How Dry Kibble Made its Way Into Every Household in America

Dry kibble has gotten a bad rap in recent years due to fda recalled dog food and diet-related dog dcm. The truth is that safe dog food has not always been the standard, and unfortunately we’ve seen the consequences that can accompany an industry’s laissez faire approach to the companies we entrust to feed the dog in our homes. In recent years we’ve become much more conscious about choosing healthy pet foods. Luckily, there are also organizations and guidelines such as AAFCO that have led to the improvement of kibble for dogs over the years. But before we dive into any of that, let’s talk about the evolution between the human-dog bond, the humble beginnings of the pet food industry, and how dry kibble made its way into every household in America before landing in the doghouse.

Before the days of dry kibble

It’s important to note that before the manufacturing of kibble for dogs, pets weren’t as common in our homes because extra food to feed the dog wasn’t typical. “For a majority of their existence, dogs were bred to be faster, stronger, more obedient and docile, better workers, better smellers, etc. Only over the last two centuries has it become acceptable for dogs to be welcomed into our homes as pets and companions” (Pets on Broadway). The relationship we have with our pets in the 21st century have come a long way since then. We may not think about it often, because pet parenthood is on the rise and showing our dog affection every few minutes is normal behavior. But when we look at the history, it’s clear that dogs haven’t always been our cuddly companions. Before dogs slept in our beds with us, they had a longstanding history of being bred for hunting and sport.

The history of commercial pet food

Although pets are now an integral part of our family, the industry wasn’t created out of quite that same love. In the 1860’s Electrician and Salesman James Spratt arrived on a ship in England to find dogs chowing down on leftover hardtack- a non-perishable cracker made of flour, wheat and salt for long journeys, like sailors at sea or military operations. Being the opportunistic businessman he was, James Spratt seized the opportunity and quickly created what led to the beginning of the pet industry.

The first biscuit formula consisted of wheat meals, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood. Spratt sold the biscuits to English country gentlemen who needed food for their sporting dogs. Production began in the United States by a British company by 1890. While James Spratt is not the inventor of dog food or dry kibble, he was the first to manufacture food at a large scale specifically for dogs. We’ll admit that the journey to healthy pet foods has not been the most wholesome or ethical. But it has served a greater purpose of making pet ownership and parenthood accessible. At a time when most dogs had a working role to fill, commercially-manufactured dog biscuits certainly aided the transition between working dogs and companion dogs for the general population. At this time, dogs were not companion animals, at least not for everyday people. Pets were more of a status symbol than a household pet during this era.

Dry kibble meets a new market demand

Over the next hundred years after that first biscuit was manufactured, dog food took many turns & multiple forms. The first kibble was created in 1956 leading to the rise of the Pet Food Institute and the Pet Food Manufacturers Association in 1964 and the mid 70s. These organizations are what really changed the game, making dry kibble an everyday must for anyone with a pet at home. These organizations used uncapped budgets to drive initiatives that marketed prepared food and were extremely successful in creating the narrative that processed dog food was the golden standard. Similar to the way the formula industry crushed any opposing breastfeeding groups at the time, it was implied that any other feeding options were sub-par to dry kibble.

“However, this change was not negative overall. These ‘governing bodies’ and others which are similar helped to dramatically improve the quality of the processed food and without their research dog food would not be where it is today. It may have started off as a way to cheaply feed dogs without a thought about the nutritional content but today the dog food standards are far and away better than 50 years ago” (Sprankle, 2020).

Dry kibble goes from household staple to the doghouse

Due to the undeniable history of fillers & fake ingredients that have been disguised as dog food over the years, many pet parents are left with the question: is kibble bad for dogs? We had some first-hand experience with unethical feeding companies before Bundle x Joy was dreamt up, which is why we’re SUPER passionate about doing the right thing around here. Unethical practices are what led to recalled dog food in 2007, and thankfully meant new industry regulations ensuring healthy pet foods. The fda recalled dog food catastrophe was a huge wake up call to everyone who either had pets or worked with them. While we could never support mishaps like the ones that led to diet-related dog dcm, we are grateful for the ways the industry has made strides to improve, and the steps taken to ensure our pets are getting safe dog food. Without the whistleblowing and media coverage that ensued during the crisis, pet food manufacturers would still be able to operate “under the radar” without the transparency that we now rely on.

Dry kibble became a household staple for pet parents due to massive advertising efforts in the 1900s, but it remains the go-to now because our lives are moving at a much quicker pace than 150 years ago, when dry food for dogs was first introduced. We need ready-made food now more than ever, which has given rise to many new doggy diets in the 21st century, like fresh, raw, frozen, and freeze-dried dog food. While some pet parents found these specialized diets a better fit for their lifestyle, many actually made the switch back to kibble after the novelty of the newest feeding trend wore off. We knew that as a company built on healthy pet foods and dedicated to building community among pet parents, it was necessary to offer a dry kibble option that’s both nutritious for dogs and accessible for pet parents. In our next post, we’ll discuss why pet parents still dig dry kibble despite its downfalls, and how it’s making a comeback with the pups who’ve switched.