Brands claiming to sell human grade dog food are popping up all over these days. However, very few of these brands actually meet human grade standards. As the world's first human grade pet food, The Honest Kitchen takes the subject seriously; we know just how much hard work goes into creating healthy dog food that meets human grade criteria.
We've put together this handy guide to help dog lovers understand their options regarding the human grade dog food on the market: what human grade dog food is, how to spot it, and why it’s beneficial for your pup.
What Is Human Grade Dog Food?
Human grade dog food must adhere to a very specific set of standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These standards state that every ingredient in the dog food has to be proven “human edible” throughout every stage of the production process. This includes where the ingredient was farmed and how it was transported, where the food is manufactured, etc. Human grade pet food must also be produced in a human food facility that meets over 100 safety standards set by the FDA.
Additionally, The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has its own guidelines for labeling pet foods human grade, which includes abiding by the FDA CFR Title 21.
This may seem like a lot of work — because it is. This is why there are very few legitimately human grade dog food brands out there. In fact, The Honest Kitchen is the world’s first pet food that meets all of the standards for human consumption.
Types of Human Grade Dog Food
When many people hear the term "human grade," they think of human food. As discussed above, human grade dog food meets the standards required to be edible to humans. However, it comes in an array of formats, formulas, and textures that differ quite significantly from what we consider "people food." Let's explore the different types of human grade dog food options.
One of the most traditional and popular types of dog food is dry dog food. Dry dog foods have a long shelf life, making it one of the most convenient and cost-effective types of dog food. The Honest Kitchen offers the first and only human grade dry dog food and we crafted our own, less-processed process to craft a golden, delicious dry food pets love.
Dehydrated dog food has also been around for many years, but has recently grown in popularity among dog owners. This type of food slowly removes moisture from food using warm air, which is different from regular dry food that is quickly dried using high heat. This option can be great for your pup because it's not processed as heavily as dry food, which means it retains more nutrients. It’s also shelf-stable, making it convenient for everyday use or traveling.
Freeze drying is another method of preparing pet food that does a good job of retaining nutrients through minimal processing. However, it's important to note that many freeze-dried dog foods contain raw meat, making those options ineligible for human grade classification because raw meat isn't safe for humans to consume. Be sure to read the ingredient label carefully before selecting a freeze-dried dog food that claims to be human grade — it may not truly fit the criteria.
Fresh Cooked and/or Frozen
Gently cooked and frozen dog foods are often extremely nutritious for dogs as they feature vitamins and minerals in their natural forms. If fresh dog food is frozen immediately, the nutrients are preserved more effectively.
Wet dog food has been around for decades but has come a long way in terms of nutrition — if you find the right companies. Most pet parents love wet food because it has a higher moisture content, which can help ensure your pup stays hydrated and avoids urinary-tract problems. Additionally, wet food has just as much protein as dry food but has fewer carbs. So if your pup is trying to lose weight or has certain food sensitivities, human grade wet food could be the way to go.
Is Human Grade Dog Food Better for My Pet?
Human grade pet food companies must meet strict regulations, which means the end product is far superior in terms of taste and nutrition. Better nutrition often leads to a healthier coat, more energy, better digestion, and superior joint health.
There are also significant differences in production standards between human grade food and feed grade food. Human grade food has to meet 100+ safety standards set by the FDA and USDA, and these standards don’t just apply to the finished product — they must apply all the way throughout the production process, from the farm where the ingredients are grown to the packaging facility.
Why do these standards matter? The risk of foodborne illness, for one. In fact, the FDA does not recommend you place feed grade dog food on your kitchen counters due to the likelihood of a salmonella outbreak. This is because feed grade food is only required to meet the same production standards as food meant for livestock. While human grade food could also carry salmonella (just like any human food can), the risks are much lower due to the rigorous safety standards.
In the sections below, we’ll compare human grade dog food options against popular feed grade alternatives.
Human Grade vs. Feed Grade Dog Food
Due to less stringent standards, feed grade pet foods — like most kibble and wet foods — frequently have more fillers and fewer quality ingredients than human grade pet foods. Feed grade foods are allowed to use non-human-edible ingredients like 4D meats (dead, diseased, dying, or disabled), meat meals, and artificial preservatives in their recipes. Additionally, feed grade pet foods meet far fewer safety and health regulations, as discussed above.
But with so many different types of pet food on the market, how do human grade and feed grade compare pound for pound? The difference runs a little deeper than just the ingredients themselves — it applies to the cooking process as well.
While all kibble is dry by nature, human grade kibble is processed much more gently than its commercially produced counterparts. Feed grade kibble is usually processed with high heat, which dries the food quicker but also diminishes its nutritional value and flavor. As a result, many brands use spray-on flavoring as a part of the process to try to make the food appear more appetizing.
Human grade kibble like those offered by The Honest Kitchen is processed at a lower temperature. This gentler process helps the food retain more nutrients and flavor, eliminating the need for flavor enhancers. Our kibble is made with nutrient-dense human grade ingredients, cold-pressed into bite sized clusters, roasted, and gently dehydrated until they’re golden and delicious.
