How Did Dry Dog Food Become ‘Normal’

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Dry brown kibbled dog food is the norm in the UK. It is artificial nutrition, but most dog owners feed it. Combining large quantities of grain or non-grain carbohydrate with meat-meal, fats, minerals and vitamins, kibble is processed industrially at high temperature and pressure.

How could this synthetic ‘stuff’ be accepted by vets, scientists and dog owners all around the world?  Leading human nutritionists for years have said the opposite. They teach that, to be healthy, people must eat less processed food, should avoid unnatural fats and minimise carbs. 

In this blog, we’re going to find out how this crazy situation came to be. 

History

During the Second World War, meat and metals in the USA became rationed; bad news if you’re a dog food manufacturer relying on both these commodities for your product. 

Before the war, they made fortunes from canning cheap meat and selling it to dog owners. It was a boom time in the States, and homes were sprouting up everywhere. Families with disposable income often want a dog. Tinned meat companies like Ken-L Ration, made of horse meat, or Dr Ross’ Dog and Cat food, which, at one time contained sea lion meat and blubber, delivered the goods to the unfortunate, but well-loved family mutts. Until the war. 

In the ’50s Ralston Purina owned a machine that could turn corn, rice and wheat into fluffy baked biscuits through a process called extrusion. They had the genius idea that they could add super-cheap meat-meal powder before extrusion and market the product as a brand new product: dry dog food, thereby getting around the scarcity of metal and meat and making impressive profits into the bargain. They marketed the new food heavily, and it took off in the USA. 

In the 1980s kibble manufacturers, Hill’s Pet Food lead the charge into Europe. They advertised strongly, marketed heavily to vets and were even allowed to teach nutrition to vet students in the UK. They and the other big pet food corporations have been doing so ever since. 

You will notice that the health of dogs is not a priority in this history of kibble. I think it is considered by manufacturers and consumers of secondary consideration relative to the other benefits of feeding kibbled food to dogs. 

The UK Dog Food Market in 2020

The most recent figures, from the UK’s Pet Food Manufacturers Association 2019 Annual Report, suggest there are nine million dogs in the UK. The pet food market is worth £2.9 billion, of which £1.4 is dog food. I estimate that approximately 80% of those nine million dogs, that’s 7.2 million dogs, eat some or all dry kibble daily in the UK. 

I think people feed these brown, dry, ultra-processed biscuits for several reasons. Chief amongst them is the price. Kibble is relatively cheap to mass-produce. The quality of the ingredients, especially at the lower end of the market, is poor, but because most kibbles look identical, the consumer can’t tell. So when given a choice between a £15 bag of kibble for the dog for a month and an £80 bag, guess which one most people opt for? The manufacture of most kibble in the UK is in just two factories: GA Pet Food Partners near Preston and Inspired Pet Nutrition down the road in Thirsk. 

Convenience is, for me, the second important factor when people choose a dog food. Kibble is fantastic because you can pick up an enormous bag at the vet or the supermarket and that’s the dog fed for four weeks. It’s light, easy to transport, and can sit in your larder until you get to the bottom of the bag. Feeding is simply digging a cup into the bag each day and pouring the pellets into the dog bowl. Genius product formulation. 

The only problem (as anyone who’s changed from kibble onto a quality raw diet, will tell you) is that kibble does not, in most cases, provide optimal health. We know this because dogs going on to raw invariably see improvements in wellness parameters like appetite, energy, dental and coat health, digestion and stool quality. 

I did a study of 79 raw feeding vets from all around the world a few years ago. Between them, they had over 1,000 years of experience feeding raw food to cats and dogs. Their impression was that about 85% of sick dogs improve in health when putting them on raw. That’s amazing, but what’s more impressive is they gave the same figure, 85% when asked the same question of supposedly ‘healthy’ dogs when they are moved on to raw. 

Raw food, who’s popularity now, at 10-20% of dogs in the UK having some or all raw food in their diet, is mainly due to word-of-mouth. Kibble makes up the majority of the rest of the sector, but this is solely due to price, convenience, as we’ve discussed, but in addition, a vast amount of marketing. 

Yes, raw food manufacturers do advertise, but their efforts dwindle to nothing in comparison with the marketing budgets of the Mars (Royal Canin, Pedigree and James Wellbeloved), Colgate Palmolive (Hill’s Science Plan, Hill’s Prescription Diets) and Nestle (Bakers, Proplan Purina, Winalot). These three titans spend vast amounts on marketing because they make billions of pounds in profit from the pet food market. 

The Future

It is surprising that raw feeding has become as big as it has; a real David and Goliath confrontation with the corporations if ever there was one. Growth in raw food is awe-inspiring, with most companies increasing at the moment by 10-20% every year, with no sign of this meteoric rise stopping any time soon. 

Raw food is here to stay. It’s not a fad. Ordinary people drive this nutrition revolution after seeing health improvements in their dogs within days of switching over. I hope responsible raw feeding continues to grow. I’d love to see almost all the dogs in the UK on raw, or at least turn round the pet food sector tables, with raw topping at 80% of the market instead of dry kibble in the future. 

Wouldn’t it be great if raw food feeding for dogs became the new norm? 

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