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Cat Food: Then and Now
By Jennifer Viegas
Domesticated cats have been with us since at least predynastic Egyptian times -- about 6,000 years ago -- but commercial cat food dates back fewer than 200 years. So what were cat owners feeding their pets way back when? How did packaged cat food emerge and evolve?
James Spratt’s Mid-1800s Breakthrough
Spratt compressed beet root, various other vegetables, meat and wheat into cakes, baked them, and the first manufactured pet food was born. He called it a “Meat Fibrine Dog Cake” and cleverly printed ads on the opposite side of dog show flyers, which he printed and controlled with business partner Charles Cruft, founder of Crufts dog shows.
Cat aficionados soon latched on and bought the cakes too. At this time, small-business owners -- often working through farm animal feed operations or veterinary offices -- started selling their own pet food products to locals. Horsemeat was a popular ingredient in early cat foods, since horses were plentiful then.
Regulated Products and the Birth of AAFCO
1950s Machinery Breakthrough
During the early- to mid-20th century, new influential entrepreneurs associated with companies like Purina, Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Iams forged new commercial ground. Paul Iams, for example, “worked as a dog food salesman during the Depression,” according to Jennifer Bayot of The New York Times. “Not even severe economic hardship, he learned, could deter pet owners from paying the price to feed their companions.” Iams created some of the first meat-based, high-protein foods for pets, putting the emphasis on quality and good health. At the same time, interest in pets began to skyrocket. “Cat food sales in 1958 were 52 million,” says Gallagher. “In 2010, they were about 6.5 billion.”
Continued Emphasis on Quality and Growth
Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.
Cat researchers, breeders and others have replaced the old term "alley cat" with this phrase: