Saturday, February 17, 2024

The History of the Invention of Dog Biscuits


Last December I took you on a journey to share the evolution of Dog Grooming. Click here to view that blog post

This month I’m going to talk about the invention of dog biscuits. It’s a fascinating story and spans more years than I imagined.

Snack or meal

Dog biscuits are considered a great snack for dogs, and the dry hard consistency helps clean their teeth. But originally, they were offered as the perfect dog food.

Roman times

Since Roman times, there has been some kind of dog biscuit. Bread that was not fit for humans was referred to as dog bread.  Any bread that tasted bad or was extremely hard fit that category. No baker wanted that tag associated with his bread. 

Dog biscuits evolved from a hard barley bread to one mixed with vegetables and meat by-products.  They were advertised as the perfect food for dogs.


Hard Tack recipe

James Spratt, a Cincinnati electrician who’d already patented a lightning conductor, traveled to England to sell that invention. While there, he noticed some dogs on the docks eating the hard tack sailors threw to them. Hard Tack is a cheap bread, cook really hard so it would last through the journey at sea. Hard Tack was used in most branches of the military during times where fresher food was unavailable. Sailor’s referred to it as “Molar Breakers “because it was so hard. Spratt observed how the dogs seemed to have no trouble chewing the substance.

A light bulb went on for Spratt. Here was an untapped market. After some trial and error Spratt patented and manufactured the first dog biscuit. Spratt unveiled his new product in England in 1860. Spratt’s Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes. They contained wheat, beetroot, vegetables and beef blood. Because no one had ever thought to make food for dogs he cornered the market. A few others competitors began to sell their version of dog biscuits. Spratt sued one dealer who was selling a different biscuit claiming it was Spratt’s.

During the trial it appeared the only difference in the square dog cakes was Spratt’s logo imprinted on the front. The judge wisely decided although the shop was in the wrong in allowing its customers to think they were purchasing Spratt’s Dog Cakes, he refused to make him pay all the court costs. Leaving each party to care for their own. To avoid further court cases dog biscuits were classified with soap because it also was made with animal by-products. And similar products were acceptable in that category.

Premiere Dog Food for Show Dogs

Even so, Spratt’s product became the premiere food for dog show champions. If you had a show dog,Spratt’s Dog Cakes were what you feed them. This kept Spratt’s company in the top slot of dog food. Spratt dominated the dog biscuit industry in America until 1907.

New Competition

In 1907 an organic chemist Carleton Ellis, who would overtime receive 753 patents for that would change the face of many products we use today such as margarine, oil and varnish. The owner of the local slaughterhouse asl Mr. Ellis to find a use for their waste milk, (milk from slaughtered cows not fit for human consumption.) 

Bone Shape

Like Spratt, as Ellis ruminated on the idea of creating something that used waste milk he tried his hand at dog biscuits. After some trial-and-error Ellis mixed excess milk with malt, grain, and other things to form a dog biscuit baked into a round shape. But when he offered the biscuit to his dog he wouldn’t eat it.

Ellis was frustrated. After all, he was an MIT graduate. Surely, he could come up with a dog biscuit that tasted good to dogs. He’d written several technical manuals and knew more than most people at the time about petroleum products, oils and varnishes. Developing a biscuit a dog would eat should be easy.

No one knows why, but Ellis changed the shape of the biscuit rather than its ingredients. Knowing dogs loved chewing on bones, he fashioned his biscuits to look like bones.  Ellis transferred his patent to F.H.Bennet Biscuit Company. They began mass producing the dog treat. In 1915 calling it Milk-Bone due to the quantity of milk in the biscuit.

The Milk Bone outsold Spratt’s Dog Cakes and in 1931, Nabisco purchased it. Nabisco’s grocery store connections advertised Milk Bones as a dog’s dessert. Each biscuit has the Milk Bone logo pressed into the biscuit as Spratt had done to his.

Commerical success of Milk Bone

 Post-World War II the German Shepherd star of The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin was featured in a TV commercial for Milk Bone Dog Biscuits. This commercial pushed Milk Bone to stardom status.

Although there are many dog biscuits products and dog treats from various meat by-products and vegetable bases, Milk Bone continues to be a top seller. It now comes in over 20 varieties. There are even gluton-free and vegan versions of dog treats on the market.

It’s hard to imagine dog biscuits came on the scene before dog food.

Did you know about the history of dog Biscuits? What type of treats do you feed your dog?


Cindy Ervin Huff is an award-winning, multi-published author of both historical and contemporary romance. She recently become a hybrid with her self-published contemporary romance New Embrace and her latest release, Loving the Dog Groomer in 2023. She loves dogs and they are often in her novels, helping to bring her hero and heroine together. She is hard at work on a sequel to this one, and a few new historical romances as well.  You can visit her website or her Amazon page.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I had no idea that specific food for dogs existed as early as Roman times. I also didn't even wonder if Milkbone Dog Biscuits had milk in them! When we had dogs we sometimes gave them dog bones.