The Evolving History of Pets and Their Diets

Humans and animals have a long history together and, as a result, records show an evolving interest in their nutritional needs. Early dogs and cats were wild animals. Once domesticated, they guarded humans and livestock, were used to catch vermin and as hunting dogs and, of course, are pets that are part of the family. As our relationship with animals has changed, so have the diets which provide for their nutrition. Explore a timeline of some of the major changes throughout history:

  • 33,000-16,000 BCE: Research indicates that dogs kept company with humans and were domesticated, depending on animal migratory patterns and location of the humans.
  • 5000 BCE: Dogs genetically evolved to become more adept at digesting starch (as did humans). This indicates they adapted to farming, were able to live in proximity to human populations, and were eating leftovers of human food.
  • 2000 BCE: Documentation exists that humans gave consideration to what to feed their dogs. The Roman farming manual “Farm Topics,” by Marcus Terentius Varro, provided recipes for dogs.
  • Approximately 1860 CE: During the middle ages and into the mid-19th century, little consideration was given to the nutritional needs and diets of pets living in common households. However, the Industrial Revolution introduced a new middle class with disposable income that was able to keep domesticated dogs and cats as companion animals. Around 1860, businessman James Spratt sold the first commercially-prepared pet food to meet a new market demand.
  • 1917 CE: The Association of Feed Control Officials (now AAFCO) includes draft regulatory language for pet food that can be enacted at the state level.
  • 1969 CE: AAFCO establishes a definition for “complete and balanced” pet food.
  • Mid-1980’s: The U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council publishes nutritional requirements for dogs and cats. Updated nutritional profiles are released in 2006.

History shows that as animals became pets and a part of our families, the investment in and understanding of their nutrition improved. To learn more about the history of pet food and nutrition, visit our web page for a more complete summary.

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