Dog food

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Three ways to feed dogs: Raw food, wet food and dry food in a bowl.

Dog food refers to food specifically intended for consumption by dogs. Like all carnivorans, dogs have sharp, pointed teeth, and have short gastrointestinal tracts better suited for the consumption of meat. In spite of this natural carnivorous design, dogs have still managed to adapt over thousands of years to survive on the meat and non-meat scraps and leftovers of human existence and thrive on a variety of foods.

In the United States alone, dog owners spent over $8.5 billion on commercially manufactured dog food in 2007.[1] Some people make their own dog food, feed their dogs meals made from ingredients purchased in grocery or health-food stores or give their dogs a raw food diet.


A rare classical reference to dog food appears in Virgil's Bucolics:

"....sed una

Veloces Spartse catulos, acremque Molossum,

Pasee sero pingui :"

annotated as "Sero pingui : 'nutritious whey,' which Columella, vii. 12, speaks of as dog's food."[2]

In France, the word pâtée began to appear in the 18th century and referred to a paste originally given to poultry. In 1756, a dictionary indicates it was made of a mixture of bread crumbs and little pieces of meat given to pets."[3]

In 1781, an encyclopedia mentioned an earlier practice of removing the liver, heart, and blood of a downed stag and mixing it with milk, cheese, and bread; and then giving it to dogs.[4]

In 1844, the French writer Nicolas Boyard warned against even giving greaves (tallow-graves) to dogs, though the English favored them (see below), and suggested a meat-flavored soup:

By a misguided economy dogs are given meat scraps and tallow graves; one must avoid this, because these foods make them heavy and sick; give them twice a day a soup of coarse bread made with water, fat and the bottom of the stew pot; put a half-kilogram of bread at least in each soup.[5]

In England, care to give dogs particular food dates at least from the late eighteenth century, when The Sportsman's dictionary (1785) described the best diet for a dog's health in its article "Dog":

A dog is of a very hot nature: he should therefore never be without clean water by him, that he may drink when he is thirsty. In regard to their food, carrion is by no means proper for them. It must hurt their sense of smelling, on which the excellence of these dogs greatly depends.

Barley meal, the dross of wheatflour, or both mixed together, with broth or skim'd milk, is very proper food. For change, a small quantity of greaves from which the tallow is pressed by the chandlers, mixed with their flour ; or sheep's feet well baked or boiled, are a very good diet, and when you indulge them with flesh it should always be boiled. In the season of hunting your dogs, it is proper to feed them in the evening before, and give them nothing in the morning you take them out, except a little milk. If you stop for your own refreshment in the day, you should also refresh your dogs with a little milk and bread.[6]

(Greaves, which was often recommended for dogs, is "the sediment of melted tallow. It is made into cakes for dogs' food. In Scotland and parts of the US it is called {cracklings}."[7])

In 1833, The Complete Farrier gave similar but far more extensive advice on feeding dogs:[8]

The dog is neither wholly carnivorous nor wholly herbivorous, but of a mixed kind, and can receive nourishment from either flesh or vegetables. A mixture of both is therefore his proper food, but of the former he requires a greater portion, and this portion should be always determined by his bodily exertions.

It wasn't until the mid-1800s that the world saw its first food made specifically for dogs. An American electrician, James Spratt concocted the first dog treat. Living in London at the time, he witnessed dogs around a shipyard eating scraps of discarded biscuits. Shortly thereafter he introduced his dog food, made up of wheat meals, vegetables and meat. By 1890 production had begun in the United States and became known as "Spratt's Patent Limited".

