The Myth of Commercial Dog Food

Long ago, in places near and far, wolves, the original ancestors to our dogs lived and hunted in packs. A wolf pack was a family, just like a human family.  Working together,wolf packs were able to take down large animals. Eating prey followed a strict social order by giving the alpha male first dibs. Over time wolves evolved into prototype dogs and became dependent upon humans for food.

The first manufactured dog food was a biscuit created by an Ohio Electrician named James Spratt in 1860.  This biscuit was made from wheat, beets, vegetables and beef blood.  It was called Spratt’s Patent Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes and came in a tin box with the saying “My faithful Friend’s Own Biscuit Box.”

Milk Bone was first marketed as a complete dog food and appeared on the market in 1907 by F. H. Bennett. Canned horsemeat for dog food was introduced in the United States after World War I.  Ken-L-ration was a brand of dog food owned by Quaker Oats. The brand’s name was a play on the World War II-era K-ration and the dog food’s “original” main ingredient was “U.S. Government Inspected horse meat,” advertised as “lean, red meat”.

The next big jump in dog food came in 1946 with the introduction of dry dog food. In 1957 Purina invented the extrusion method used for making breakfast cereal and  “Dog Chow.”

The pet food industry created the “Pet Food Institute” and began a media campaign that warned dog owners to feed their dogs ONLY DOG FOOD.

                          Who’s Who

Manufacturer                                        Brand                                     

Nestle                                            Alpo, Mighty Dog, Purina

Heinz                                            Gravy Train, Kibbles-n-Bits, Nature’s Recipe

Colgate-Palmolive                        Science Diet

Proctor and Gamble                     Iams and Eukanuba

Mars                                             Cal Can and Pedigree

Leaping to current trends and the December 2015 Market Research Report prepared by IBIS World we learn the pet industry in the United States is booming.  Growth can be attributed to both the increase in pet ownership, as well as, from increased spending per pet.  Since 1988 pet ownership has expanded from 56% of households to 62% with cats slightly outnumbering dogs.

The IBIS report made note of findings from the research company Mintel stating nutritional value and flavor are two top reasons owners cite for choosing food for their pets, just after price and value.  Personally, I paid attention to the statistic documenting that price and value are less important to consumers than nutrition!  I also made note that basic pet supplies such as dry pet food show little differentiation among brands.

Where’s the Protein?

Like Wendy’s fast food iconic 1984 catchphrase “Where’s the Beef?” we need to ask, on behalf of our canine buddies, “where’s the protein?” A true canine “happy meal” must consist of 50-60% protein.

Dry dog food is low in protein.  A lack of protein in a canine’s diet causes:

  1. Dull coat
  2. Lack of eye luster
  3. Dull teeth
  4. Off balance attitude
  5. Aggression
  6. Low energy – a lack of vitality
  7. Prone to chronic disease
  8. De-natured food lacks vital force (life energy) and vitamins

Recall notices for dog food are happening more and more in today’s market place. Recalls range from mold contamination to inadequate levels of vitamins and minerals, salmonella and Listeria bacteria. Typically dry dog food is recalled more often than canned dog food.

What’s the difference between natural and organic?

When you buy food labeled “natural,” what exactly are you getting? In the US, the word “natural” has no regulated definition. “Natural” can mean any number of different things, depending on where in the US you are, who the food manufacturer is and what store is carrying the product.

Federal regulations strictly define the term “organic.” When you see “organic” on the label, you know that food was made with a set of farming and production practices defined and regulated by the USDA.

“Organic” tells you you’re buying food made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, sewage sludge or irradiation.

Natural Organic
Toxic persistent pesticides and herbicides allowed not allowed
GMOs allowed not allowed
Antibiotics allowed not allowed
Growth hormones allowed not allowed
Irradiation allowed not allowed
Animal-welfare regulations No Yes
Lower levels of environmental pollution Not necessarily Yes
Audit trail from farm to table No Yes
Certificatoin required, including regular inspections No Yes
Legal restrictions on materials allowed No Yes
Chart adapted from

In the past five years retailers have increasingly provided natural and organic food products. These premium pet foods tend to be higher priced.  Based on the IBIS research the natural and organic foods and treats will continue to gain popularity as more households view their animals’ diets as a means of improving their pet’s overall health.  Natural and organic foods were once classified as a niche market.  Today major food manufacturers such as Nestles, Mars, and Del Monte Foods all market natural products that are sold at major retailers.

The instinctual  and  species appropriate diet for canines is a raw food diet.

The human diet varies culturally, geographically and economically.  Those same variations do not hold true for canines. Despite genetic manipulation and training for specific characteristics, modern dogs, like their wolf ancestors are carnivores. Dogs remain unchanged anatomically, physiologically, biochemically, and have the same digestive system and dietary needs as their wolf ancestors.

Regardless of breed, a raw food diet is  beneficial for most dogs. This is not an old paradigm, nor a new paradigm; rather, a modified species appropriate diet.  Dogs in the wild would typically eat all parts of their prey, including feathers and other parts that we cannot replicate in today’s modern world.

People are waking up to the poor quality and toxins present in processed and manufactured food. An ideal canine diet  is a clean variety of fresh raw protein. Clean means free of toxins and chemicals. A raw food diet consists of feeding your dog raw meat, raw bones, and raw organs.

For the majority of dogs, good health and resistance to illness and disease is a combination of genetics and environment (nutrition, exercise, and sleep).


Coming up next

  • Planning a nutritious raw meal for your dog
  • Shopping for organic ingredients
  • Simple meal preparations and freezer storage
  • Adding  Calcium, Trace Minerals, and Oils for a balanced meal
  • What are the benefits of detoxing your dog?