The History of Dog Food: The Roaring 20’s and the Depressing 30’s

From 1860 to the early 1920’s commercial dog food consisted of James Spratt first dog cake and the later copy “Milk Bone.” Although popular among rich dog owners the brands had their problems. The packaging technology at the time did not protect against mold and rancidity. The 1920’s ushered in a period of change for commercial dog food.

Although commercial dog food was popular among rich dog owners the brands had their problems.

The Roaring 20’s

The expansion of wealth during the 1920’s increased interest in commercial dog food, especially among the new rich.

In 1922, Illinois horse dealers P.M. Chappel and Brothers introduced canned dog food. Horsemeat was the primary ingredient and the Chappel brothers directly peddled the product as a better alternative to dry biscuits. The brand Ken-L-Ration was born. Sales boomed but, Chicago high society was put off by the use of horses to feed dogs. Eventually, the Chappel brothers abandoned plans to raise horses for slaughter and developed a dehydrated dry food. The Chappels’s were the first to suggest that a combination of wet and dry food was a better alternative than one or the other.

Ken-L-Ration was purchased by Quaker Oats. It became a major brand during and after WW II by aligning the name to war K-rations. The famous “my dog’s better than your dog ‘cause he eats Ken-L-Ration” was an advertising powerhouse. The brand was later sold to H.J Heinz and Del Monte. The brand is now remembered as only memorabilia sold on eBay.

In 1925, Clarence Gaines developed a dehydrated dog meal. Once reconstituted with water it was a “complete” food. Gaines developed the food to keep his show dogs from “eating me out of house and home and not doing good, either.” Gaines’ dry food revolutionized the dog food industry like Chappel’s did for canned. The brand was sold to General Mills in 1943. After the war, they were to go on to invent the semi-moist Gainsburger that was a popular dog food for years.

The increasing demand for commercial dog food led Connecticut veterinarian, Dr. Leon Whitney to introduce Bal-O-Ration in 1928. He was the first dog food manufacturer to insist that dog food needed to be scientifically balanced. His brand was eventually purchased by Quaker Oats.

The Great Depression

The stock market crash in 1929 destroyed much of America’s wealth. Unemployment rose to 25% and millions of families lived in poverty. Despite this economic decline, the commercial dog food industry flourished. Anybody could try to make a living by providing a factory with a label for a can and a bag for dry food. 12 pet food plants were cranking out 221 brands of canned food alone. The situation was similar with dry food. This established the now common concept of co-packaging. Few pet food brands today make their own pet food.

The fall in agricultural prices during the depression allowed these foods to be made rather cheaply. Meat-by-products, soybean meal, barley rice, bran green bone, vegetables and cod liver oil were readily available. Charcoal was often added to provide bulk. With so many brands competing for a limited market, economic statistics for the period are limited.

The scene was now set for the next phase of commercial pet food, the war and post-war years.

~Dr Ken Tudor


Homemade Dog Food Recipes and Supplements


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