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History of Pet Food

There is a LOT of misinformation about pet food, and much of it comes from the pet food industry (big companies) and pet health professionals. In order to understand why I am advocate for feeding fresh food to pets (rather than processed foods), let's take a look at the history of the pet food industry.

In the Beginning 

Prior to the 1900s, dogs were typically either working dogs on farms or smaller dogs that were bred as companions for the wealthy (think of the Royals who loved their lap dogs). The vast majority of the world's dogs were put to work herding farm animals, bred for hunting, were wee companions, or were strays that hung out on the streets. Cats lived on farms and helped keep rodent populations under control, but also lived in cities. Dogs ate what we ate, which included boiled potatoes and vegetables for poorer families, and meat and bones if the family was more well-to-do. Cats hunted rodents, but might have eaten meat if it was offered to them.


  • 1860 - A business man named James Spratt had noticed that discarded stale biscuits known as hardtack were being consumed by stray dogs when ships would come into port. Hardtack was often riddled with weevils, mold, or maggots. These biscuits were full of flour and contained very little protein (unless you count the insects that often inhabited them). Spratt was inspired by the dogs eating the leftover hardtack biscuits and he was drawn to develop the world's first commercial dog biscuits. As they required no refrigeration, the product was a hit with consumers. Spratt made claims that his biscuits could cure all kinds of common dog ailments from worms to distemper, and he ALSO claimed that "table scraps" will harm a dog's "digestive powers." Notice how his advertising effectively (and inaccurately) conveys the idea that food fit for human consumption is somehow bad for dogs.

  • 1880 - Dr. A.C. Daniels, a Boston veterinarian, created a product he called "Medicated Dog Bread," which claimed to be superior to other dog biscuits at the time (which commonly contained leftover moldy or rancid grocery products). 

Early 1900s

  • 1908 - Others took notice of Spratt's success and came out with their own dog biscuits. F.H. Bennet Biscuit Company opened, making it the first puppy food to be packaged in various sized bags of dry food, and for different breeds. The company created the "Maltoid Milk-Bone," which is now known as "Milk Bone" and was made from wheat, meat, and milk. 

  • Many new advertisements had people believing that dogs living with civilized people should also be fed as civilized canines, and that meat and table scraps were something that wild dogs ate, not civilized companions. 

Advertisement for Austin's Dog Bread - Chelsea, Massachusetts 

Advertisement for Old Grist Mill - Boston, Massachusetts 

  • 1907 - Hill's Pet Nutrition was founded by Burton Hill and started operation as Hill Rendering Works, a rendering facility for dead and lame animals.


  • 1922 - The Chappel Brothers developed the first canned dog food, which was made from horse meat. There were so many horses leftover from the end of World War I that it made a lot of sense to buy them and use them for pet food. Their food was such a success that they ended up having to breed horses in order to keep up with demand. 

  • Canned pet food continued to grow in popularity because of it's long shelf live and convenience. It remained the pet food of choice until World War II, when can rations were necessary.


  • 1931 - Nabisco bought out F.H.Bennet's Biscuit Company and began calling it "Milk-Bone." 

  • Also in the 1930s came the development of the first canned cat food, introduced by the Gaines Food Company, which also sold a dry meat meal dog food. 

  • World War II began in 1939, which brought about the need for metal to use in the war effort. Cans were rationed, and as such, they were used for human consumption first. Pet food companies adjusted to this change by developing dried dog foods, which were various sized baked biscuits or pellets containing flour and meat meal. To convince consumers to embrace this new type of pet food, pet food companies began to advertise that grains were essential for dogs because they provided energy from carbohydrate sources. The truth of the matter was that grains were a cheap ingredient to add into pet foods. However, consumers were busy with the war and they were glad to accept an inexpensive and convenient food option for their pets.



  • 1942 - Dr. Francis Pottenger concluded his 10 year study on nutrition, using 900 cats. He discovered that cats suffered from health complications on a cooked meat diet and stopped reproducing offspring.

  • 1948 - Mark L. Morris contacted Hill Packing Company (a rendering facility that disposed of dead and lame animals, and which processed 500 horses per week) to produce Canine k/d, a veterinary diet for urinary issues. 


  • In the mid-1950s technology was evolving and the first extruded pet food came onto the market. Extrusion became an exceedingly convenient way for manufacturers of large human food companies to use grains and other cereals that were deemed unfit for human consumption, rather than have to throw them away. Soon these extruded foods became a smashing success and overtook canned food sales. 

  • Purina introduced "Dog Chow" in 1957. At this time Purina, Alpo, and Ken-L Ration were the industry leaders in the pet food market.


  • By the early 1960s there were over 300,000 brands of pet food in the United States. 

  • 1962 - Purina came out with their "Cat Chow." 

  • 1968 - Hill's Science Diet came onto the market. It was developed by a veterinarian named Dr. Mark Morris and was initially created for a seeing-eye dog named Buddy, a German Shepherd with kidney disease. This same year, Hill Packing Company was sold to Riviana Foods.

  • A new category for pet food was born, with Hill's being the first "prescription diet" (please take note that "prescription diet" is a trademarked term by Hill's Pet Nutrition).

  • 1968 - Royal Canin was created by French veterinary surgeon, Dr. Jean Cathary. He closed his veterinary practice to create a cereal-based dog food recipe and was the first dry pet food manufacturer in Europe to use an extruder. 



  • 1987 - The first pet super store, known as PetSmart, opened in Phoenix, Arizona. It changed the pet food industry completely.


  • 1990 - Royal Canin and Guyomarc'h Group was purchased by Paribas Bank.

  • 1997 - Paribas Bank listed Royal Canin company on the Paris stock exchange. 


  • 2001 - Paribas Bank sold its holding company to Mars, Incorporated for over 1.5 billion euros, and was removed from the stock exchange (per The European Commission).

  • 2004 - Royal Canin acquired the U.S. and Canadian veterinary-grade food brands IVD, Medi-Cal, and Techni-Cal from Del Monte Foods for $82.5 million.

  • 2007 - A massive recall of cooked dog and cat foods occurred due to contamination with melamine and cyanuric acid, which cause kidney failure in pets. The melamine was linked to wheat from China. Thousands of dogs and cats died.


  • Royal Canin has factories in Missouri; South Dakota; Aimargues, France; Johannesburg, South Africa; Descalvado, Brazil; Gonzalez Catan, Argentina; Dmitrov, Russia; Niepolomice, Poland; Castle Cary, United Kingdom; Ontario, Canada; and Shanghai, China.

  • Hill's Pet Nutrition has factories in Kansas, 

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