Dog food

For human consumption of canines, see Dog meat. For internal use of a company's own products, see Eating your own dog food. For the EP by Mondo Generator, see Dog Food (EP).
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 carnivores, 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 $8.6 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.


Dog food in bowl

In 37 BCE Virgil talks about the feeding of dogs in his Bucolics:

Nec tibi cura canum fuerit postrema; sed una Veloces Spartae catulos, acremque Molossum, Pasce sero pingui:[2]

"Do not let the care of dogs be last; but the swift Spartan hounds, and fierce Mastiff, Feed the whey"

Around 70 CE, Columella wrote his book On Agriculture in which he addresses the feeding of dogs:

Cibaria fere eadem sunt utrique generi praebenda. Nam si tam laxa rura sunt, ut sustineant pecorum greges, omnis sine discrimine hordeacea farina cum sero commode pascit. Sin autem surculo consitus ager sine pascuo est, farreo vel triticeo pane satiandi sunt, admixto tamen liquore coctae fabae, sed tepido, nam fervens rabiem creat. [3]

"Provisions of victuals are almost the same for both [types of dog]. If the fields are so large as to sustain herds of animals, barley meal mixed with whey is a convenient food. But if it is an orchard without grain, spelt or wheat bread is fed mixed with the liquid from cooked beans, but warm, for boiling creates rabies."

In the Avesta, written from 224 to 651 CE, Azura Mazda advises:

Bring ye unto him milk and fat with meat; this is the right food for the dog.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

In 1844, the French writer, Nicolas Boyard, warned against even giving tallow graves (the dregs of the tallow pot) 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.[7]

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.[8]

(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'."[9])

In 1833, The Complete Farrier gave similar but far more extensive advice on feeding dogs:[10]

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,[11] but of the former he requires a greater portion, and this portion should be always determined by his bodily exertions.

It was not 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.[12]

Canned horse meat was introduced in the United States under the Ken-L Ration brand after World War I 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 World War II 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.[13]

Foods dangerous to dogs

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[14]), grapes and raisins (cause kidney failure in dogs), milk (lactose intolerance, causes diarrhea in dogs), nutmeg (neurotoxic to dogs),[15] macadamia nuts, as well as various plants and other potentially ingested materials.[16][17]

Food allergies in dogs

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,[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

Diets for those dogs allergic to food are made from limited ingredients or hypoallergenic recipes.[21] Limited ingredients make it easier to identify the suspected allergens. In hypoallergenic recipes, manufacturers use those ingredients which are less likely to cause alleries to the dogs such as chicken, lamb, fish, and corn. Food allergies account for about 10% of all the allergies seen in dogs, being the 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.[22]

Grain free/low carbohydrate

Some dog food products differentiate themselves as grain- or carbohydrate-free to offer the consumer an alternative, claiming carbohydrates in pet foods to be fillers with little or no nutritional value. Carbohydrates in dog food contribute to approximately 3.5 cals of energy per gram, the same as protein per the modified Atwater method of calculating metabolizable energy.[23] The grain-free diets have created a trend toward avoiding commercial pet food. However, a recent study published in Nature suggests that domestic dogs are able to metabolize carbohydrates.[24]

Contamination issues


Main article: 2007 pet food recalls

In 2007, following a series of reports of renal failure in pets, there was a widespread recall of pet foods due to contamination found in ingredients produced in China. The contaminant was identified as melamine[25][26][27][28][29] which had been added as an adulterant to simulate a higher protein content.

Salmonella and other concerns

Recently, the FDA has released a video focusing on another major threat in commercial pet food: Salmonella bacterial contamination. They also cite other major toxins of concern.[30] The video references the case of a specific commercial pet food plant that was also the subject of a March 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. It details how at least 53 known human illnesses were linked to commercial pet foods made at that plant in 2012.[31] A class action lawsuit linked to this outbreak was recently settled.[32]

The video also cites the dangers of over supplementation of nutrients in pet food. A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in February 2013 suggested a correlation between liver disease and the amount of copper supplementation in AAFCO diets.[33]

In addition "taurine deficiency" has been found in dogs[34][35] and cats[36] fed commercial diets intended to be "complete and balanced". Not usually considered an essential nutrient in dogs, taurine is plentiful in most whole meats whether raw or cooked,[37] but is reduced in extruded diets. Cats require more taurine in their diets due to their increased rate of protein metabolism; taurine is usually synthesized in the body from methionine and cysteine, but cats' increased use of these amino acids in normal bodily functions mean that taurine itself must also be provided in the diet.

