Human beings have held pets for thousands of years. In our time, the most common reaction to seeing our pets hungry is to reach for a bag or can of pet food we bought in the local store or supermarket.
However, for the vast majority of our history, the animals made do with eating scraps of our food, or hunting or foraging their own. The concept of dedicated, commercial pet food is a much more recent invention. In fact, it began to develop around 200 years ago, and was popularized around 1860.
While dog biscuits had existed as far back as the 1790s, the first man to successfully market commercially made dog biscuits to a broader public was James Spratt, an electrician and entrepreneur from Ohio.
Spratt allegedly got the idea while watching stray dogs eating discarded pieces of ship’s biscuits (hardtack) at a shipyard in London, which he was visiting on a business trip. He launched his “Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes”, hard-baked biscuits composed of meat, grains, beetroot, and vegetables, on the British market.
He initially manufactured them in London before moving his operation to the United States in the 1870s. Interestingly, dog biscuits were originally intended only for the sporting dogs of country gentlemen, but soon spread out to dog owners of all social strata and became a worldwide hit.
His success stemmed from his skillful use of advertising, marketing, branding, and promotions (colored billboards, dog shows, various pets’ accessories, publishing informational booklets on the biscuits’ production process, etc.).
Dog biscuits remained the only commercially available pet food until around 1900, when canned dog food began to appear. While cat food became available in the 1870s, it remained quite rare before the 1920s. Kibble was introduced only after World War II.