History and Origins of Dog Food

Our pets are our family – and while it’s hard to believe, this was not always the case. The domestication of dogs is not new, in fact dogs have been domesticated for centuries now.

Early domestication of dogs suggests that they were most commonly used to assist with hunting, guarding livestock, and to protect our homes from pests and other dangers.

As our relationship with our furry friends continued to grow and develop, the way we’ve fed them has also changed.

Read on to learn about the domestication of animals, and how that led to the origins of commercial dog food, how kibble was made, and how it's shaped our pets' food today. 

The 1800’s:

It’s estimated that dogs were domesticated approximately 16 000 years ago, if not even further back! Feeding for dogs back in these times is thought to have mainly consisted of meat, bones, and barley.

Leading up to the late 1800’s, it was clear that the majority of our dogs’ diets consisted of table scraps. For those living in cities, horse meat became a common source of protein.

It wasn’t until approximately 1860 that James Spratt began selling fortified dog biscuits commercially in Great Britain. Shortly after, he moved back to the U.S. and continued to sell commercially available dog foods.

The 1900’s:

Once James Spratt’s company began to market their products, claiming health benefits and performance improvements for hunting and show dogs, other companies began to follow suit.

Up until the Second World War, wet canned dog food, made with horse meat, was the most popular on the market.

This all changed when rations were placed on metal and meat during the World War. Companies needed a way to sell dog food that was shelf stable. And this is how kibble came to be!

Dry kibble was produced by extrusion for the first time in 1956. This process allows for mass production of foods by cooking ingredients, both wet and dry, under extreme pressurized steam and temperatures.

This process allowed for large quantities of pet food to be produced and could be packaged more simply and less expensively than canned food.

At this time, the pet food industry started marketing campaigns that diminished the practice of feeding table scraps.

Animal nutrition was more heavily studied and our understanding of nutrient requirements for dogs, and cats, grew. In 1969, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) officially established the term “complete and balanced” for pet foods.

Veterinarians also began to recommend commercial pet foods and prescription diets were developed to help support an array of health conditions.


Since the early 2000’s, dry food (kibble) has dominated the pet food market. Our relationship with our pets has grown even more as they are now another member of our family.

However, this means that pet parents are more invested in their pets’ lives and of course, their food! At Tom&Sawyer, we believe in feeding our pets like family! This includes real, fresh, gently cooked pet food that raises the bar on pet food.


Article written by

Hannah Godfrey
BSc H | MSc | Phd Student in Animal Nutrition
Tom&Sawyer Client Ambassador & Animal Nutritionist