A Brief History of the Pet Food Industry Part One, Spratt’s Patent Ltd.

Hey, fellow pet lovers!

Today’s post is one I’ve wanted to write for a little while now and it ties in quite well with our last post which was, Crufts, The World’s Greatest Dog Show! I hope you’ve all been enjoying Crufts and if you haven’t heard of this great dog show then check out our post after reading today’s to learn more. There is a lot of content when it comes to the history of the pet food industry; which is why I am going to do more than one post on this topic. Stick around for part two, which will talk about the introduction of canned pet food in the 1920s and how the industry was forced to move from canning, with a third post talking about the start of manufacturing kibble.

Let’s jump straight in and learn all about the history of the pet food industry and how it all started?

A Brief History of the Pet Food Industry

Have you ever wondered how it came to be that your four-legged companion has such as a wide array of pet food and treat choices available? I certainly have and I found writing today’s post to be extremely interesting! Today’s pets are truly spoilt as they have a world of options when it comes to their dinner, they have grain-free options, hypoallergenic, raw, organic and so on… Not to mention the countless treats on offer which our canine and feline friends love so much, but where did this monumental array of choice stem from?

Well, the pet food industry as we know it, really hasn’t been around for very long and in today’s post, I want to condense the last 100 or so years down into a fairly short post so all you pet parents out there can learn how your canine and feline companions food choices came to be.

So where did it all start?

Dogs have been mans best friend for many years now, and one of the first recorded suggestions of what to feed our canines came from a book which was written two thousand years ago by a man called Marcus Terentius Varro. He was a roman scholar and a writer and in his book on farming he advised giving farm dogs a diet of bones from dead sheep, alongside barley bread soaked in milk.

Sounds appetising right?

But to be fair this is a pretty substantial meal for a farm dog and they certainly won’t have minded what was on offer. Now we can move into the middles ages and a dog who was lucky enough to live with European royalty would have had a posh dinner, better than most poor people for sure. A dog that lived with European royalty would have dined on a stew made from a mixture of ingredients such as grains, various vegetables and some meat scraps or by-products.

However, the many less fortunate dogs who lived in the houses of commoners didn’t get this tasty stew and instead, had to make do with what was leftover which in most cases was potatoes, cabbage, bare-bones, bread crusts and whatever else could be spared. During the 1800s farm dogs who needed a high-calorie diet to do their high-intensity work on the farm consumed a diet of various grains mixed with lard. I found this next bit of information super interesting, apparently many city people during these times went around the streets looking for dead horses to cut up and sell to wealthy dog owners, what a way to make money!

Dog’s who lived with the elite dined on super posh food such as roast duck, candy and liquor.  Now I’m assuming they didn’t give their beloved pet too much to drink. Otherwise, they would have most certainly died, so please keep this in mind, do not feed your canine or feline friend candy or liquor. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, many people were entering the middle class and not only had the time, but almost the financial means to have dogs as pets. By doing so, this meant that dogs were no longer for the elite and upper class but also for the greater population, which saw a shift in people’s views on their canine companions and created a need for commercial pet food which the middle class could buy.

This is where our first pet food pioneer comes into play, James Spratt.

The pet food industry as we know it today all started with an American man called James Spratt. Mr Spratt was an electrician by trade, and while on a business trip to Liverpool selling lighting rods with his canine companion he was inspired to create his first-ever product, a dog biscuit know as a meat cake.

I’m not too sure where this inspiration stemmed from as I’ve read two different statements in various articles. But it’s either believed that Mr Spratt observed stray and malnourished dogs eating hardtack on the docks of Liverpool which were left by sailors or; he was offered a ship biscuit for his canine companion and was shocked at the terrible quality. Either way, Mr Spratt, who must have been a dog lover and certainly an entrepreneur at heart, decided to manufacture his dog biscuits called Spratt’s Meat Fibrine Cake which he launched in London in 1860.  Thankfully, they went down very well with English countrymen who gave Spratt’s dog biscuits to their sporting dogs. 

