history of dog food

History of dog food – how did kibble come to be?

history of dog food

History of dog food 

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but kibble isn’t found in the wild.

It doesn’t grow on trees, get plucked from the ground or frolic around for our doggo’s to hunt. So have you ever wondered how it came to be?

Turns out, the history of dog food reveals a lot about the domestication of dogs.

From wild wolves to working dogs to pampered greyhounds in turtlenecks: our doggo’s food has evolved with their lifestyle (for better or for worse).

So, let’s take a look at the history of dog food (and what it’s got to do with domestication, WW2 and clever marketing tactics).

 shepherding border collie and his owner behind sheep shed

What did dogs eat before dog food?

Sitting around the campfire

There are varying theories and beliefs surrounding the domestication of dogs. But most experts accept they evolved from wolves around 20,000 - 30,000 years ago.

In a nutshell: wolves caught a sniff of humans cooking meat over the fire. They popped their heads in to see if the humans needed a hand eating it. Much to their delight, the nice wolves were rewarded with scraps. And as with any good restaurant, the nice wolves would return time and time again for more cuisine. Not a bad deal if you ask us.

Eventually, these same wolves stuck around and the humans started trading food for protection.

I know, I know. In today’s world a pug wearing a bow tie doesn’t exactly scream protection. But with time – and selective breeding – these wild hunters turned into the couch potatoes we know and love today.  


Farming for scraps until the late 1800s

As humans moved from hunter-gatherers to farmers, so too did our dogs.

But at this stage they weren’t quite the close comrades they are today. Rather, they primarily lived outdoors and were seen as a beneficial resource to fulfill a wide range of tasks, from protection to herding.

So during this time – up until the late 1800s – feeding dogs table scraps was the norm.

After all, it made economic and dietary sense. A human diet of meat and vegetables was good for dogs. And food that otherwise would have gone to waste made financial sense for humans.

It was a win-win.

 Natural raw dog food in bowl on white floor and dog's paws on background

Dry food was invented

It was in the 1860s when an electrician named James Sprat came up with a game-changing idea: biscuits, but make them dog.

He got the idea after watching stray dogs eat dried biscuits thrown overboard by sailors in the London docks. He combined wheat, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood and called them Spratt’s Patent Dog Cakes. The idea was a roaring success, leading him to move to the US to showcase them in the 1870s.

Spratt advertised them as nutritionally enhanced dog biscuits – helping to prevent health issues and keep your doggo in prime condition. So much so, vets eventually jumped on board the movement and a second brand came to market, Milk-Bone.

It was around this time when “human food” and “dog food” began to take two separate paths.


Wet and sloppy canned food 

In the early 1900’s the first canned dog food, Ken-L Ration, was introduced by Englishman James Chapel. He primarily used horse meat (as that’s what he had available on his farm) and dog’s fell in love with the wet and moist flavour (you hate us for that word choice, don’t you?)

Before long, the demand for canned food surpassed dry food.  

But then, WW2 struck. And with that the demand for tin skyrocketed as it was needed to make weapons, resulting in a global shortage and the plunge in canned dog food.

Kibble was back (and with a vengeance).


The multibillion-dollar commercial pet food industry

Following WW2, dried dog food sales soared. It was convenient, relatively cheap and easy to store for long periods. Plus, it was highly profitable because the products were made from waste products from wheat, grain and meat factories. This marks the start of the pet food giants.

And as it turns out, a key contributor to the industry’s success was not so much the efficacy of the products, but the way they were advertised. Marketing campaigns encouraging households to feed their dog dry food – rather than table scraps – became widespread.

By the 1960s vets got involved in the industry, encouraging the use of supplements like vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates to keep doggos healthy. This saw a new wave of commercial pet food that would focus on the right balance of nutrients.

 Dog standing in front of bowl of kibble

The pampered pooch era

So, where are we today?

We like to call this the pampered pooch era.

Once outside protectors, today they’re better known as couch dwellers (think: lounging on your king-sized bed getting served bottomless belly rubs and ribeye steak).

Ok, maybe not to that extent for some. But it’s hard to deny that dogs have moved from backyard pets to members of the family, offering a source of constant love and affection.

With this shift, many pet parents have begun to question what they’re feeding their best friends (what even is dry food?) And with this questioning, many have moved away from the supermarket giants toward higher-quality, nutritious alternatives.

Today, it’s all about nourishing puppers for a healthy, happy life. 

Whether you cook your dog ribeye, opt for raw feeding or serve high-quality kibble (with less grain and fillers) take a moment to appreciate the knowledge (and healthy options) we have available today.


At Dog’s Defence, we’re a team of proud paw parents and mushroom farmers. We combined our two passions and created a range of nutritious dog supplements that turn tail wags into full body wiggles. Whether you feed your dog raw meat and vegetables or high-quality kibble, our supplements add an extra boost of nutrients to improve immunity, cognition and wellbeing. Discover our range today.


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