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Human-grade dog food may be a healthier alternative to feed-grade food, but very few brands can label their products as "human-grade." That said, while this type of dog food may seem higher quality than regular kibble or wet food, that's not necessarily the case. Therefore, pet parents should weigh the pros and cons of different diets before choosing the best dog food for their canine companions.
What's more important than the type of diet is that your dog's food is balanced and complete to provide them with the nutrients they need to live happy, healthy lives. Still, this kind of food might be a good option for your pet if you're willing to spend a little more on it. This article will discuss everything you need to know about human-grade food, including its risks and benefits.
What Is Human-Grade Dog Food?
Knowing what dogs can't eat can be confusing, and pet food labels aren't always helpful. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates animal feed, it doesn't provide pet parents or manufacturers with a definition of "human-grade." In general, human-grade dog food means it's safe for human consumption. On the other hand, regular dog food or kibble is feed-grade, meaning it's not safe for human consumption, although it's unlikely to cause any serious harm.
While the FDA doesn't have set regulations, The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which regulates the sale and distribution of pet food, has published labeling standards for manufacturers.
Under AAFCO's standards, pet food manufacturers must meet the following requirements to use the "human-grade" label on products:
- "Human grade" is only acceptable in reference to the entire product, not just individual ingredients. Therefore, every human-grade ingredient and product must be stored, handled, processed, and transported following regulations for human-edible foods.
- The term "human-grade" is misleading if the product is not human-edible, and manufacturers can't make claims for individual ingredients in a full product that doesn't adhere to the manufacturing specifications.
- The manufacturing facility must be licensed to produce human-edible foods.1
Unfortunately, even though these set guidelines make it easier for pet parents to understand the labels on their pet food, the definition can still vary by manufacturing standards and ingredient sourcing.
It's important to note that human-grade dog food doesn't refer to human foods you give your dog from your kitchen. Instead, any meals you make for your dog at home are homemade. Meanwhile, human-grade pet foods are manufactured in facilities or commercial kitchens.
Human-Grade vs. Feed-Grade Dog Food
In general, kibble and wet food are feed-grade dog food manufactured in facilities that can't produce human food. Feed-grade dog food is safe and suitable for dogs and not fit for human consumption.
Feed-grade dog food often starts from human-grade foods. Your dog's food might contain a protein, such as chicken or beef, but once they pass hands to a dog food manufacturing plant, they're no longer considered safe for human consumption and begin to lose quality. Additionally, feed-grade dog food often contains the less desirable parts of animals, fillers, and byproducts deemed unsafe for humans.
For example, many dog foods use chicken as their main protein. However, it's usually the lower-quality parts, including byproducts. Byproducts in pet foods are fairly common because they're an affordable way for manufacturers to add protein to their kibble or wet food. However, byproducts are left after the meat is processed for human consumption. The leftover parts of the chicken are considered inedible for humans but safe for dogs.2
While many pet parents believe byproducts are harmful for their pets, that's not necessarily the case. In most circumstances, they contain protein and other nutrients. Unfortunately, pet parents don't always know what's in their dog's food because some manufacturers use meat from diseased animals considered feed-grade for pets. For example, a manufacturer might state "chicken" on their label, but it doesn't tell you whether the chicken was diseased.
The main issue with feed-grade dog food is that while they're considered safe for animals, they usually contain lower-quality ingredients pet parents may not want to give their furry companions. In addition, feed-grade pet foods have less stringent requirements, so it's almost impossible to know what's in your dog's food.
Advantages Of Human-Grade Food For Canines
Even though feed-grade pet food may contain lower-quality ingredients, many pet food manufacturers invest in high-quality products to ensure your dog has proper nutrition. Human-grade dog food isn't necessarily better than feed-grade, but it is more transparent since the labeling requirements are much stricter. Depending on the company, pet food plants can still have higher standards than human-grade food plants.3
Feeding dogs higher-quality diets with real ingredients can improve their overall health. However, labeling something as "human-grade" doesn't necessarily make it better for dogs. The advantages of human-grade dog food include the following:
- Often made from higher-quality ingredients: Since human-grade dog food ingredients and final products must be fit for human consumption, they're often made with higher-quality ingredients instead of animal byproducts. You won't have to worry about your dog's protein coming from a diseased or sick animal.
- No unsafe ingredients: Pet foods often contain fillers and additives considered unsafe for human consumption. However, since human-grade dog foods must be safe for humans to eat, they don't contain any hazardous ingredients.
