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Commercial Dog Food

History of commercial dog food

Commercial dog food has a relatively short history, especially when compared with how long dogs have been our companion animals. Although the first dog biscuit was created in 1860 by a man named James Spratt, processed dog food did not become popular until after World War II.

How did our dogs survive before that? Well, that depended a lot on where they were located. Dogs on a farm usually were fed a variety of meat scraps, milk, eggs and other food found while scavenging. City dogs relied on scraps from the table and raw meat from the butcher.

Following World War II, commercial dog food sales increased dramatically. This gave mill operators and grain dealers a place to get rid of their by-products at a good profit, instead of having to deal with disposal. Slaughter houses were able to sell their non-human grade, diseased meats and unusable parts.

Since most of the sources used were non-human grade, it was common to mix the grains and meat by-products and cook it all for long periods of time to kill off the bacteria and disease. This could then be formed into pellets, bagged and sold for the convenience of the dog owner and feeding. The process of cooking the mix was further improved when Purina developed a process called “extrusion”, where the ingredients were mixed and cooked in liquid form, and then pushed through an extruder, which created dog food pieces larger and lighter than the original pellets.

Convenience was once a selling point for this processed commercial dog food. Veterinarians were paid to promote processed dog food as the only way to ensure a properly balanced diet for anyones dog. Table scraps, which had been sufficient for thousands of years, was not labelled as being incomplete, and risking the health of the dog.

Finding a quality commercial dog food

Pet food aisle

So you are walking down the aisle of your favorite super mart looking at all the different brands of dog food, and wondering which one is the best for your dog. All those pictures showing smiling dogs and a bounty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats seems so confusing and frustrating. So how do you find the right one for your canine family member?

Unfortunately, one of the worst places to shop for quality dog food is a store that is designed for you, the human customer who might be swayed by the pretty colors and ingredients pictured on the dog food bags. And those pictures are keeping you from paying closer attention to what really matters on the bag... the ingredient list and the guaranteed analyses.

Dog food ingredient list

Looking at this example, we can see quite a bit about this dog food. Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in order of significance by weight. In other words, there is more of what is listed first, less of the second ingredient, even less of the third, and so on. This is pre-processing weights, though, so it may not actually represent the as fed ingredient weights. I know this might seem a bit overwhelming to you at first, but I will try to make it clearer in my dry dog food reviews, and later will do the same thing for canned dog food.

Ingredient List

In my review pages, I will break down the first five ingredients, looking for evidence of a lot of meat content, and quality ingredients. A dog, while it seems like she will eat anything, is still basically a carnivore, so meat protein goes a long way towards satisfying all her nutritional requirements. And I want to see named meats/named meat products. Anonymous, or mystery, meats is a sign of an inferior dog food. This could mean road kill, euthenized animals, and perhaps even dead vermin!

Going past five ingredients means that the amount that ingredient contributes to the dog food as a whole is pretty small, so not all ingredients will be discussed. However, I do look at all of them, and will point out other ingredients that either show a quality dog food, or show potentially controversial ingredients so you can make up your own mind.

Guaranteed Analyses

The guaranteed analyses section of the dog food label is extremely valuable in judging the actual meat-based protein content of the dog food. All dog foods contain three basic nutrients, protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Our dogs ancestors, who subsisted almost entirely on prey they had killed, had an entirely different mixture of these nutrients as most of our dog foods now. Just look at this table!

Nutrient Old Diet Dog Food Now
Protein 56% 18 to 32%
Fat 25 to 30% 8 to 22%
Carbohydrates 14% 46 to 74%

So, we will be aiming at reducing our carbs and increasing fat and protein to more fully simulate our dogs ancestors diet. But there is a slight problem. While the guaranteed analyses typically gives you levels for protein, fat, and fiber, very few manufacturers provide the carbohydrate level in their dog food. Forturnately, we can estimate that level based on the rest of the guaranteed analyses.

Visitor Comments

This is your chance to add your feedback. Do you have questions about the history of commercial dog food, or how important the dog food label is? Do you have a story to tell related to dog food selection? Looking for guidance form either Dog Nation or another of our visitors in selecting a good commercial dog food? Feel free to add your comment or question below.


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