In later years, dog biscuit was sometimes treated as synonymous with dog food:

The first three prize winners at the late coursing meeting at Great Bend were trained on Spratt's Patent Dog Biscuit. This same dog food won no less than three awards, including a gold medal, at the Exposition in Paris which has just closed. It would seem that the decision of the judges is more than backed up by the result in the kennel. Another good dog food is that manufactured by Austin & Graves, of Boston. They, too, seem to be meeting with great success in their line.[9]

Canned horse meat was introduced in the United States under the Ken-L Ration brand after WWI as a means to dispose of deceased horses. The 1930s saw the introduction of canned cat food and dry meat-meal dog food by the Gaines Food Co. By the time WWII ended, pet food sales had reached $200 million. In the 1950s Spratt's became part of General Mills. For companies such as Nabisco, Quaker Oats, and General Foods, pet food represented an opportunity to market by-products as a profitable source of income.[10]

Foods dangerous to dogs[edit]

A number of common human foods and household ingestibles are toxic to dogs, including chocolate solids (theobromine poisoning), onion and garlic (thiosulfate, sulfoxide or disulfide poisoning[11]), grapes and raisins, macadamia nuts, as well as various plants and other potentially ingested materials.[12][13]

Green tomatoes should be avoided in a dog's diet because they contain tomatine, which is harmful to dogs. As the tomato ripens and turns red the tomatine disappears, and the tomato become safe for the dog to eat. The tomato plant itself is toxic.[14]

Food allergies in dogs[edit]

Certain ingredients in dog food are known to be a key cause of allergies. A popular belief among pet owners is that wheat and soybeans are a leading cause of dog allergies,[15] however many studies backed by veterinarians have failed to show wheat and soybeans as major sources of allergies, and in fact blame the meat protein for most allergies: beef, chicken, lamb, etc.[16] A number of "grain free" dog foods are available that claim to alleviate such allergies in dogs, however given the current research that true wheat/grain allergy is rare in dogs, these diets are seen as controversial, gimmicky, or unnecessary by veterinarians.[17]

Food allergies account for about 10% of all the allergies seen in dogs, being the least most common cause after flea bite allergies and atopy (inhalant allergies). Food allergies generally account for 20% of the causes of itching and scratching in dogs.[18]

Grain Free/Low Carb[edit]

After the 2007 recall, many new diets came on the market differentiating themselves as grain or carb free to offer the consumer an alternative to the norm, claiming carbohydrates in pet foods to be fillers with little or no nutritional value. Carbohydrates in dog food contribute to approximately 3.5 kcals of energy per gram, the same as protein per the modified Atwater method of calculating metabolizable energy.[19] The grain-free diets have created a trend toward avoiding commercial petfood as much scientific research has proved it may lead to illnesses. Although a recent study published in Nature suggests that domestic dogs are adapted for metabolizing carbohydrates[20] it varies from animal to animal.

Commercial dog food[edit]

A cup of kibbles.

Most store-bought dog food comes in either a dry form (also known in the US as kibble) or a wet canned form. Dry food contains 6–10% moisture by volume, as compared to 60–90% in canned food. Semi-moist foods have a moisture content of 25–35%. Pet owners often prefer dry food for reasons of convenience and price, spending over $8 billion on dry dog food in 2010 – a 50% increase in the amount spent just seven years earlier.[21]

Wet dog food[edit]

Wet or canned dog food is significantly higher in moisture than dry or semi-moist food.[22] Canned food is commercially sterile (cooked during canning); other wet foods may not be sterile. A given wet food will often be higher in protein or fat compared to a similar kibble on a dry matter basis (a measure which ignores moisture); given the canned food's high moisture content, however, a larger amount of canned food must be fed. Grain gluten and other protein gels may be used in wet dog food to create artificial meaty chunks, which look like real meat.[23]

Alternative dog food[edit]

In recent years, alternatives to traditional commercial pet food are being sold. Many companies have been successful in targeting niche markets, each with unique characteristics.[24] A non-alcoholic "beer" for dogs (Kwispelbier) is made in the Netherlands from beef extract and malt.[25]

Popular Alternative Dog Food Labels:


Many commercial dog foods are made from materials considered by some authorities and dog owners to be unusable or undesirable.[30] These may include:

Less expensive dog foods generally include less meat, and more animal by-products and grain fillers. Proponents of a natural diet criticize the use of such ingredients, and point out that regulations allow for packaging that might lead a consumer to believe that they are buying natural food, when, in reality, the food might be composed mostly of ingredients such as those listed above.[31][32] More expensive dog foods may be made of ingredients suitable for organic products or free range meats. Lamb meal is a popular ingredient. Ingredients must be listed by amount in descending order.

