The Scoop on Pet Food. What Category Does Your Furry Friend’s Dinner Belong To?


Pet food refers to all food products manufactured and marketed for consumption by pets, primarily dogs and cats. Pet food is a well-established industry that has evolved significantly over the past century from table scraps to scientifically formulated nutritionally complete and balanced products.

The first commercial pet food emerged in the 1860s and focused on dog biscuits. In the 1920s, canned pet food was introduced for dogs and cats, allowing greater moisture and ingredient variety. By the 1950s, processed kibble and semi-moist foods became popular (Pet Food Industry, 2021).

Today, the global pet food market generates sales of over $90 billion annually with steady growth expected. The pet food industry has become increasingly specialized, catering to different pet life stages, dietary needs, and taste preferences. While most pet food was initially generic, brands now offer tailored solutions and premium natural ingredients. The industry is heavily invested in pet nutrition research to formulate species-appropriate foods that promote health and wellbeing.

The leading pet food markets are North America and Western Europe, but demand is rising rapidly across the Asia Pacific due to factors like growing disposable incomes, pet humanization, urbanization, and evolving perception of pets as family. Pet food has become a mainstay household purchase item for the 75-85 million pet-owning households across the United States, cementing its significance as a major CPG category (Packaged Facts, 2017).

History of Pet Food

The first commercial pet food emerged in England in 1860 when an electrician named James Spratt introduced the “Fibrine Dog Cake”, made of wheat, beetroot, vegetables, and beef blood ( This was the earliest attempt to create a nutritious, consistent, and convenient dog food product for pet owners.

In the early 20th century, horse meat became a common protein source for dog food, until the meat shortage during World War II led manufacturers to switch to beef, sheep, and poultry by-products ( The 1950s brought huge innovations like extruded dry kibble and pouches of wet food from companies like Gaines and Ken-L Ration.

As the pet food market grew through the latter half of the century, major brands like Iams and Science Diet focused on developing specialized diets tailored to different life stages, sizes, and health conditions of dogs and cats.

Pet Food Categories

There are four main categories of pet food on the market today:

Dry Food

Dry food, also known as kibble, contains about 10% moisture. It comes in bags or boxes. Dry food helps clean pets’ teeth as they chew and provides a crunchy texture many pets enjoy. Popular formats of dry food include extruded kibble and baked biscuits. Common protein sources in dry food include chicken, lamb, and fish. Dry food often contains grains like corn, wheat, and rice as well as veggies. Some benefits of dry food are dental health, ease of storage, and lower cost per serving compared to wet food.

See more: Choosing a Pet Food

Wet Food

Wet or canned food contains about 78% moisture. It comes in cans, pouches, or tubs. The high moisture content makes it similar to the natural diet of carnivores. Canned food typically contains meat protein sources like chicken, beef, and fish. It often includes broths and gravies which can add palatability. Some benefits of wet food are hydration, palatability, and a texture similar to a natural diet.

See more: Pet Foods – Diet Types

Prescription Food

Prescription pet foods are formulated to address specific health conditions in pets, such as kidney disease, allergies, obesity, and urinary issues. They require a veterinarian’s authorization and oversight. Prescription foods contain specific ingredients and nutrient formulations tailored to the medical need. Some prescription pet foods are available only through veterinarians while others are also sold at pet stores.

See more: Dog and Cat Foods – Management and Nutrition

Raw Food

Raw pet food consists of uncooked meats, bones, fruits, and vegetables. It aims to mimic the evolutionary diet of dogs and cats. Raw diets contain ingredients that have not been processed or extruded. Supporters believe raw food is more natural and healthier. However, raw diets carry potential risks like bacteria and nutrient imbalances if not formulated properly. Some pet owners make homemade raw food while others buy commercial frozen raw products.

Nutritional Requirements

Dogs require balanced nutrition to stay healthy. The main nutritional requirements for dogs are protein, fats, vitamins and minerals.

Protein is crucial for building muscles and supplying energy. Dogs need a diet with at least 18% protein but ideally 22-25% for puppies and nursing dogs. High quality sources of protein include meat, poultry, fish and eggs. According to VCA Hospitals, dogs should get protein primarily from animal sources, not plant sources.

Fats provide fatty acids for skin and coat health plus energy. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AFFCO) recommends a minimum fat content of 8% for adult dogs. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are especially beneficial. These fatty acids are found in fish oils, flaxseed and other plant oils.

Vitamins like A, B, C, D, E and K play critical roles in enzyme reactions and immunity. Minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and iron support bone health, oxygen transport, fluid balance and making hemoglobin. According to PetMD, quality sources for vitamins and minerals are fruits, vegetables, meat and grains.

Pet Food Regulations

Pet food in the United States is highly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure proper labeling, nutritional adequacy, and safety [1]. The FDA enforces laws such as the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which regulates pet food ingredients, labeling, processing, and nutrition [2].

Pet food labels must contain specific information including the product name, net quantity statement, guaranteed analysis of nutrients, ingredient list, nutritional adequacy statement, feeding directions, and name and address of the manufacturer [3]. Label regulations help ensure pet owners can make informed decisions when selecting foods for their pets.

The FDA also sets standards for pet food quality and safety. This includes approving food additives, setting processing standards, inspecting manufacturing facilities, and issuing recalls for contaminated products. The FDA works with the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) to develop nutrient profiles and feed testing methods.

