The Trends and Processes Behind Pet Food Formulation

Commercial pet food originated in 1860 in England as a dry, biscuit-like food for dogs. Despite being invented in England, commercial pet food was actually developed by American, James Spratt, who was living in London at the time. It wasn’t long afterwards that manufacturers began looking into more sophisticated formulations that contained nutrients at the time considered to be essential for dogs. Pre-packaged pet foods became available towards the beginning of the 1900s in the United States. Then, made initially from dried cereal crops, canned dog food containing horsemeat became common after World War 1. The 1930s saw similarly formulated canned cat food introduced, as well as a meaty yet dry style of dog food. By the 1960s, pet food industry trends had brought consumers dry cat food, an expansive range of dry dog foods, and variants of semi-moist foods for all pets.

In the 1980s, the pet food industry saw a greater demand for dry foods than for canned ones. This change occurred due to research that suggested there was a higher rate of gum disease among dogs who ate a diet consisting of soft canned food. During the period that followed, the public was generally growing more health-conscious and showed an increased interest in scientific formulas that contained more nutritious ingredients in pet food. Generally, fats were discouraged while protein was encouraged. 

Industry trends turned to pet food products marketed for younger and older pets, along with therapeutic recipes developed for health conditions like urinary issues and weight loss. Today, there are new formulations that even vary according to a pet’s breed. Industry trends continue to drive development of new formulations for pet food, which now includes biscuits, kibbles, jerky snacks and sausage-like bits, along with science-based recipes for raw foods.

Pet Food Industry: Trends in Markets, Formulas, Taste & Processing

As a specialty food meant for domesticated animals, pet food recipes contain various meats and their byproducts, cereals, grains, minerals, and vitamins. For pet food manufacturers, it’s imperative to follow these developing trends as they show where the industry is heading. Manufacturers want to keep and grow their market-share in an ever changing world and must adapt with current trends to meet these changing demands.

In the US, there are approximately 300 manufacturers of pet food that combine to make over 3000 types of products including traditional dry, canned, and semi-moist varieties, along with biscuits, kibbles and treats for pets. The US pet food market  alone was worth $58.1 billion in 2022, suggesting that the pet food industry is continuing to grow, and strong trends are clearly showing manufacturers the way the market is moving.

General Pet Food Industry Trends Shaping The Market

It’s no surprise that an increase in the number of pets is driving development in the pet food industry. Trends show that production is highest in Europe, which produced 11.78 million tons of pet food produced in 2022. This figure is followed by North America and Latin America, with respective production at 11.2 and 8.86 million tons. So, which countries are leading these trends in pet ownership?

The countries with the highest domesticated dog populations are:

  • United States (69.9 million domesticated dogs)
  • China (27.4 million)
  • Russia (12.5 million)
  • Japan (12 million)
  • Philippines (11.6 million)
  • India (10.2 million)
  • Argentina (9.2 million)
  • United Kingdom (9 million)
  • France (7.6 million)
  • South Africa (7.4 million)

The countries with the highest domesticated cat populations are:

  • United States (74.1 million domesticated cats)
  • China (53.1 million)
  • Russia (17.8 million)
  • Brazil (12.5 million)
  • France (11.5 million)
  • Germany (8.2 million)
  • United Kingdom (8 million)
  • Italy (7.4 million)
  • Ukraine (7.4 million)
  • Japan (7.3 million)

In 2020, US sales for dry dog food were $5.35 billion and sales for dry cat food were around $2.44 billion. Meanwhile, the US market for wet pet food was $1.88 billion for dogs and $2.39 billion for cats. In the US, sales of semi-moist treats for pets are declining overall, whereas refrigerated and frozen raw foods are gaining in popularity. Among these raw pet foods, industry trends show that frozen and freeze-dried pet foods are expected to grow at a significant compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.25 percent between 2022 to 2027. 


There’s an increase in interest among pet parents regarding more natural diets for their pets, with “high protein” and “meat first” products being developed by the pet food industry. Trends show consumers are paying attention to health claims regarding pet foods as they look to buy those without added antibiotics, chemicals, hormones, pesticides, preservatives, and other adulterants. Like human foods, consumers are looking to ensure their pets’ health with fresh or organic pet foods.


As with many other industries, sustainability has become a priority for many in the pet food industry. Trends include the use of both plant-based and insect-based ingredients in recipes, with potential use of rendering waste like blood and feathers from the meat processing industry as well. Another sustainable ingredient the industry is looking into is blood plasma, which adds to the palatability of pet foods. The plasma must be separated from the red blood cells, as the iron in whole blood can act as a poison if the level in the food is too high. An excess of iron can affect metabolism and damage the liver, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of pets.

Technological Trends For Developing Pet Food Formulas

Another pet food industry trend involves premixes, which allow pet food producers to ensure vitamins and minerals are mixed completely into the formula. Often these premixes contain denser ingredients like rice, which can bind with nutrients to ensure they aren’t broken down prematurely. 

Science and technology also play a part in developing new pet food formulas. In fact, computer software is now available that can provide insights into the manufacturing of pet food. Many pet food manufactures are now using software to develop more nutritious pet food recipes. This is done by carefully examining the nutrients provided by ingredients as well as the suggested caloric intake. These recipes can be weighed against Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requirements on nutrition.

Industry Trends In Pet Food Tasting

While it’s not possible to ask dogs, cats, or other pets about the palatability of pet food, industry trends are increasingly asking consumers what types their pets prefer. Pet parents understand what their animal children like, so it’s important to see things from their perspective. Generally, consumers favor bright and varied colors with kibble sizes in dry food that’s not too small. The look and smell also play a factor in whether they feel their pets will like a certain pet food. Industry trends also show that consumers hold a more negative view of ingredients like meals or animal byproducts.

Yet ultimately, it’s the pets who will make the decision on whether or not a food is appetizing. While a consumer might purchase a new type of food that they feel their pet might like, they won’t buy it again if their pet refuses to eat it. Behavioral studies are often performed to understand a pet’s taste preferences, with consumption tests that look at which food a pet approaches first and that measure the amount of food consumed.

Maintaining Compliance & Proper Pet Food Processing

Like any industry involved in food production, pet food manufacturers must take food safety seriously. Just like with any industry involved in processing food, they follow Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards, which are standards recognized by most food safety agencies. Due to the importance of food safety in the industry, it’s important to evaluate the way pet food plants are operated, including looking at the facility’s design, equipment, sanitation requirements and methods, and even location.

Separating raw from cooked materials is one key aspect of design for plants in the pet food industry. Current trends in plant design involve curtain walls that keep raw and cooked ingredients separate, while also introducing zones to help prevent contamination and enable control of undesirable microorganisms. Because of the possibility of spreading diseases from raw ingredients, it’s also important to restrict access to certain areas used for processing to reduce potential contamination.


The design of equipment and systems in a pet food processing facility also needs to support food safety requirements as well. Equipment exposed to oils or fats should be cleaned with water, while dry ingredients and powders should be cleaned with air. An important example of process equipment used in the pet food industry are conveyors that move products to different points in the process. These conveyors need to allow for easy access to the auger for cleaning. Conventional tubular conveying systems are hard to access and can have hidden niches that can become filled with product, which fosters microbial growth that can include mold or bacterial colonies. S.Howes unique Split-Tube conveyors allow for quick and easy access to the internal auger via a hinged contoured cover for inspection, cleaning, and maintenance while still providing all of the positive features of an inclined tubular-style conveyor. 

S. Howes produces a variety of processing equipment for the pet food industry. To learn more about how we can help with solutions for pet food production, or other similar food processing, contact us today.