For today’s pets, nutritionally complete dog food makes feeding straightforward. However, commercial pet foods only became widely available in the last 80 years. What did our furry friends eat before processed kibble and canned diets? Let’s look at the history of canine cuisine.
𝐒𝐜𝐚𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐅𝐨𝐫𝐚𝐠𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝐧 𝐄𝐚𝐫𝐥𝐲 𝐂𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐳𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬
In ancient history, dogs lived on the fringes of human settlements, and sustenance came from foraging. They scavenged whatever food scraps, like meat bones, rotting produce, plant material, and waste from early farming or hunting activities. Dogs likely consumed certain grains and fruit intentionally offered by humans as well.
𝐓𝐚𝐬𝐤-𝐑𝐞𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐃𝐢𝐞𝐭𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐃𝐨𝐠𝐬
As breeds became specialized for particular working roles like herding, hunting, and sledding, their diets evolved to match. Sighthounds needed energy from meat to fuel sprinting and chasing prey. Nordic breeds like Huskies ate diets rich in fish and sea mammals to provide warmth and omegas. Hunting hounds and working dogs were given bones, organ meats, and fat after hunts to supplement meals.
𝐅𝐚𝐫𝐦 𝐃𝐨𝐠𝐬 𝐖𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐓𝐫𝐮𝐞 𝐎𝐦𝐧𝐢𝐯𝐨𝐫𝐞𝐬
On family farms, dogs eat “anything and everything.” Table scraps, dairy products like milk, eggs from the henhouse, garden vegetables and fruit, grain mash from the stable, food waste from butchering animals, caught rodents, and other hunted critters constituted farm dog meals. Their varied diet depended on the farm’s particular livestock and crops.
𝐇𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐦𝐚𝐝𝐞 𝐑𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐩𝐞𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐃𝐨𝐠 𝐁𝐢𝐬𝐜𝐮𝐢𝐭𝐬 𝐄𝐦𝐞𝐫𝐠𝐞
In the mid-19th century, some owners began shifting away from table scraps and formulating homemade dog food. Hunting magazines and dog training manuals provided “dog cakes” recipes with meat, grains, molasses, and veggies. Published cookbooks had recipes for nutritive biscuits containing cod liver oil and other supplements.
𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐦𝐞𝐫𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 𝐃𝐨𝐠 𝐅𝐨𝐨𝐝𝐬 𝐀𝐫𝐞 𝐈𝐧𝐯𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐝
The first commercial dog foods came to market as food processing technology advanced. Spratt’s Patent created the first mass-produced dog food in 1860: a biscuit from wheat, beetroot, vegetables, and beef blood. Canned horsemeat dog foods emerged in the early 1900s from companies like Ken-L Ration. These commercial foods provided convenience over home cooking.
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐑𝐢𝐬𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐊𝐢𝐛𝐛𝐥𝐞
Over subsequent decades, dry dog kibble largely replaced canned wet food and homemade meals thanks to lower cost and more accessible storage. Improved nutritional science also allowed companies to formulate dog food better to meet canine health needs, making kibble a dietary staple by the 1950s.
𝐇𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐦𝐚𝐝𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐅𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐡 𝐃𝐢𝐞𝐭𝐬 𝐌𝐚𝐤𝐞 𝐚 𝐂𝐨𝐦𝐞𝐛𝐚𝐜𝐤
Today, while commercial diets remain popular for convenience, some owners are shifting back to fresh, homemade, and raw diets. These aim to mimic the ancestral canine diet and nutrition.ParseOptions like freeze-dried, stew-style, and grain-free foods are also chosen with health in mind.
𝐋𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐁𝐚𝐜𝐤 𝐚𝐭 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐄𝐯𝐨𝐥𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐃𝐨𝐠 𝐅𝐨𝐨𝐝
While commercial kibble provides balanced nutrition, some owners feel dogs benefit from “back to basics” homemade or raw feeding approaches. This nod to history honors a dog’s ancestry as a hunter-scavenger thriving on diverse foods. From foraging to commercial kibble to fresh-cooked meals, the quest continues to find the optimal diet to feed our pet dogs.