Overall, pet food regulations in the U.S. help guarantee proper nutrition, honesty in labeling, and high standards for quality and manufacturing. Consumers can feel confident that the pet food they purchase has been thoroughly evaluated and approved by the FDA.

Manufacturing Process

Pet food manufacturing involves procuring quality ingredients, processing them into nutritious food products, and implementing safety checks. Here are some key aspects of the pet food production process:

Sourcing ingredients is a crucial first step. Manufacturers obtain animal and plant-based ingredients like meats, grains, vegetables and supplements from thoroughly vetted suppliers. Ensuring the purity, freshness and nutritional value of all ingredients is a priority. According to the Pet Food Institute, all incoming ingredients must pass quality control tests before being used in foods.

Production methods vary by product type. For dry food, ingredients are blended, extruded into shapes at high heat and pressure, and dried. Canned foods undergo cooking in a can at high temperatures to achieve sterilization. Treats and snacks are prepared using baking, frying or other methods. Regardless of format, the goal is crafting palatable, nutrient-rich foods. Manufacturing equipment must meet food-grade standards.

Extensive quality control testing occurs throughout production and on finished products. This involves evaluating moisture content, verifying nutritional adequacy, tasting foods, and lab testing for microorganisms, mycotoxins and other contaminants. Batch records are maintained and products assessed to ensure consistency and safety prior to release. Adhering to good manufacturing practices and hazard control principles is essential.


Brand awareness in the pet food industry is often driven through social media campaigns, influencer partnerships, and paid advertising across search, display, and video channels (Source). Major pet food brands invest heavily in building an emotional connection between their products and pet owners through effective storytelling and messaging.

Pet food is distributed through a wide range of channels including grocery stores, mass merchandisers, pet specialty stores, veterinarians, and ecommerce sites (Source). Building relationships with major retailers and securing shelf space is critical for market share and visibility. Many pet food brands also sell direct-to-consumer online and through subscription models.

Key target audiences in the pet food industry include pet owners segmented by pet type (dog, cat, etc), pet size, pet age, and other attributes. Pet parents are the primary purchasing decision makers. Other targets may include veterinarians who often make recommendations and shelters/rescues which have significant pet food needs (Source). Marketers aim to reach pet owners across multiple touchpoints throughout the buyer’s journey.


A major factor affecting pet food prices is whether it is a premium or budget brand. Premium brands like Blue Buffalo tend to cost more due to higher quality ingredients, specialized formulas, and brand reputation. Budget brands like Pedigree offer lower prices but may use more filler ingredients like corn and wheat. According to Statista, the average price per unit of pet food worldwide is forecast to be around $2.17 in 2022 for budget brands and $4.43 for premium brands.

In general, factors affecting pet food pricing include:

  • Ingredient quality and sourcing
  • Manufacturing and packaging costs
  • Brand name and marketing
  • Specialized formulas and recipes
  • Retail markups and channel (grocery, pet stores, online)
  • Package size and format (wet vs. dry, cans vs. bags)

Pet food prices have been rising due to inflation and supply chain issues. As reported by USA Today, prices of cat and dog food rose 14.4% in March 2022 compared to a year prior. Consumers looking to save on pet food costs can try buying in bulk, comparing deals across retailers, or switching to store brands or budget labels.


Some key trends shaping the pet food industry include a rise in demand for natural and organic options, customized nutrition, and sustainability.

There is a slow but steady rise in natural and grain-free pet food options. Pet owners are increasingly looking for pet foods made with high-quality proteins, whole foods, and limited ingredient lists. According to NielsenIQ, sales of natural pet food grew 9% in 2021. Pet parents want to feed their animals foods they perceive to be healthier and more closely resembling a natural diet.

Customized and personalized nutrition is also an emerging trend. As pet owners become more concerned about providing optimal nutrition tailored to their pet’s specific needs, demand is growing for customized food, supplements, and meal plans. Companies are offering DNA testing kits to analyze a pet’s genetic profile and recommend personalized food formulations.

Sustainability is another important trend. Consumers want pet food brands that source ingredients sustainably, use eco-friendly packaging, and minimize food waste. Manufacturers are responding by committing to sustainability initiatives and transparent supply chains. For example, some brands use recycled materials for packaging and partner with local suppliers.

Future Outlook

The pet food market is projected to continue growing steadily in the coming years. According to reports, the global pet food market is expected to reach $136.8 billion by 2030, up from $98.4 billion in 2021. This represents a compound annual growth rate of 3.6%. Key factors driving this growth include the humanization of pets, premiumization, and trends toward fresh and natural ingredients.

In terms of innovation, we will see more pet food brands focusing on customized and personalized nutrition based on a pet’s breed, age, and health conditions. There will also be greater use of alternative proteins such as insect, algae and cell-cultured meat. Sustainability and transparency will become bigger priorities. More brands will obtain sustainability certifications and provide greater traceability from farm to bowl.

However, the pet food industry will continue facing challenges around rising ingredient costs, supply chain issues, and strict government regulations. Companies will need to find ways to navigate these hurdles while meeting consumer demand for high quality yet affordable pet food. Overall, the future looks bright for the global pet food market as more pet parents view their companions as family and prioritize their health and wellbeing.

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