The above observations could also be explained by the rendered, highly processed source of meat being less rich in taurine and by the fact that some of the taurine is denatured during extrusion. Cats are obligate carnivores[38] and their natural diet would consist of high amounts of whole meat - thus what has been termed "taurine deficiency" causing dilated cardiomyopathy in cats, is more likely to be a deficiency in the production of commercial feed diets. Taurine is now artificially supplemented back into the diet after processing in the production of most commercial pet food. A similar dynamic occurred in the first half of the twentieth century with an epidemic of Pellagra[39] in humans living in the Southern United States. The cause was determined to be a deficiency of the essential vitamin niacin (B3), which was being destroyed in the mass processing of corn. Niacin was supplemented back into Southern diets and the disease was eradicated.


In April 2014, aflatoxin B1, a known carcinogenic toxin, melamine, and cyanuric acid were all found in various brands of USA pet food imported into Hong Kong. Since 1993, the FDA has confirmed concerns of toxins in feed grade (animal grade) ingredients, yet to date no comprehensive federal regulation exists on mycotoxin testing in feed grade (animal grade) ingredients used to make pet food.[40]

In 1997, the journal of Food Additives and Contaminants established that low levels of various mycotoxins could cause health concerns in pets, and was found in feed grade ingredients.[41]

A study published in the Journal of Food Protection in 2001 cited concerns regarding fungi (the source of mycotoxins) in commercial pet foods and warned about the "risk for animal health".[42]

In 2006, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry confirmed mycotoxins in pet foods around the world and concluded that contamination of mycotoxins in pet foods can lead to chronic effects on the health of pets.[43]

In 2007, the International Journal of Food Microbiology published a study that claimed "mycotoxin contamination in pet food poses a serious health threat to pets", and listed them: aflatoxins, ochratoxins, trichothecenes, zearalenone, fumonisins and fusaric acid.[44]

A 2008 study published in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition found high levels of mycotoxins in the raw ingredients used for pet food in Brazil.[45]

A 2010 study in the journal of Mycotoxin Research tested 26 commercial dog foods and found mycotoxins at concerning sub-lethal levels. It was determined that long-term exposure to low levels of confirmed mycotoxins could pose chronic health risks.[46]

A 2012 study published in the journal of Toxins found concerning levels of multiple mycotoxins in pet food in Europe, which has some of the strictest guidelines.[47]

For all the above reasons, a current trend away from feed ingredients, and toward USDA certified ingredients fit for human consumption has developed.[48]

Commercial dog food

A cup of kibbles.

Most store-bought dog food is made with feed grade (animal grade) ingredients and 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.[49]

Wet dog food

Wet or canned dog food is significantly higher in moisture than dry or semi-moist food.[50] 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.

Alternative dog food

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. Some popular alternative dog food labels are:


Many commercial dog foods are made from materials considered by some authorities and dog owners to be unusable or undesirable.[55] 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.[56][57] 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.[58] 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.[59]

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

One emerging differentiation between pet food qualities in the United States is the use of standard feed grade (animal grade) ingredients versus the use of USDA-inspected, approved, and certified ingredients fit for human consumption.[60][61] The USDA certification and approval process is among the best quality control programs in food production in the world.[62] The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently commented that the ingredients defined as feed in pet food (feed grade or animal grade) are not classified as generally recognized as safe (GRAS).[63] Examples of potential toxins include melamine, Salmonella, and mycotoxins. Only the language "USDA certified" or "USDA approved" is legally meaningful. Some companies will say "Made with ingredients from a USDA facility", or "USA Meat", which is misleading as it can include dead or dying animals or carcasses rejected from the human food chain and is not the same as USDA inspected, approved, or certified, which are FDA approved for human consumption.[64]


Dry dog food (kibbles) is most often packed in multi-wall paper bags, sometimes with a plastic film layer; similar bag styles with film laminates or coextrusions are also used. Wet dog food is often packed in aluminum cans or steel cans. Packaging regulations for dog food are often very similar to corresponding regulations for human foods.

Raw dog food

Main article: Raw feeding

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.[65]

Many commercial raw pet food manufacturers now utilize a process called High Pressure Pascalization (HPP) that is a unique process that kills pathogenic bacteria through high-pressure, water-based technology. High Pressure Pascalization 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.


In the United States, dog foods labelled 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.

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."[66]

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.

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.


Main article: 2007 pet food recalls
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.[67] 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.[68]

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.[69]

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[70]

See also


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