In the simplest terms, labeling dog food as “human grade” means that every ingredient is considered human-edible throughout the entire sourcing and production process, and that the food has been made in a facility that meets the same quality and safety standards as human foods. The term human grade is not a standard according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), however, “edible” is a standard:
“For a product to be deemed edible for humans, all ingredients must be human edible and the product must be manufactured, packed, and held in accordance with federal regulations in 21 CFR 110, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food,” according to AAFCO.
AAFCO has also published this document in conjunction with the FDA that outlines that a product cannot be considered human grade unless it’s entirely human edible. You can learn more about the details of these regulations here.
Because of these strict standards, it's extremely difficult for many pet food companies to actually meet these quality and safety standards. Human grade food production requires a lot more documentation, effort, and expense — which is why many brands refuse to make it.
These brands then fall into the “feed grade” category. Feed grade pet foods do not have to be manufactured in FDA-approved facilities, nor does the food have to be considered human edible at every stage of production. The result is lower costs — but also lower quality.
When it comes to making human grade pet food, the increased costs of ingredients and production are a turn-off for most commercial pet food companies. However, for The Honest Kitchen and other compassionate brands focused on high-quality nutritional value, there’s no higher standard than human grade.
What Are the Main Benefits of Human Grade Dog Food?
Many human grade foods use higher-quality ingredients and tend to be made with healthier food options. As a result, there are many benefits that switching to a high-quality human grade diet can offer.
That said, it’s important to note that human grade pet food as a label isn’t inherently the gold standard. There are plenty of human grade ingredients that aren’t ideal for pets, so we encourage pet parents to look at several indicators of quality to determine if a brand is a good fit for your pet.
For example, providing human grade food doesn’t automatically mean a brand’s recipes are made with organic, non-GMO, or thoughtfully sourced ingredients. It also doesn’t mean that a company doesn’t use ingredients like corn, wheat, or soy — which are human edible, but not high-quality food sources for pets and are often used as fillers. These additional standards are up to the discretion of the company and the standards they set for their own foods.
Check out this resource for more information about what generally makes human grade pet food the better option for your pets.
Now, let's explore what we consider eight of the most significant benefits of human grade dog food that’s made with quality ingredients and free of fillers.
1. Includes High-Quality Human Grade Ingredients
One of the clearest benefits of high-quality human grade pet food is that it’s usually made with nutrient-dense whole foods and quality cuts of meat. Just like humans, eating high-quality food comes with many health benefits when compared to a diet filled with highly processed food.
Human grade ingredients can also be a huge saving grace if you have a picky eater on your hands and you're trying to help them gain weight. In these instances, it’s particularly helpful if you have several human grade food options available, such as toppers, fresh dog food, and kibble (dry dog food) that are packed with nutrition and also taste great.
2. Can Build Healthier, Shinier Coats Thanks to Essential Fatty Acids
Few things impact your dog's coat more than their food, which is why it’s vital to ensure that the food you feed them is high in essential fatty acids. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids specifically are the powerhouses when it comes to a healthy coat. Without these fatty acids, you may notice signs of deficiency in your pet, like dry, flaky skin, a dull coat, dermatitis, or even hair loss.
AAFCO recommends a maximum omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 30:1 for dogs. To compare, the recommended ratio range for humans is 5:1 to 10:1.
True human grade dog food can have higher quality ingredients with omega-3 fatty acids, such as flaxseed oil, cold water fish (and their oil), and to a lesser extent in canola, soy, and walnut oils. Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in ingredients like whole grains, the body fat of poultry (chicken, turkey, duck), lean meat, egg yolks, some fish oils, and organ meats such as spleen, kidney, and adrenals. Many of these can be found on The Honest Kitchen's dog foods ingredient lists.
3. Is Delightful for Doggy Digestion
In addition to all the wonderful fatty acids that may be available for your pup in human grade food, these types of foods are also great for your dog's digestion. Combined with better-quality whole food ingredients, these human grade foods tend to fare better in dogs with sensitive stomachs. This is because they are often less processed than feed grade alternatives, which require rendering (a process that uses extreme heat) to kill any microbes and make the food safe to eat.
For example, The Honest Kitchen’s human grade dog food is made with finely ground whole foods, which makes it easier for dogs to digest. We use gentle processing methods (like low-heat dehydration for our dehydrated foods and cold-pressing and roasting for our whole food clusters), which are easier on your pet’s digestive system.