According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), animal by-products in pet food may include parts obtained from any animals which have died from sickness or disease provided they are rendered in accordance to law. As well, cow brains and spinal cords, not allowed for human consumption under federal regulation 21CFR589.2000 due to the possibility of transmission of BSE, are allowed to be included in pet food intended for non-ruminant animals.[33] In 2003, the AVMA speculated changes might be made to animal feed regulations to ban materials from "4-D" animals – those who enter the food chain as dead, dying, diseased or disabled.[34]

Dog treats are special types of dog food given as a reward, not as a staple food source.

Raw dog food[edit]

Supporters of raw feeding believe that the natural diet of an animal in the wild is its most ideal diet and try to mimic a similar diet for their domestic companion. They are commonly opposed to commercial pet foods, which they consider poor substitutes for raw feed. Opponents believe that the risk of food-borne illnesses posed by the handling and feeding of raw meats would outweigh the purported benefits and that no scientific studies have been done to support the numerous beneficial claims. The Food and Drug Administration of the United States states that they do not advocate a raw diet but recommends owners who insist on feeding raw to follow basic hygienic guidelines for handling raw meat to minimize risk to animal and human health.[35]

Many commercial raw pet food manufacturers now utilize a process called High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) that is a unique process that kills pathogenic bacteria through high-pressure, water-based technology. High Pressure Pasteurization is a USDA-approved, and is allowed for use on organic and natural products.

Commercial frozen raw dog food is distributed by various independent pet specialty retailers.

Raw foods produced for dogs and sold in pet stores are commercially safer than raw meats purchased in grocery stores.[citation needed] The acceptable level of bacteria in meats sold at grocery stores is relatively high because it is meant to be cooked. The acceptable level of bacteria in produced raw foods for dogs is relatively low because it is meant to be fed raw.[citation needed]


In the United States, dog foods labeled as "complete and balanced" must meet standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) either by meeting a nutrient profile or by passing a feeding trial. The Dog Food Nutrient Profiles were last updated in 1995 by the AAFCO's Canine Nutrition Expert Subcommittee. The updated profiles replaced the previous recommendations set by the National Research Council (NRC).[citation needed]

Critics argue that due to the limitations of the trial and the gaps in knowledge within animal nutrition science, the term "complete and balanced" is inaccurate and even deceptive. An AAFCO panel expert has stated that "although the AAFCO profiles are better than nothing, they provide false securities."[36]

Certain manufacturers label their products with terms such as premium, ultra premium, natural and holistic. Such terms currently have no legal definitions. There are also varieties of dog food labeled as "human-grade food". Although no official definition of this term exists, the assumption is that other brands use foods that would not pass US Food and Drug Administration inspection according to the Pure Food and Drug Act or the Meat Inspection Act.[citation needed]

The ingredients on the label must be listed in descending order by weight before cooking. This means before all of the moisture is removed from the meat, fruits, vegetables and other ingredients used.[citation needed]


Dog food at a supermarket in Brooklyn, New York.

The 2007 pet food recalls involved the massive recall of many brands of cat and dog foods beginning in March 2007. The recalls came in response to reports of renal failure in pets consuming mostly wet pet foods made with wheat gluten from a single Chinese company, beginning in February 2007. After more than three weeks of complaints from consumers, the recall began voluntarily with the Canadian company Menu Foods on March 16, 2007, when a company test showed sickness and death in some of the test animals.

Overall, several major companies have recalled more than 100 brands of pet foods, with most of the recalled product coming from Menu Foods. Although there are several theories of the source of the agent causing sickness in affected animals, with extensive government and private testing and forensic research, to date, no definitive cause has been isolated. As of April 10, the most likely cause, according to the FDA, though not yet proven, is indicated by the presence of melamine in wheat gluten in the affected foods.

