Looking Back – Inventions in the Feline World

Looking Back - Inventions in the Feline World

AUTHOR: Kim Hurley

When cats and Costa Rica are mentioned in the same sentence, you probably think about a wild cat such as a jaguar, an ocelot, a puma, or perhaps a jaguarundi. It may surprise you to hear that a survey done in October of this year found an estimated 1.2 million pet owners in Costa Rica, with 15% of them having cats as pets. Many of us expats moved here with our feline furry family members and have found our kitties adapted quite well to their new surroundings.  

It may be interesting to know a little background of a couple of feline advances over the years in North America. The invention of cat food and kitty litter was among the essential achievements affecting our feline friends' lives.


 The idea of selling cat food is fairly new. Cats ate either what they caught or scraps people gave them. The commercial pet food industry started in 1860 with James Spratt's invention of the first dog biscuit in England, but in the late 1930s, Spratt added canned cat food. It was made up of mostly fish parts and cod liver oil. Then came World War II, which caused metal to be rationed. Pet food was classified as "non-essential," so during the years of war, canned pet food wasn't available, and pet food production shifted to dry food. By 1946, dry food represented 85% of the market. At this point, there were two kinds of dry food:

  • Biscuits.
  • Crumbled biscuits known as kibble.
  • Pellets whose ingredients had to be hand mixed.

 The next significant innovation came in the 1950s with a new production process for kibble. Dry foods now came in myriad shapes, colors, and catchy names. 

Kibble was marketed as "complete" food, starting the idea of table scraps as being unhealthy for your pet. In 1964, the Pet Food Institute started a campaign promoting the importance of feeding processed food to pets.  

A few years later, a veterinary cardiologist discovered many cat foods marketed were deficient in taurine, which is vital for a feline's heart and eyes. Cats, as well as humans, can't make taurine. It has to come from food. This led to a significant change in 1976 of the first "prescription" pet food, sold primarily through veterinarians.

Nutrient guidelines were established by 1981 for essential nutrients in pet food diets.   

Today we can choose from many prescription cat dry and canned diets that can help support different diseases.

Cat Advertisement


Before the invention of kitty litter, indoor cats struggled with ashes, sawdust, sand, or newspapers for "doing their business." In 1947, Edward Lowe, who worked at his family's building supply company, a neighbor asked if he had any sand for her cat's sandbox. There had been a cold snap that winter, and the sand was frozen! Lowe recalled a product his father had manufactured during WWII. That product was a baked ground clay that soaked up oil spills in factories. And guess what? It worked! He put some in a paper bag and wrote "Kitty Litter" on it, and the industry was invented!

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