Yes, biscuits were technically the first dog food type product marketed. But, they weren't invented for dogs. They were invented to keep sailors long at sea from developing scurvy and nutritional deficiencies. Back in the day, before the invention of modern refrigeration, there wasn't a safe way to store foods without them spoiling quickly. Those sailors were at sea for long periods of time and needed to eat! So, in comes hardtack biscuits. These hard, dry biscuits were made of flour, water and salt, supplemented with meats, fats, vegetables, and oatmeal.
Eating those hardtack biscuits day and night drove those sailors crazy. They longed for fresh steak and potatoes. So by the time they got to port, you bet they threw those darned biscuits away. Stray dogs at the port would gobble those biscuits up. A starving stray dog is pretty opportunistic and here was free food!. A guy named Spratt created the bone shape and began his own business selling bone shaped hardtack biscuits to dog owners. This business became Milk Bone.
Before all of this, people would feed their dogs home cooked meals or scraps from their own suppers. I am sure a lot of dogs scavenged and hunted their own food as well. With the industrial revolution came big factories capable or manufacturing all sorts of things. Waste products that were not fit for human consumption (hooves, intestines, bones, etc.) could now be canned and sold as dog food. Canning was a cheap way to preserve the meat. Finding a buyer for these waste products (dog owners) meant easy money to the big food manufacturers.
Horses were another source of cheap meat. After World War I, there was little need for so many horses, so off to the slaughterhouses they went, to be canned and sold as dog food. By the time World War II came about, all things metal were needed for the war effort. That meant no more cans for dog food. In 1956, extrusion had been developed allowing the creation of kibble. Basically a recipe is mixed up, then forced through a die cut machine (perhaps in the shape of little bones or nuggets). After the kibble is cooked, it is sprayed with fats and oils to make it palatable. It was treated with preservatives and could be packaged in a box or bag.
That, in a nutshell, is how kibble came to be. Dog food has basically always been made out of waste products since the early hardtack biscuit days.
So why is it bad?
Well in order to answer this question, we need to look at what kibble really is. I don't mean take a handful and look at it. I mean, look at the ingredient list. I will post a common list of ingredients from a popular brand of dog food and break it down:
Whole grain corn, poultry by-product meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), meat and bone meal, brewers rice, soybean meal, whole grain wheat, egg and chicken flavor, animal digest, calcium phosphate, salt, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, choline chloride, added color (Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 2), zinc sulfate, Vitamin E supplement, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate, niacin, Vitamin A supplement, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, Vitamin B-12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, Vitamin D-3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.
When you look at the list of ingredients, they are in order of weight prior to cooking. So, theoretically, the first ingredients are heaviest meaning there is more of it. But, this is where dog food companies have tricks up their sleeves. I will get to that later.
The first ingredient in this food is whole grain corn. Do not let the words "whole grain" fool you. It is corn. corn is not the most digestible thing. Most if not all of that corn that your dog eats will likely be passed when he poops in the yard later. So, you are paying for more poop in your yard basically. where is the nutrition in that?
Second ingredient is poultry by-product meal. Let me set this straight in that I do not believe all byproducts are bad. By product is defined as a secondary product derived from the manufacturing process. In this case, it means necks, feet, intestines and other parts not used for human consumption. Necks and feet, which may sound gross, are not really too bad to feed a dog. However, if this is the ONLY source of meat your dog is getting, it is not enough. The meat is lower in quality and there is not enough substantial meat there. Also, because it does not name what of animal it comes from, it could be any kind of bird. Meal simply means it was turned into a dehydrated form of said product. Meals are powders and I do not think that meals are bad either, depending on what they are made from.
The third ingredient is corn gluten meal. Gluten is the protein (in this case from corn). It is a cheap way to boost the protein levels for dog food. Why are we feeding dogs ( a carnivore) a plant protein? It is not biologically right. Do we feed our cattle fish? I mean, fish is protein too? No of course not because cows are herbivores. They don't eat fish! So why are we feeding our dogs corn? Because it is cheap.
The next ingredient is a scary one. It says animal fat. Once you get to the fat source of any food, the previous ingredients make up the bulk of the food. Everything listed after the fat source is in much smaller quantities in the recipe. Dogs need fat so I am not put off by the fat. The word animal is the scary part. What animal do they mean? What a generic term. This could be anything. It could be from beef, chicken, raccoon, dog, mouse, horse, llama, whale, monkey, I mean, what exactly is it? It is legal for dog food companies to use diseased, decaying, infected meat from any animal they want to when they do not list specifically what animal they are talking about. There have been undercover videos of euthanized cats and dogs (with euthanasia serum still in the pets' veins and collars still attached) being ground up into meat meal. They pick them up from the freezers at the vet offices and turn them into pet food. If this isn't enough to turn you away from kibble, there is more.
Meat and Bone meal is next. It is basically the same as what I told you about animal fats, a questionable term for some unsavory truth.
Then we have brewers yeast (a waste product from human rice consumption with very little to no nutritional value but will help fill your yard with excessive dog poos), soybean meal (another by product made from grinding up the left over residue from soybean oil production which has no business being in dog food) and whole grain wheat (another grain? Really?)
