As we come to the end of our 50th Anniversary year, we end our series of blogs looking back at 50 years of how life has changed for our pets, with a look at nutrition.

Nutrition is often seen as a complex topic and one that is forever evolving as people develop their knowledge on pet health and wellbeing. Nutrition for pets has changed greatly over the last 50 years and will most likely continue to do so in the future.

Going back to the ancestral diet of our canine and feline friends (although this wasn’t in the last 50 years), the diet and lifestyle was considerably different compared to the present day.

The ancestor of dogs- the wolf- we know would hunt for their food in the wild, such as deer, rabbit or wildfowl, consuming all of the animal including the bones and pre-digested vegetable matter found in the prey's digestive tract. Similarly, cats, descendents from the African Wildcat, would hunt and eat animals such as rodents, small birds and rabbits.  

Elizabeth Whiter describes in her book ‘You Can Heal Your Pet’ that domesticated cats and dogs continued to eat a near-natural food diet throughout the early 20th century. Farm dogs, hunting dogs and sighthounds often earned their food for their service, be it large meaty bones from the local butchers or meat from a hunt. Dogs were also fed scraps from the dinner table, such as leftover roast dinners, casseroles or soups. Cats, the infamous rat and mice catchers, helped keep rodents at bay and were seen as an asset to homeowners and businesses.   

In the last 50 years or so, we’ve seen the boom of the pet food industry taking over the dietary needs of our pets. As cats and dogs became more valued as companions rather than working animals, the lifestyle of both cats and dogs changed dramatically. No longer being able to hunt for their food (with the exception of some cats with outdoor access) and having to adapt to an entirely different living environment as people moved from rural locations to larger towns and cities for work.

The pet food industry saw a way to fulfil our pet’s nutritional needs that was cheap and convenient for pet owners, taking into consideration world-changing events such as the Second World War meaning meat and tin was rationed, and this brought in the introduction of dried pet food that could be sold in boxes or bags with a longer shelf life.

Today, a common health issue with our pets is obesity. In a report by PDSA in 2020, 78% of veterinary professionals said that they had seen an increase in pet obesity over the last 2 years.. Due to the changes in our lifestyles, i.e. working hours, life commitments, as well as changes to our pet’s lifestyles in the last 50 years, being able to roam more freely, hunting/working for their food to now only being able to go on a daily walk or for cats having limited outdoor access (due to increased number of cars/traffic). We can see how this may increase the chances of obesity.

Thinking about pet nutrition over the decades, it is certain there have been some major changes. However, what hasn’t changed is that the majority of individuals want to be responsible pet owners and look after their furry friends the best way possible. Pet owners have a wealth of knowledge available regarding pet nutrition. Whether your pet is fed home-cooked foods, raw food, dried or canned pet food is a decision every pet owner must make based on the individual needs of their own animal. Here at NAWT, we welcome many stray and undernourished animals into our centres, and so a highly nutritious and tailored diet plan is a pivotal part of their rehabilitative care during their time with us.

With this in mind, in NAWT’s 50th Year, please help us by donating to support our work – donating your time, donating your energy or donating money. This will help to ensure that the NAWT is there to support and care for animals and owners both now and for the next 50 years.