The History of Dog Food: The Post War Boom

The explosive growth of commercial dog food after WWII coincides with the economic and demographic changes resulting from the war. These changes increased demand for dog food and Fido no longer had to settle for what was left from dinner.

 In the late 1950’s, the Ralston Purina discovered a method for making dry food. They invented the “extrusion process” where the heated liquid dog food ingredients could be super-heated and forced through an extruder.

Post War Economic Growth

The industrial and technical innovation that fueled our war effort could now be used for a peaceful economy and US infrastructure. This created a growing economy. The GI bill of rights provided educational opportunities for the mass of returning soldiers. This provided an educated labor force that added even more economic growth.

More disposable income allowed greater demand for fast food. Mom and pop hamburger stands like that owned by Richard and Maurice McDonald flourished after the war. Other small restaurants featuring other types of specialized food also prospered. The McDonald’s stand was soon purchased by Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonalds and ushered in the fast food nation. The other restaurants followed the same model.

During the war SPAM was the most common processed food available. 80% of its sales were to the military. Peace time did not diminish the desire of GI’s for processed food and their new wealth sparked a new demand. The processed food revolution had begun.

Post War Demographic Change

The GI bill also gave millions of ex-soldiers the ability to purchases their own homes. Thanks to advances in assembly lines for the war effort, automobiles became more affordable. This mobility allowed the purchase of homes further from larger cities. The move to the suburbs had begun. Larger supermarkets replaced the local corner grocery store that could not compete on price and varieties of processed and fresh foods. The suburban lifestyle demanded even more fast food.

The Growth of the Pet Food Industry

The economic growth and its explosive demand for food were beneficial to the pet food industry. Massive amounts of slaughterhouse, processed food plant and granary scraps were created. Pet food could be made from these inexpensive ingredients. General Mills, Nabisco, Ralston Purina and Quaker Oats, who prior to the war, had purchased the rights to the dog food brands of the early commercial dog food pioneers, were in a position to expand the brands. They now had plenty of cheap ingredients and a large demand from affluent dog owners.

Canned food and dehydrated dry foods became common in grocery stores and pet stores. In fact, a pet industry trade magazine reported that in 1959 2% of all purchased grocery volume was pet food and was nearly double the size for breakfast cereal or canned baby food.

Then in the late 1950’s, the Ralston Purina discovered a new method for making dry food. They invented the “extrusion process” where the heated liquid dog food ingredients could be super-heated and forced through an extruder. As the super-hot liquid leaves the end of the extruder the cool air causes it to “pop” into light, dry kibble bits. By changing the shape of the final opening of the extruder, the kibble could be popped into unlimited shapes and sizes. This technology revolutionized pet food.

The extruder process and the post war economic and demographic changes have forever changed how dogs are fed. There are now many hundreds of brands of dog food available. Two generations of Americans have been feeding commercial dog food without the knowledge that they were once fed only table scraps.

~ Dr Ken Tudor


Homemade Dog Food Recipes and Supplements



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