In the United States, there has been extensive media coverage of the recall. There has been widespread public outrage and calls for government regulation of pet foods, which had previously been self-regulated by pet food manufacturers. The economic impact on the pet food market has been extensive, with Menu Foods losing roughly $30 Million alone from the recall. The events have caused distrust of most processed pet foods in some consumers.

In 1999, another fungal toxin triggered the recall of dry dog food made by Doane Pet Care at one of its plants, including Ol' Roy, Wal-Mart's brand, as well as 53 other brands. This time the toxin killed 25 dogs.[37]

A 2005 consumer alert was released for contaminated Diamond Pet Foods for dogs and cats. Over 100 canine deaths and at least one feline fatality have been linked to Diamond Pet Foods contaminated by the potentially deadly toxin, Aflatoxin, according to Cornell University veterinarians.[38]

In recent years, recalls of traditional and raw commercial pet foods have become frequent due to increased awareness and testing by the FDA. Every few months a new large scale recall is announced and a dynamic list of recall alerts is being continually updated by the FDA[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ward, Ernest (2010). Chow hounds: Why our dogs are getting fatter. Health Communications. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-7573-1366-0. 
  2. ^ Virgil, Bucolica, Georgica, et Aeneis: accedunt clavis metrica, notulae Anglicae, et ... 1829 book III, 404–406, with the note
  3. ^ Nouveau dictionnaire universel des arts et des sciencies: françois, latin et, edited by Fr Girard ((Viuda de))
  4. ^ Denis Diderot, Jean Le Rond d' Alembert, Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences ..., Volume 35, Part 1
  5. ^ Nicolas Jean Baptiste Boyard, Manuel du bouvier et zoophile: ou l'art d'élever de soigner les animaux 1844, 327
  6. ^ The Sportsman's Dictionary
  7. ^ "Greaves", Webster's 1913 dictionary
  8. ^ The complete farrier, and British sportsman, by Richard Lawrence, p. 429
  9. ^ Outing: sport, adventure, travel, fiction, Volume 15, January 1890, p. 42
  10. ^ "History of Pet Food". Retrieved 2011-09-10. 
  11. ^ Sources vary on which of these are considered the most significant toxic item.
  12. ^ "Toxic Foods and Plants for Dogs". Retrieved 2010-06-24. 
  13. ^ Drs. Foster & Smith. "Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Dog". Retrieved 2010-06-24. 
  14. ^ Brevitz, B. Hound Health Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Keeping your Dog Happy. p. 404. 
  15. ^ "Pet Food Ingredient Glossary". Retrieved 2013-04-17. 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Food Allergies and Food Intolerance". Retrieved 2013-04-17. 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ "Dog Food Reviews: Dog Food's Finest Hour". 
  22. ^ Messonnier, S. (2001) Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-7615-2673-0
  23. ^ "Wheat Gluten". 
  24. ^ "Natural Sales Rising". 
  25. ^ "Dutch brewers launch dogs' beer". BBC News. 2007-01-22. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  26. ^ "Pg 18 April Issue 08, "A Fresh Idea"". 
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Making Homemade dog food recipes". 
  29. ^
  30. ^ Dog Food Project: Ingredients to Avoid
  31. ^ The Pet Food Ingredient Game
  32. ^ An excerpt from the book "Food Pets Die For"
  33. ^ the Association of American Feed Control Officials
  34. ^ Canada Wraps Up BSE Investigation
  35. ^ "FDA, "FDA TIPS for Preventing Foodborne Illness Associated with Pet Food and Pet Treats"". Food and Drug Administration. 
  36. ^ "Alternative Feeding Practices". World Small Animal Veterinary Association. 2001. Retrieved 2008-02-24. 
  37. ^ "Animal Protection Institute (API)". 
  38. ^ "The Cornell Vet College". 
  39. ^

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