Spratt’s first product was a Meat Fibrine Cake that was made from a mixture of ingredients such as wheat, beetroot, various other vegetables which were bound together using beef blood and finally baked. As you can see, these biscuits would have been very inexpensive to manufacture, which meant they were easily accessible to the middle class and also very easy to produce on a large-scale.

In 1876 Spratt registered trademarks for his famous dog biscuits. Still, over the years the company diversified into many different markets and applied his renowned brand name to other canine-related products such as portable kennels, travelling boxes, collars, dog clothes and lastly, kennel appliances.

Charles Cruft

It was also in 1876 that Charles Cruft joined the company as an apprentice in the Spratt Holborn shop in London. However, Mr Cruft was an ambitious man and didn’t stay as an office boy for very long and quickly convinced Mr Spratt to find a new boy to work in the shop so he could find the time to secure new orders of dog biscuits from gamekeepers and promoters of dog shows.

His new role meant he had to travel across the UK and Europe and it was in 1878 in Paris that he was invited to organise the promotion of the canine section of the Paris Exhibition. If you have read our previous post about Crufts, then you will already know that this is how the famous dog show came to be, however, if you’re not too sure what I’m talking about then simply follow the link above and check out our previous post.

One of Mr Crufts first roles as an apprentice was to maintain the companies books, and he made one fundamental change to Spratt’s bookkeeping system which helped the company to differentiate from wholesale and retail customers by using the Maltese Cross. This simple change was beneficial as the company stamped it onto their dog biscuits during the manufacturing stage which helped the company to differentiate its biscuits from the many frauds who were trying to impersonate the brand and steal Spratt’s loyal customers.

Jame’s Spratt past away in 1880 and 1885 Spratt’s Patent Limited was registered and continued the production of their dog biscuits and various pet foods. Spratt was undoubtedly the starting fuel for the multi-billion dollar industry, which we all know so well today. Spratt was the brainchild of many products within the pet food industry. His company was the first ever to have a coloured billboard erected in London, which showed a Native American buffalo hunt as this was the apparent source of meat for Spratt’s Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes.

Spratt’s was responsible for creating the concept of animal life stages with appropriate foods for different aged pets and in the 1950’s General Mills acquired the Spratt’s US operations. If you would like to see some of Spratt’s old advertisements photos which I suggest doing as they look cool, then follow the link to this great site, Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History.

I’ve enjoyed writing today’s post, and I hope you all are looking forward to part two, which will be heading your way next week. If you have any post suggestions or topics which you would like me to write about then leave a comment down below or get in touch via our contact page, as I would love to know what you all think of epoch.pet.

I hope you all liked part one of a brief history of the pet food industry, in part two I want to talk about Ken-L Ration which was the first-ever canned pet food on the market and also a company called the F. H. Bennett Biscuit Company who was the first pet food company to introduce a line of puppy food and various kibble sizes for our canine companions.

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4 thoughts on “A Brief History of the Pet Food Industry Part One, Spratt’s Patent Ltd.

  1. I knew a man who was very high up in Spratts. This was Alec Ramsey in Glen Ridge, NJ. He and his wife were from Scottand and moved here to the US due to a transfer by Spratts. They stayed here for the rest of their lives. Heard some interesting “inside” Spratts info from him. Tom in Maine


    1. Hi Tom, thank you for your excellent comment and for reading the article. I hope you liked it! 🙏

      I’d love to learn more about these intriguing stories, as I could maybe write another post on the topic or add them to an existing article if you’re interested in sharing some information head over to our Contact Page and drop me an email. Thanks for checking out epoch.pet and for being a part of our pet-loving community, it’s great to have you with us! 😊


      1. I don’t know much more about Spratts. Alec Ramsey fell or jumped out of a upper story window at Mountainside Hospital in Glen Ridge NJ which was more or less across the street from his home. I kept track of his one child, a daughter, for a long time but haven’t talked to her in 10 years or so. She was older than me so may no longer be alive.
        Because of Alec’s death hospitals had to make changes to hospital room windows so that patients could not open their windows. Tom in Maine


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