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A Brief History Of Dog Food

written by Ellie Walker

It might be hard to imagine a world without pet food, but believe it or not, it’s a relatively modern concept. Let’s take a trip back in time and learn about the history of dog food, from the 1800s until today.

Up until the mid-1800s: Working animals

Before we started to consider dogs as members of our family, they were primarily used as working animals. When not working, they lived outside and survived off of a diet of table scraps such as potatoes, cabbage, and bread crusts. In short, whatever wasn’t eaten by the family would be fed to the dogs. At this point in the history of dog food, the nutritional content or quality of ingredients of our pet’s meals was not a primary concern.

Mid-1800s: The Industrial Revolution

Our relationship with dogs started to change in the mid-1800s during the Industrial Revolution. With the advent of the middle class, families were able to afford to keep dogs as pets which marked the transition of dogs becoming companion animals rather than just working animals.

1860: The first commercial pet food is produced

Now that dogs were being brought into the family home as pets, there was a growing demand for dog-specific food. This inspired England-based businessman James Spratt to create the first commercial dog food, a wheat-based biscuit he called the “Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cake”.

1890: Commercial pet food comes to the USA

Production of Spratt’s Dog Cakes may have started in England, but it wasn’t long before they were acquired and operations were expanded to the United States. Over the next 30 years, other companies began to develop their own lines of dog food as demand continued to grow.

1922: Canned dog food is introduced

By the 1920s, there were a number of brands of kibble available for pet owners to choose from, but it wasn’t until 1922 that a wet canned recipe was available. Known as “Ken-L Ration”, the main ingredient of this wet food was horsemeat, which was a common ingredient at the time.

Early 1960s: First puppy food is produced

By the 1960s, dog-specific food had a strong place in the market, with families preferring it over feeding scraps to their dogs. However, it wasn’t until the early 1960s that pet owners were offered food designed specifically for puppies. This marked a shift in the history of dog food, as both businesses and consumers were becoming more aware of the importance of nutrition tailored to the life stage of a dog.

Mid-1980s: Nutritional requirements for pets are created

Having puppy-specific food on the market was a big step in the history of dog food, but an even bigger one came in the mid-1980 when the United States National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council published nutritional requirements for dogs and cats. This publication provided pet food producers with nutrient recommendations based on physical activity and stage in life, both of which we now know are major factors that influence nutrient needs.

2006: Nutritional requirements are updated and Freshpet is created

In 2006, the original nutrition requirements were updated to better reflect the improved understanding of animal nutrition. Coincidentally, this was the same year that Freshpet was created! In October 2006, we set out on a mission to revolutionize the way pets are fed, shifting from shelf-stable kibble to recipes made from fresh, natural ingredients.

2006 - today: More variety than ever before

When Freshpet first appeared in fridges at local pet stores, our recipes were only available in rolls. Over time, however, we expanded to offer different formats including ready-to-serve bagged meals and patties to suit a wider range of preferences. We also started to adapt our recipes to suit the different needs by introducing recipes specifically for small breeds, puppies, skin and digestive issues, as well as a fully planted-based line.

Today, we’re proud to offer several lines of products directly from our Freshpet kitchens:

The history of dog food may not be very long, but it certainly has been eventful. Pet parents have more choices than ever before – especially when it comes to Freshpet – and we, for one, can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future of dog food!

A person holding a black and white dog reaching for a Freshpet recipe.

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