Dog diets through the ages

  • Animals
  • Sunday, 28 Aug 2022


Dogs have lived with us for at least 16,000 years and possibly as long as 30,000 years, but commercial dog food is fairly new.

Ancient paintings, books, and other historical artefacts show that dogs lived in the homes of ordinary farmers, hunters, and families as well as aristocrats and royalty.

The Korean painter Yi Am showcased a sleek-looking dog with an expensive collar lounging with her well-fed pups in 1499. In Europe, the 1412 book Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry shows the duke and his mates feasting at the table while the Greyhounds are given their meat on the floor by uniformed servants.

Although there are few detailed discussions on exactly what these ancient dogs ate, one thing is for certain: When the Chinese emperors took in Pekingese sleeve dogs around 700AD, it is unlikely these royals feasted on delicacies without sharing with their pets. It is not possible to resist those big begging eyes.

Thankfully, many people kept detailed diaries and household accounts that are revealing. In both East and West, countryside-based families lived on farms or had estates served by farms. Those based in cities had to buy meat. This was usually cheap: Horse and donkey rather than sheep and beef.

The first commercial dog foods appeared in the 19th century. With modern manufacturing starting up, several enterprising souls began drying, canning and processing food on a large scale. There are some accounts of early biscuits, dried goods made for those travelling at sea, being sold off to pet owners.

English entrepreneur James Spratt is credited with the first commercially prepared pet food, a "biscuit" made of wheat flour mixed with vegetables, coloured with beetroot and given a meaty hint by the addition of beef blood in 1860.

Given the ingredients, Spratt’s biscuits were probably not the best source of food. In fact, cooking for dogs is a very difficult business.

Many of the foods humans eat are poisonous to dogs (chocolate, grapes and sweeteners like Xylitol found in peanut butter, and more). Also, a diet that works for humans typically doesn’t work too well for dogs. We are, after all, different species.

Today, there are thousands of commercial dog food brands. Some are formulated in line with scientific findings, some not. Always read the label, and talk to your vet if you’re unsure.

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Pets , dogs , dog food


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