?

Meat used in pet food is usually the cheapest and lowest grade and would not be considered edible for humans. Typically it is leftovers from a slaughtered animal, and can include internal organs, entrails, bones, skin, and feathers. While the FDA suggests that manufacturers not include diseased animals, there is little oversight or enforcement to prevent diseased animals and animals that died other than by slaughter to be included in the rendering process. This could potentially include roadkill or zoo animals who have been put down by euthanasia, as suggested by the presence of pentobarbital (the drug used for euthanasia), as well as antibiotics in pet food. “Some examples of known hazards in ingredients from such animals include biological hazards, such as salmonella, and chemical hazards, such as decomposed tissue and residues from drugs such as pentobarbital,” states the FDA.

AAFCO lists out the proposed meanings of each ingredient listed in your pet’s food. For example, if your pet’s food contains meat meal, this is a term that includes “rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. During rendering, heat and pressure remove most of the water and fat, leaving primarily protein and minerals.”

Today there are many options for your companion animals, and frequent recalls of salmonella and listeria tell us there is still some work to be done in regards to quality for many meat-based brands. At v-dog, we believe that your dog should have access to the best quality food without harming the planet or other animals. Our complete and balanced plant-based dog food meets all AAFCO requirements for adult dogs and is free of filler ingredients, common allergens, meat, and meat byproducts. Learn more about what we make here.


Since 2005, v-dog has been making waves in the pet food industry. Our plant powered kibble and treats are made with ingredients like peas, lentils, and quinoa, leaving animal products off the menu entirely. We've seen thousands of dogs absolutely thrive on our vegan products and even recover from allergy symptoms, digestive issues, and more. Learn how your pup can benefit from a vegan diet here.  

MORE FROM OUR BLOG:

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