Find Nicholson's Raw Animal Foods on Facebook
Raw dog food made with 100% fresh meat

History of Spratt’s Dog Cakes

In the late 19th century the lot of the merchant seaman had improved considerably. In their early part of the century it had been common practise for ships masters to purchase spoiled food for the crews and as many ships arrived in various ports around the world and with the crews dying of ptomaine poisoning. Other masters cut down on the quantity of hard tack biscuits, the staple diet of common seamen, and many sailors suffered from malnutrition after a lengthy voyage.

history_of_sprattsHowever the Napoleonic wars established the importance of a good diet in the production of a successful fighting machine, and the disastrous canned food trial conducted by Napoleon after Borodino was counterbalanced by improvements in the diet issued to seamen –scurvy became an ailment of the past when British ships began to carry lime fruit, though apples were more popular with the crew, and it became common practise for ships to overstock with ship’s biscuits-hard unpalatable but fairly nutritious fare.

Scurvy, Latin/Scorbutus. Is a very old disease first recorded around 1100-750 BC in ancient Greek and Egyptian times, Scurvy commonly is associated with sailors in the 16th to 18th centuries that navigated long voyages without enough vitamin C and frequently perished from the condition. Modern cases of scurvy are extremely rare.

Humans cannot synthesize vitamin C, which is necessary for the production of and iron absorption. We have to obtain it from external sources, fruits vegetables, or some foods which are fortified with vitamin C in order to prevent the vitamin C deficiency known as scurvy, as I’ve mentioned above it is very rare, however 2011 an Eight year old boy from Pembrokeshire died from this disease after being taken to Milford Havens Hospital in Wales.

Tale has it that a ship’s captain arrived in Boston Massachusetts with a stock of uneaten biscuits, which he promptly sold to dog owners at a large profit. I have always regarded the tale as apocryphal, but the story apparently inspired a corn chandler, James Spratt, to manufacture the first proprietary dog food, a product Spratt named “Dog Cake” which he manufactured from spoiled cereal and greaves (dried meat meal)

Previously dogs of all breeds were fed on scraps, as indeed were trainee boys, but the advent of dog shows in 1859 had proven that dogs improved greatly if fed a diet that was rich in animal protein and Spratt’s product became incredibly popular. It would be a mistake to suggest or assume that Spratt’s product was a perfectly balanced diet. Indeed it was not until Gowland Hopkins published his findings concerning vital amines, that the world realised the importance of vitamins, but Spratt’s biscuits improved the lot of both the show dog and the family pet dog enormously.

Spratt’s factory in Holborn was apparently a model of hygiene despite the nature of the meat he used to fortify his dog cake and his business prospered so well that he began to employ a young and furiously energetic salesman, one Charles Cruft, who travelled the continent peddling Spratt’s dog products. Furthermore he began to promote his products at kennels of those who bred pedigree dogs for the Kennel Club, the brainchild of a Warwickshire country gentleman S.E Shirley, who had undertaken the publication of the first Breed Stud books, although foxhound stud books had been kept for over a century before the advent of the Kennel Club.

Cruft had noted that despite the fact that dog shows were an English innovation, the first recorded was staged at Newcastle On Tyne in 1859, the continental dog shows were much better organised and far more entertaining however slightly macabre. In 1851 one M. Ploucquet had exhibited a small pack of foxhounds pursuing a fox. The exhibits were stuffed, admirable examples of taxidermy but slightly distasteful perhaps too many spectators.

Nevertheless Cruft decided to stage a dog show modelled on the superbly organised shows he had attended in France and Germany and held its first show at the Royal Aquarium Westminster, a venue which despite its name, was a famous or rather infamous London music hall. Crufts show, which catered only for terriers was a great success and attracted some six hundred exhibits.

Cruft was a master organiser and approached railway owners to obtain preferential fares for exhibitors taking dogs to his shows and also designed a customised dog van to transport the dogs from the railway station to the show venue. Alas influenced as he was by Ploucquet’s exhibits, Cruft staged the notorious Class 220 which catered for stuffed dogs, though the exhibits induced such disgust that he discontinued Class 220 in future shows, though in 1890 Class 220 had attracted many exhibits though some of these “dogs” were made of china or wood.

In 1891 the show attracted 2’000 exhibits including an entry from Queen Victoria who allowed her collie Darnley II to be shown and not surprisingly the collie won first prize and a cup! In the following year Victoria’s cousin the Czar sent Russian wolfhounds to be exhibited, the quarantine regulation were not in force at this time.

The royal patronage assured the future success of Cruft’s show and the number of exhibits continued to increase until even Olympia became too crowded to cater for the exhibits and the show was moved to the National Exhibition Centre in 1992. Even if the reader has little interest in the Kennel Club, the spectacle has something for everyone and every dog keeper should visit the show at least once in a life time.