What Did Dogs Eat in the Early 1900s?


Today, dogs eat a variety of commercial and home-prepared diets with a wide range of ingredients and quality levels. Throughout history, dog diets have changed, in both healthy and unhealthy ways. The early 1900s dog diet had different features from those of the late 1900s and later periods in history.

Ship Biscuits Pave the Way for Turn of Century Snacks

  • Before commercial pet food was invented, dogs relied mostly on catching prey and retrieving table scraps from humans. In the 1890s, the first semblance of a commercial item appeared when American James Spratt traveled to England with his dog. During the trip, his dog was offered ship biscuits, a less than favorable item among sailors' diets. Spratt concluded they weren't good enough for his furry friend, and decided to formulate something better. His new dog biscuit contained wheat, vegetables, beet root, and dried meat.

The First Milk Bones Accompany Old-School Diets

  • After the remodeled ship biscuit came to market, F. H. Bennett introduced the first bone-shaped biscuit, which he called the milk bone, in 1907. Biscuits were already pop­u­lar in Europe and the United States, and these items offered another new twist on a familiar product, geared to dogs. Alongside these new commercial products, dogs' diets still consisted primarily of table scraps, organ meats and other leftovers. The prevalence of commercial pet food increased around the turn of the century.

The Use of Horse Meat

  • In the 1920s, Ken-L-Rations began canning horse meat for dog food. At the time, horse meat was a plentiful and inexpensive pet food option. When the United States went into World War II, tin became increasingly expensive and as a result was no longer used as canning material. The supply of horses also continued to dwindle and the horse surplus vanished. Around this time, Purina, a farm animal feed manufacturer, brought kibbled dog food to market.

The Commercial Pet Food Explosion

  • The pet food business has since exploded, as have product choices including canned, dry, raw, organic, filler-laden and preservative-loaded foods. More is known about pet nutrition now than in the 1900s. In some cases, that translates to better pet food; in other cases not. Before the market became saturated with commercial products, dogs of the early 1900s and surrounding historical periods lapped up their table scraps and wild animals, peppered with an occasional ship biscuit, milk bone or can of horse meat.


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