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Dogs and cats were once fed on vermin and table scraps, but their human counterparts soon discovered that rats and stale bread were just not enough for their beloved friends. They learned that their pets looked and acted healthier if they were well-fed. It has been documented as early as the 1700s, that humans have been making food by hand specifically for a household’s dogs and cats.

At first, pet owners were mixing their own formulas mostly comprised of small chunks of meat and animal organs. People would also try adding cereal grains, milk, cheese, and animal fat to these food formulas. Back then there were no real standards on what made a good pet food, so many of them were not particularly nutritious. However, these early pet food pioneers should be applauded for having the foresight to realize that if they wanted their pet to live longer, richer lives, they needed to feed them well.

Vintage Pet Food Ad
Vintage Pet Food Ad

Homemade pet food was the standard until the late 1800s, when a commercial company created and sold pet food for the first time. These foods were  available in both kibble or biscuit form. James Spratt an American man living in London, created the “Meat Fibrine Dog Cake” after watching dogs steal hardtack biscuits off ships that were docked in Liverpool. By the late 1880s, Spratt moved to the US and started large-scale dog food production, targeting health-conscious pet owners.

At that time, there were no regulatory standards for the nutritional content of a pet food, and there was no way to tell whether or not a food was nutritionally complete. In 1909, the Association of American Feed Control Officials was created to help set standards for pet foods. Their purpose was to ensure that ingredients in pet foods were nutritionally beneficial. To this day, AAFCO makes recommendations to feed-making companies and educates owners on how to keep their pets healthy through proper nutrition.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that the world was introduced to canned cat and dog foods (which was often just canned horsemeat!). As the decades progressed, the pet food industry started to grow and change. More and more cat and dog food brands emerged, each formulated to serve different nutritional needs. The new formulas aimed at making pets live longer, healthier lives.

With less than 60 years of kibbles and cans, the pet food industry is still a relatively young one. As knowledge about the nutritional requirements of our pets continues to grow, more and more pet foods emerge on the market. While this is great for Fido and Fluffy, it can also lead to a lot of frustration and confusion for pet parents.

Choosing a pet food doesn’t have to be daunting. You just have to know what to look for. This ebook will serve as a guide to help you make sense of what’s out there, as well as tend to your pet’s specific needs.

As humans, we have resources such as the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy & Promotion, and the Food Pyramid to help us learn about the ingredients, quality, and nutritional value of our food. There are programs, doctors, and personal trainers that  are available to tailor our diets to our individual needs. We know that balanced diets that are rich in proteins, grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats are the best ways to help fuel our bodies.

Our pets rely on us to provide them with that same information and regulation. While your dog would love to have the freedom of a weekly trip to the grocery store to choose his or her own food, our pets need us to make their nutritional decisions for them.

For humans, we know that fast foods, such as those that are fried, high in sugar and fat, and which contain many calories, are delicious, cheap, and easy, but not good for you. Similarly, many commercially-available pet food formulas do not contain the proper ingredients to keep your pet healthy.

Low-quality pet foods, like many human junk foods, often contain unexpected and potentially harmful ingredients (which you will learn more about in the next chapter). In fact, many of the big name dog and cat food brands, whose logos have become synonymous with the pet food industry, are actually far less than ideal diets for your pet. For these foods to be mass produced quickly, easily, and inexpensively, they often contain fillers and preservatives that don’t provide nutritional benefits for your pet. Low-quality foods often contain ingredients that your pet would never choose to eat in the wild, masked by flavorings that your pet is drawn to.

Many popular pet foods have labels that can be misleading. A food that has a healthy dog surrounded by vegetables on the front of the package might not actually contain any vegetables. Foods that show photos of delicious-looking steaks might not contain any real beef. The company may be able to afford a celebrity spokesperson to do convincing commercials or sponsor studies by independent labs that show that their food is the best available. However, being flashy does not mean the food is nutritionally sound.

As discussed later in this pet nutrition course, the term “holistic,” can be found in the descriptions of a lot of different pet foods, but does not mean that it is defined by higher standards or monitored by a government health agency. Pet food manufacturers are at liberty to call their food holistic, with no regard to the food’s ingredients or formulation. For pet owners, this can be dangerous. You can easily glance at a pet food bag on the shelf and see that it is called “holistic,” and assume that you are making a healthy, smart choice for your dog or cat. However, since there are no rules regarding the use of that word, you have to do your due diligence and inspect the food labels further.

Some commercial pet food companies also participate in advertising programs with veterinarians. This means that the vet gets paid by the pet food company to push their food out to their patients. While your vet should always have your animal’s best interest in mind, this usually means that they will recommend their sponsor’s food rather than other brands, which might have more nutritional value.

In the past few years, some very popular pet food brands have been subject to massive recalls. It should be said that all sorts of foods (for pets and humans alike) are recalled throughout the year for various different reasons. In 2007, there was a huge, multi-brand recall that affected thousands of animals. Pets across the country began suffering from renal failure at above-normal rates, which prompted investigations into what could be causing the issue. The Food & Drug Administration as well as the Centers for Disease Control were able to conclude that the issues were all occurring in pets who had eaten foods with vegetable proteins that were sourced from China. It was found that those vegetable proteins, which were sold to dozens of pet food manufacturers in the US, contained a substance called melamine. Melamine is a chemical which is used to create plastics, insulation, cement, flooring, and fertilizer. The Chinese companies added melamine intentionally to give their products a higher protein content. Charges were filed against them for passing off the melamine-tainted ingredients as wheat gluten.

Some pet owners use the 2007 pet food recalls, and other recalls of popular brand foods, as substantiation for their choices to pursue other methods of feeding their pets, such as natural, organic, raw, and homemade foods. These recalls certainly opened the eyes of pet owners as to the content and nutritional value of the food they feed their dogs and cats.

While some dogs and cats might do fine on a lower-quality, commercially-available food, there is a growing population of pet owners who disapprove of anything sold in the grocery store. Pet owners are opting for higher-quality diets, despite the fact that they may be less convenient to purchase. They are turning to specialty stores and websites, and even making their own pet food.  On the whole, pet owners are becoming more educated and aware than ever before.

I hope you now understand the importance of pet Nutrition because tomorrow we get into the nitty gritty with Shocking Facts About Many Commerical Pets foods that you may not have been aware of! Shocking, isn’t it? Well, probably not as shocking as some of the harmful ingredients that can be found in many popular pet food brands today…but that is for tomorrow’s lesson 🙂

See you tomorrow!