Wet and Semi-moist
Because of the ingredient quality and cooking practices, you may notice that human grade wet foods are less congealed than canned foods, and have a looser consistency. Human grade foods have to be cooked in a way that keeps the food human edible from start to finish, whereas feed grade foods do not, so they tend to be loaded with preservatives that contribute to the jiggly appearance.
Another characteristic of human grade wet food is that you may notice chunkier bits of identifiable meat and vegetables versus the “mystery meat” visual quality of many commercially produced wet foods. Again, this can be credited to the gentler cooking process that keeps the food human edible throughout.
“Grain free” has become a buzzword in the pet food community. For many dogs, grain free food can be great for maintaining weight and helping your pup have more energy, but just because a food is grain free doesn’t mean it’s automatically the most nutritious option. Likewise, just because a dog food contains grains doesn’t automatically mean it’s unhealthy.
There are many human grade dog foods that contain grains, but the ingredient quality and cooking process is once again where the difference matters. In feed grain dog food, it’s much more likely to see ingredients like white rice and corn, which aren’t harmful but offer little nutritional value. On the other hand, human grade dog food may use higher-quality gently processed grains that pack a better nutritional punch like barley, lentils, or brown rice.
Tips for How to Tell What’s in Your Dog’s Food
With so many options to choose from, and so many companies making claims that their food is healthy, it can be hard to decide which brand to choose.Here are some tips for how to navigate nutrition labels that can help you select dog food options that benefit your dog’s long-term health. Ingredients like probiotics, fish oil, and flaxseed can be great additives, but there are some dog food additives (typically only found in feed grade dog food) that can harm your pup.
On the List of Known Carcinogens and Reproductive Toxicants, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) can be responsible for kidney damage in dogs and humans alike. Additionally, there are some studies that link BHA to breast cancer and testicular cancer. Yet, this ingredient can be found in many feed grade pet foods.
Ascorbic acid is vitamin C, which can help boost dogs’ immune systems. However, ascorbic acid can cause dogs intestinal distress if they ingest too much of it.
As one of the most common preservatives found in feed grade dog food, ethoxyquin is linked to numerous health problems in dogs like cancer of the liver, spleen, stomach, and skin. Unfortunately, feed grade dog food manufacturers can get away with using this preservative because the U.S. Coast Guard requires that all fish meal being transported by boat be treated with it.
Although this is a human-edible ingredient, white flour is an additive in many feed grade dog foods that contributes little nutritional value. Additionally, if your dog hasn’t had it before and has an undiagnosed wheat allergy, white flour will cause a flare-up. Whole grains and oats are much healthier, more nutritionally dense alternatives to white flour additives.
Meat meal, which is essentially meat concentrate, is the dried product leftover after rendering down a bunch of meat. There are some meat meals that contain high-quality meat and sufficient protein, but those can be hard to identify solely by reading the label on a dog food bag. Because meat meal is highly processed, it can be hard for dogs to digest, leading to stomach upset, irregular bowel movements, and diarrhea.
Artificial Food Coloring
Most artificial food colorings are approved by the FDA and are safe for humans and pets when used in proper amounts, however, they provide no nutritional value. Dogs are more interested in how the food smells and tastes — not what it looks like.
Some fat in dog food is good for your pup, however, excessive amounts of rendered fat as a filler in feed grade dog foods can cause pancreatitis. Fat is a delicate balance in dog foods: High-quality animal fat can provide essential amino acids, like omega-3 fatty acids, but too much of the wrong kind of fat can lead to weight gain and poor health.
Much like human food, corn syrup is also often added to feed grade dog foods as a flavor enhancer — but dogs don’t need any sweeteners in their foods. Giving your dog feed grade food with added corn syrup will only lead to hyperactivity (sugar rush) due to a blood sugar spike, and weight gain.
Melamine by itself is relatively non-toxic to dogs, but when mixed with cyanuric acid, it becomes highly toxic. Dogs that ingest toxic melamine compounds can experience kidney failure and even death.
The topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is hot among health-conscious humans, but recent data shows that not all GMOs are necessarily bad. Rather, the issue regarding GMOs lies with its environmental impact. GMOs affect the soil and surrounding land, which have long-term effects on the environment. This is one reason why we don’t use any GMOs in our products at The Honest Kitchen.
The Bottom Line: Human Grade Ingredients Are Delicious and Nutritious
When it comes to choosing healthy dog food, you want the best — so sticking with human grade options is ideal in terms of providing your pet with maximum nutritional value and taste. Human grade foods are free of these harmful commercial fillers and are manufactured to the same standards as human food, making them the safest, most nutritious choice for your pet.
Dogs Love The Honest Kitchen’s Human Grade Dog Food
Our goal at The Honest Kitchen is to give pet owners — and their dogs — access to healthy, high-quality food. As the first truly human grade pet food, we proudly raised the bar, adhering to rigorous FDA and AAFCO standards to create delicious food with real, thoughtfully sourced ingredients.
There are options for every palette at The Honest Kitchen, including whole food clusters made from free-range chickens, chewy dog treats made with limited ingredients, and a range of veggie-packed wet foods.Check out our whole collection of human grade dog foods today.