- Superior digestibility: One thing that makes human-grade food stand out from feed-grade is its highly digestible, so it might be a better solution for pets who suffer from canine diarrhea. A 2019 study used human-grade ingredients and supplemented them with human-quality vitamins in rooster food. Their analysis of the roosters' feces demonstrated that human-grade ingredients improved digestibility, and protein, amino acids, and other nutrients were more easily absorbed.4 Meanwhile, a more recent study looked at the effects of human-grade dog food on beagles and determined that dogs fed human-grade foods have lower fecal output, which means improved digestibility.5
Drawbacks Of Human-Grade Food For Dogs
Of course, not all dog foods are created equal, and human-grade food is no different. Compared to high-quality feed-grade diets, human-grade foods don't usually offer better nutrition for dogs.
A few drawbacks of human-grade food for dogs include the following:
- Nutritional deficiencies: You should always ensure any diet you feed your dog is complete and balanced to provide them with the proper amount of nutrients they need. Since human-grade dog foods are regulated, most of the products you can find on shelves or online are good options for your pet. However, human-grade dog food is different from a homemade diet. Unfortunately, if you're not an expert in pet nutrition, it's challenging to ensure they get the proper balance of nutrients for optimal health.
- More expensive: Because of the strict requirements for dog food to be considered human-grade, these foods are often more expensive than kibble you can find at any pet store.
- Exposure to allergies: Human-grade ingredients can be dangerous to dogs, especially those with sensitive stomachs. Additionally, human-grade dog foods won't cure canine allergies. Instead, you must determine which ingredient they're allergic to and eliminate it from their diet.
Alternatives To Human-Grade Dog Food
Human-grade dog food is a good option for many dogs, especially those who need to improve their digestion. If you're concerned about anything your dog eats, the best thing you can do is talk to your vet, who can provide you with recommendations based on your dog's health and age.
If human-grade dog food isn’t suitable for your pet, here are a few alternatives:
- Kibble: Kibble is the most common dog food because it's usually the most affordable. It's incredibly convenient for pet parents, and most pets thrive on these foods as long as they contain the nutrients they need.
- Canned & moist: Canned and wet dog food contains meat chunks and the same level of nutrients. Some dogs may prefer canned or moist food because it's more delectable, but they're more expensive than kibble.
- Raw & freeze-dried: Raw and freeze-dried dog food are essentially the same; a manufacturer takes raw meat and freeze-dries it for easy storage. Many pet parents believe the raw food diet is healthier for their pets. However, it can be dangerous because of the risk of salmonella and bacteria exposure from feeding them raw meat.
- Homemade: Pet parents who have the time to learn what to feed their dogs may try the home-cooked diet. However, we don't recommend this unless you're working with a veterinary nutritionist since you could accidentally feed your dog unsafe foods or provide them with an incomplete diet.
Human-Grade Food For Dogs: FAQs
Is human-grade dog food safe?
Human-grade dog food is safe as long as it's made for dogs and not just human food you find in your fridge. However, it's no safer than feed-grade dog food. The main benefit of human-grade food for pets is that it may improve digestibility.
What's the best human-grade dog food?
Several human-grade dog food brands are available, but always consider dog food based on your pet’s life stage, health, activity level, and age. You can always ask your vet if you need help deciding which food to feed your dog.
Can I feed my dog a strictly human-grade diet?
Yes, you can feed your dog a human-grade diet, but always research the brand and ensure the food you choose provides your pup with the nutrition they need.
Reading pet food labels can be confusing, especially because many guidelines are unclear. That said, the standards for human-grade dog foods are defined by AAFCO, so you can rest assured any human-grade dog food can provide your dog with a complete and balanced diet for improved digestibility. However, there's no significant difference between human-grade and feed-grade foods other than the fact that they have different standards. Both options can provide your dog with the quality ingredients and nutrients they need for optimal health.
Still, when choosing dog food, it's always best to consult a vet. Are you feeding your dog the right diet? Talk to a Dutch vet today. Our vets are experts in dog nutrition and can ensure your dog is eating the food they need to support their overall health.
AAFCO Human Grade Standards for Pet Products. 1 Aug. 2017, https://www.agriculture.nh.gov/publications-forms/documents/aafco-human-grade-pet-products-standards.pdf.
"Byproducts." The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) > Home, https://talkspetfood.aafco.org/byproducts.
Cailin R. Heinze, VMD. "Human Grade: Should Pets Eat the Same Food That We Do?" Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School, 16 Mar. 2022, https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/2019/02/human-grade/.
"First Study on Human-Grade Dog Food Concludes That It's Highly Digestible, According to Roosters." AAHA, https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2019-12/first-study-on-human-grade-dog-food-concludes-that-its-highly-digestible-according-to-roosters/.
"Study: Human-Grade Dog Food Diets May Lead to Less Pooping." AAHA, https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2021-02/study-human-grade-dog-food-diets-may-lead-to-less-pooping/.