4. Offers High-Quality Protein for Stronger and More Energetic Pups
Surprisingly, the protein sources for many major dog food brands are from lower-quality sources like grains and legumes rather than high-quality sources like whole muscle and organ meat. Many brands will highlight that their first ingredient is high-quality meat. But if you look further down their ingredients list you can see that they use corn, peas, or other fillers in multiple formats — indicating that much of the protein content in the food is likely not coming from an animal source.
The recommendation for daily protein consumption for dogs is at least 22% dry matter when they are growing, and 18% dry matter for maintenance. The right amount of high-quality protein from an animal source is key to an energetic and happy dog, and this is often found in a human grade dog food.
There are some situations where feeding your pup a high-protein or low-protein diet may be warranted based on certain health conditions or diseases. Be sure to consult a veterinarian if you think your dog needs a high- or low-protein diet, or an alternative better-quality protein source.
5. Supports Joint & Bone Health
Similar to people, dogs' joints and bones need a little extra care and attention during their growing years, as well as when they get older. To support healthy joints and bones throughout their life, certain high-quality ingredients in their food are necessary. Essential ingredients for joints include glucosamine, omega-3 fatty acids, higher-quality protein, and antioxidants. These ingredients are especially important if your dog is a large or giant dog breed, which tend to have joint issues due to their size — such as hip and elbow dysplasia in German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Newfoundlands, and St. Bernards.
6. Can Improve Your Dog's Immune System
Much like with humans, a dog's diet is a cornerstone of good immune health. Dogs are designed to eat a moist, meat-based diet, yet research shows that commercial dry dog foods typically contain 30% to 60% starch. The problem with starches is that they are heavy on carbohydrates, which promote inflammation in large amounts and can lead to a weakened immune system. Vegetable and legume starches, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and lentils, are better because they are not as acidifying and inflammatory as starchy grains.
A truly human grade dog food that’s well-formulated will help keep your pet hydrated and use tasty, thoughtfully sourced ingredients. Dog owners can also ensure a strong immune system by:
- Making sure their dogs are living at a healthy weight for their breed
- Keeping them and their surroundings (bowls, toys, beds) clean
- Being aware of their pet’s stress level
- Taking their pet to the vet for regular check-ups
7. Is Free of Artificial Preservatives Not Approved for Human Consumption
Many human grade dog foods are free of artificial preservatives and other ingredients that can be harmful to your pup (but are often found in feed grade pet foods). These preservatives include:
- Ethoxyquin: A commonly found preservative that is used on fish meal, ethoxyquin can cause different types of cancer as well as kidney and liver damage.
- Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA): A common, potentially harmful preservative that is featured on the list of Known Carcinogens and Reproductive Toxicants from California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, BHA can cause kidney damage in dogs and humans alike.
- Propylene Glycol: This is the main ingredient in antifreeze, which has also been found in some commercial dog foods. Toxicity can look like depression, weakness, involuntary muscle movements, increased urination, and increased thirst.
- Carrageenan: This thickening and emulsifying agent made from seaweed is often found in dog food products because it's technically “natural.” However, it has been found to cause gastric inflammation in animals.
As always, if you think your pet is experiencing toxicity or health issues, take them to the vet right away.
How To Determine If a Human Grade Dog Food Is the Real Deal
Now that you know more about the numerous benefits of human grade dog food, you may be curious about how to verify its legitimacy. As mentioned earlier, it's very hard to make actual human grade dog food, and many companies imply their dog foods are human grade using terms like “real ingredients,” “human edible ingredients,” and more.
Here are a few ways that you can verify the legitimacy of a dog food manufacturer’s quality claims:
- Find out if the food meets the same safety 100+ standards as food for humans. If it only meets the basic standards set for livestock, it's not human grade.
- Find out where the food is made — a human food facility or a pet food factory.
- Identify if the food includes byproducts or “4D” meats (meat from animals that are dying, diseased, disabled, or deceased).
- Check the label on the bag. In-store packaging is more regulated than online, so if a brand doesn’t include the term “human grade” on their packaging, it likely means the food isn’t fully human grade.
The Honest Truth About Our Human Grade Dog Food
It's clear that human grade dog food from the right source can be extremely beneficial to your dog — and beneficial to you as a pet parent. Your dog will be healthy and happy, and you can rest easy knowing that a huge part of their overall health is being supported by high-quality food.
If you’ve been on the fence about switching your pup's food to The Honest Kitchen's human grade dog food, now is your chance to take the leap. Check out all of our dog and cat food for options that taste great and meet your pet’s nutritional needs.
*Health Disclaimer: This post is educational in nature and doesn’t constitute health advice. Please consult your pet's veterinarian or other healthcare professional for specific guidance on this topic.