Breed-specific, premium dog foods have Iron Age echoes

The pet food industry may have ancient roots. Likewise, prepared diets and breed-specific formulations may be as old as the observation that there is nothing new under the sun.

Tim Wall Headshot Small Headshot
(yarndoll | BigStock.com)
(yarndoll | BigStock.com)

The dogs died centuries before a wolf weaned the founders of Rome, yet their diets presaged current trends in pet food, including breed-specific diets and premiumization. Scientists found the dogs’ remains near where Romans would eventually found Barcelona, Spain. Those long-gone dogs’ bones held signs of pet food preparation by humans. Some of these dogs may have been coddled by wealthy owners, while others worked for their proto-kibble.

Further research on the evolution of canine nutrition and how it has affected different breeds could help pet food companies develop new formulations or marketing strategies, study lead author Dr. Silvia Albizuri of the University of Barcelona told Petfood Industry.

Ancient dogs eating prepared food

Beginning in the late Bronze Age, approximately 3,300 years ago, these dogs seemed to be eating prepared diets, pushing back the clock on pet food’s origin story. What’s more, certain dogs seemed to be eating high animal protein diets, while others ate carbohydrate heavy plant-based diets. The dogs’ diets may have reflected the social status of their owners and the dogs’ roles in human society.

The study used samples from 27 dogs found near human habitations and believed to be fully domesticated, despite a few wolf genes. Albizuiri and her team used isotopic analysis to discern what those dogs ate in life, as The Science Dog reported first. The Journal of World Prehistory published Albizuri‘s study results, “Dogs that Ate Plants: Changes in the Canine Diet During the Late Bronze Age and the First Iron Age in the Northeast Iberian Peninsula.”

The scientists observed differences among two sets of dogs. Most of the dogs grew to medium-size by today’s standards, but some grew larger. This larger group of dogs tended to eat a plant-based diet, and may have been eating the same millet grain as the farmers who hypothetically owned them. These larger dogs may have been bred as working animals, eating a energy-rich, inexpensive, grain-based diet.

At a higher social level for both human and hound, another group of dogs ate mostly animal products and may have been more akin to pets. However, the scientists couldn’t tell if the dogs were eating muscle meat or other less tasty tissues.

“Isotopes do not allow us to discern the origin of animal protein,” Albizuri said. “It could have come from meat, bones, organs, etc. Although it is to be assumed that the animal protein was basically administered by humans who recovered the less desirable parts to prepare food for their dogs.”

The dogs eating animal products also tended to be found associated with human burials. These dogs may have been pets. However, the isotopic analysis couldn’t reveal certain details of these dogs’ lives, such as health status.

“It is not able to discern certain diseases such as obesity or other diseases common in today's dog breeds, as it only provides dietary markers,” she said.

The pet food industry may have ancient roots. Likewise, prepared diets and breed-specific formulations may be as old as the observation that there is nothing new under the sun.

Page 1 of 556
Next Page