This food is starting to sound like a great food....for chickens.
Then we come to the flavoring agents to this food. Egg and chicken flavor does not mean they use actual eggs or chickens. Artificial flavors are amazing in that they can create almost any flavor in the known world without using the actual thing they are trying to mimick the flavor of. Ever eat a strawberry flavored candy before? I got news for you. No strawberries were actually involved with that candy. And so it is with these flavors in dog foods.
Animal digest is basically making a giant vat of random meat from anywhere and everywhere (dead zoo animals? fresh roadkill? restaurant leftovers?) and cooking it down into a lovely mess, letting chemical reactions turn it into a flavoring agent. Yum.
Then the list goes on and on with vitamins that have to be added into the kibble because whatever meat went into the kibble that HAD these vitamins was cooked so much that the vitamins were destroyed. Since kibble company's claim to fame be that every bite is complete and balanced, they have to do just that by adding in artificial, man made vitamins.
This food uses artificial colorings. Ever wonder why they color dog food? Dogs do not see colors like we do. They can see some colors, but they see them much the same way a colorblind person sees them. Recent studies have proved that dogs see much more than black and white. But, even if dogs COULD see colors like we do, they do not chose their food based on what color it is. They go by smell. So then, why put artificial colors in dog food at all? To attract the ones buying the food, the HUMANS. Humans are a very visual species. The colorful kibbles, the bright shiny bags the kibble comes in, all geared to make us, the buyer of the dog food, buy it. So artificial colors, on top of being unhealthy, are just plain stupid to have in a dog food.
The last ingredient I will talk about is the menadione sodium bisulfite complex. This is a nasty ingredient and mostly overlooked even by people with a good idea of what to look for in dog foods. This is a cheap way to add vitamin K into a kibble. There are so many bad things about this product I am just coping from the dog food project website (which if you haven't checked out yet, I strongly advise you to)
causes cytotoxicity in liver cells
causes formation of radicals from enzymes of leucocytes, with the consequence of cytotoxic reactions
considerably weakens the immune system
possible mutagenic effects
damages the natural vitamin K cycle
has no effect on coumarin derivatives, which are often present in commercial food due to mold contamination (toxic when ingested)
causes hemolytic anemia and hyperbilirubinemia, not just linked to large doses
disturbs the level of calcium ions (Ca2+) in the body, which is an important factor fibrinolysis
is directly toxic in high doses (vomiting, albuminuria), unlike natural vitamin K
builds up in tissue and has been detected in eggs, meat and milk of animals supplemented with menadione derivatives
causes irritation of skin and mucous membranes
causes allergic reactions and eczema
There is no research as to long term use with this product in dog food. It is so highly toxic that the FDA has banned it from being used in over the counter products. So, why again are we feeding this to our beloved animals day in and day out?
I have made several points about the example (and real) dog food I have shown as an example. There are foods that use ingredients such as BHA and BHT (artificial preservatives known to have carcinogenic properties) and other harmful ingredients as well.
I mentioned I would explain other tactics kibble companies use to fool us. Here is one. It is called splitting. Food companies are catching on that we as consumers are starting to actually read the labels. I don't think they would even put labels on their products if it wasn't a law. As such, they know we are looking for quality meats to be in the first couple of ingredients. Now remember I told you that the ingredients are listed according to weight BEFORE cooking.
Here is a fake ingredient list and I am going to explain what splitting is:
chicken, brown rice, rice middlings, rice flour, rice, chicken fat, long list of vitamins.
So, lets say the first ingredient is chicken. Sounds good right? If it just says chicken, that means it is raw chicken. However, don't get too excited. For one thing, we are not talking about a whole chicken with juicy breast and thigh meat. We are more likely talking about chicken frames, the skeletal remains of a chicken after all the meaty parts are cut off for human consumption. But still, chicken frames generally still have some good meaty bits on them. So lets say we put 5 pounds of chicken into our kibble recipe. After it gets cooked, it loses about 70% of its weight to water loss, as chickens are 70% water just like humans. So we are now looking at 1.5 pounds of chicken.
Our next ingredient is brown rice. If you are going to have any rice in your food, brown rice is the most nutritional as it is the whole rice without anything being removed from it. So lets say we put 3 pounds in.
Next we have rice middlings. Here is another form of rice. Lets say we put 1 pound of this in.
Then we have rice flour, another pound.
When you look at it this way, you can see that while we started off with 5 pounds of chicken, after cooking it is more like 1.5 pounds. Adding up all the rice products, there is 5 pounds of rice. So in reality, this food has more rice than chicken. But you wouldn't think that by looking at the ingredient list.
For years kibble companies have been telling us to feed our pets right. And I agree that we should. That is why I feed raw.
Kibble is dry. Dogs usually do not drink enough water to compensate for the dryness of the food they eat which can lead to many problems (think, kidney issues...etc.)
Besides, if you were a dog, which would you prefer? A dry cereal fed day in and day out? Or a big hunk or beef and a raw meaty bone to chew on afterwards?
The choice is simple. Let's get back to the way mother nature intended these dogs to eat!