A History of Canine Nutrition
What a joy it is for us humans aka “pawrents” to have such a close and intimate bond with our beloved dogs. They give us so much by way of companionship, loyalty and fun. When we take on “ownership” of a dog, we also take on the responsibility of giving them the best care we can.
The history of the domestication of dogs is a long and complex one, with current research showing examples on the human/dog relationship possibly going back as far as between 36,000 – 14,708 years ago in Europe.
The first undisputed dog mandible (lower jaw bone) found in grave with 2 human skeletal remains (a 50 year old man & a 25 year old woman) dates back to around 14,000 years ago. This grave was discovered in 1914 by quarry workers in Oberkassel, Bonn on the banks of the Rhine in Germany. Mitochondrial DNA analysis confirms that this animal skeleton is a direct ancestor of today’s dog.
These dates imply that dogs as we know them today probably started to co-exist with humans during the hunter-gatherer period, which is earlier than the start of the agricultural evolution to stationary farming that started around around 10,000 BC.
14,000 years (or longer) is long time to be bonding and working with another species! Early dogs and hunter/gatherers would have been targeting similar prey. Small and larger mammals, reptiles, birds and at some point realised they could work together to eat and survive. Such a fascinating history.
Early dogs that became bonded with humans could have offered other benefits such as guarding, protection from other predators, warmth on cold nights and companionship. Not that different from today and why it’s natural for a modern dog to bark when there’s a knock on the front door, “Just doing my job Mum! Feed me please!”
For thousands of years, dogs would have been sharing food, real food, with their humans. Fresh meat, raw bones and some plant material. Although dogs are true carnivores, they have adapted and have come to eat a more omnivorous diet. Once man started to grow crops, both man and dog’s diets would have become more varied.
Around 1860, James Spratt, an American business savvy Electrician & lightening rod Salesman with an entrepreneurial spirit, noticed that the dogs hanging around the wharves in Liverpool, England, were eating the left over human biscuits, known as hardtack, made from flour, water and salt. He saw an opportunity to create a product specifically for dogs. His “Dog Cakes” were made from wheat meal, vegetables, beetroot and meat and were a convenient and new way for English gentleman to feed their sporting dogs. Interestingly, he always kept the source of the “meat” ingredient a well-guarded secret!
The advertising of new dog foods from around this time was very clever and tapped into people’s growing desire to been seen as affluent and being able to afford this “wonderful” new product for their dog.
Recipes were patented and a young office clerk, Charles Cruft, helped promote Spratt’s dog products to dog breeders and promoters of dog shows. It was a stroke of marketing genius that Charles Cruft made the connection between pure breed dogs, dog shows and “canine nutrition”. “Crufts Greatest Dog Show” was born and continues today, although attracted some controversy in 2008, relating to breeding practices that are believed to compromise the health of some purebreds.
Dog owners were sold the line that table scraps, meat and bone leftovers were no longer good enough for a strong, healthy dog.
There were other manufacturers of dog food in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s but Spratt’s dominated. Since the early 1900’s there has been a steady increase of dog ownership and with this, pet food manufacturers. The pet food industry is now a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Some companies seem driven by profits and focus on increasing margins, some are driven by offering dog owners the best canine in nutrition.
And while commercial pet foods offer a very convenient way to feed dogs, in 2017 there is much conjecture about what constitutes the best diet for dogs.
In the last few decades there has been an ever increasing list of illnesses in dogs. Inflammatory illnesses such as hypothyroid, obesity, diabetes, liver and kidney disease and cancers, which were once rare in dogs are now diagnosed more and more frequently. If nutrition is the basis of good health, then surely it follows we need to carefully assess what constitutes proper canine nutrition?
Thankfully, there is now a greater depth of research is being done into exactly what is optimal canine nutrition. Some brilliant minds continue bring dog “parents” greater knowledge and products every day.
Dr Jean Dodds & Diana Laverdure, Dr Jean Hofve & Celeste Yarnall, Steve Brown, Lew Olson have researched and written excellent works on canine nutrition.
Dr Ian Billinghurst’s new research into ketogenic diets for dogs and the positive effects on canine cancer patients is fascinating. Dr Karen Becker & Beth Taylor and Rodney Habib are making it easier and more approachable for dog “parents” to create their own balanced feeding programs at home.
Much of the research done previously in canine nutrition has been funded by large, multi-national pet food brands, who are not always keen share their research.
Dr Karen Becker and Dr Joe Bartges are 2 veterinarians involved in a brilliant new research initiative CANWI (Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute). This will be the first in depth and importantly independent study into canine nutrition and the pet food industry.
Just as human nutrition evolves and we learn more about what is ideal for our best health, so to with canine nutrition. Exciting times! Please stayed tuned and stay passionate about giving your dog the best.
About the Author: Annabelle Selleck is the proud owner of Good Pet Food Kitchen and a qualified vet nurse for the past 10 years. Annabelle is passionate about providing our companion friends with the highest standards in fresh and nutritionally balanced food. Find out more at Good Pet Food Kitchen