Grubby Paws - For Your Pets Healthy Eating

The Brief History of Commercial Pet Foods

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If dogs are cats are carnivores, evolved for an almost exclusively meat-based diet, why then are commercial pet foods made with such high inclusions of cereal grains and carbohydrates?

Understanding the brief history of commercial dry pet food helps explain why most commercial pet foods were developed with convenience and economy in mind,—rather than peak health of dogs and cats.

Since the emergence of dry pet foods in the 1860s through their mass popularity in the 1970’s, most pet food makers have focused on cost and convenience at the expense of nutrition.

This focus explains the predominance of inexpensive commodity grains and by-products that, while less than ideal for feeding dogs and cats, are easily made into shelf stable, lower priced pet foods.

While some would argue that dogs and cats have adapted since kibble foods were introduced, Sections 1 and 2 of this document have made it clear their digestive systems remain unchanged.

Were they to occur, such evolutionary adaptations require much more time than a mere hundred years or so, and the evolutionary change—from gross anatomy down to the molecular level—that would be required for the development of such different digestive capabilities would take MUCH longer than the time that dogs have been living with humans.

1860's - THE FIRST DRY DOG FOOD

  • The first food made specifically for dogs was created by American electrician, James Spratt who concocted the 'dog cake‘ - made of wheat, vegetables and beef blood.
  • Other companies followed and dog foods baked with grains entered the pet food market, which was previously dominated by the butcher.

1930's - THE GREAT DEPRESSION, INEXPENSIVE PET FOODS

  • The 1930‘s saw the introduction of dry meat-meal dog food by the Gaines Food Company.
  • For companies such as Nabisco, Quaker Oats and General Foods, the emerging pet food market represented an opportunity to market otherwise unusable by-products as a profitable source of income.
  • Sold with the primary benefit of convenience, high inclusions of grain ingredients created a longer shelf life, while carbohydrates provided a cheap source of energy.

1960's - PRODUCER CLAIMS THAT THEIR FOODS WERE SUPERIOR AS THEY UTILIZED WASTE GRAINS AND MEATS UNFIT FOR PEOPLE

  • In the 1960s, new debates were developing as pet food makers claimed their products offered good value because they utilized cereal waste products and meat otherwise unusable for human consumption.
  • While acknowledging that fresh meat and vegetables were excellent foods, pet food makers argued that dogs and cats could be fed economically with factory waste products and still be healthy.
  • Mill operators continued to have a good market for their grain by-products, while slaughterhouses enjoyed a market for their meat by-products that were otherwise unusable.

 

1970's - 'COMPLETE AND CONVENIENT' AS THE PRIMARY BENEFIT

  • In the 1970s, convenience was the first selling point for packaged dog foods. Scooping dry pieces of food into the bowl was more time saving than cooking or preparing their pet’s dinner.
  • Dog food companies began labeling their dog foods as complete, with no additional foods or supplements being necessary, with producers warning consumers that table scraps could be dangerous to the dog’s health.

1970's - SPECIALITY DIETS ARE INTRODUCED

  • Formulated for specific diseases or disorders in pets - specialty diets were (and still are) often little more than the same foods in a different package. 
  • The introduction of specialty diets portrayed pet nutrition as complex and implied people should rely more on their veterinarian’s advice than their own common sense.
  • Shopping for pet food expanded from the supermarkets to the veterinarian’s office .

1980's - THE ARRIVAL OF "SUPER PREMIUM"

  • Sold as more nutritional and offering different formulas for all stages of life, the vast majority of “Premium” foods still used the old standards – high grain, high carbohydrate, low meat content and low protein.

1990's - CONSUMERS BECOME MORE EDUCATED (sort of)

  • As consumers recognized the role of nutrition in their own lives, they began reading pet food labels more closely.
  • This led to the so-called “Holistic” foods, and producers began to promote specific ingredients (such as organic grains) that appealed to people, rather than nourishing their dogs.
  • Almost all ‘holistic’ foods remain grain and carbohydrate based, and are anything BUT holistic from a dog or cat’s point of view.

2000 - THE PAST, REVISITED

The more things change, the more they stay the same! While pet food marketing evolves, the pet foods themselves continue to rely upon heavily processed ingredients, with the vast majority of today’s conventional pet foods still containing more than 50% grain and almost as much carbohydrate.

  • Yet with all of the allergies and chronic illnesses afflicting our companion dogs and cats today, are today’s pets really healthier?
  • Although consumers today are better educated and increasingly aware of the ingredients in their pet’s food – most people are not aware of important food quality measures such as the amount of carbohydrate in their pet foods, and do not know how to determine the protein or fat quality.
  • Grains are widely considered as healthy foods for humans, and dried pet foods have always been made with grain –two primary reasons why consumers accept grains as part of their pet’s diet. Grains have always been there, so they’re often not questioned.
  • When asked if to consider whether grain and carbohydrate are appropriate for their dogs or cats, most consumers come to the realization that these are not part of the natural canine or feline diet.
  • Despite advances in marketing – from Premium, Super-premium, ―vet recommended‖ and ―holistic diets‖ – the foods really haven‘t changed that much in the last 40 years. Conventional pet foods are still made by the same companies and remain low in protein, high in carbohydrate, and are made with high percentages of grains (this is especially true of the vet diets). 
  • As history has shown, pet food makers will produce foods designed primarily for their appeal to consumers. This generally occurs at the lowest cost and highest convenience, rather than making a food most appropriate to for the dogs and cats themselves. 
If conventional pet foods are focused on price and convenience, what foods focus more on the biological requirements of dogs and cats?

Section 4 – BIOLOGICALLY APPROPRIATE DOG & CAT FOOD attempts to answer this question.

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