Chances are, if you're a pet parent, you've heard the term human-grade dog food. But what is human-grade dog food? And is it any healthier than your typical commercial pet food?
Read on to find out what experts have to say about human-grade dog food. Also, check out our article on the top pet food delivery services to keep your dog happy.
What Is Human-Grade Dog Food – The Basics
Human-grade has been a popular pet food label in recent years. It indicates that particular dog food is made with higher quality ingredients suitable for human use. However, experts have been arguing whether this is the right direction for healthy dog food or just another marketing trick.
Dogs and humans have different dietary needs. Just because something is healthy and nutritious for humans, doesn’t mean it will be for dogs, and vice versa. In fact, many ingredients we regularly use in our diets are toxic for our furry friends. Them most common ones include chocolate, macadamia nuts, citrus fruits, grapes, raisins, avocados, and more.
Human-Grade Dog Food – Legal Definitions
According to the Association Of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), there is no standardized legal definition of human-grade pet food. A claim that particular food is human-grade implies that it is safe for human consumption, or “edible” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The term “human grade” represents the product to be human edible. For a product to be human edible, all ingredients in the product must be human edible, and the product must be manufactured, packed, and held in accordance with federal regulations.”
These products have to follow Title 21, Parts 110, and 117 of the Code of Federal Regulations overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (1,2).
So, what does that mean?
Firstly, that means that the human-grade label should be very strict. It is only applicable for products that are safe for human consumption as a whole. All products must be processed, handled, transported, and stored in a way that’s proposed by these regulations.
All ingredients must be human-grade, and even if only one thing in the formulation is not labeled as edible according to the FDA, the product can’t be described as human-grade. All pet food manufacturers must pass inspections, obtain needed documentation, and label their products for intended use, such as “human-grade dog food.”
Are All Human-Grade Pet Foods Actually Human-Grade?
Human-grade pet food doesn’t always have to be human-grade. Pet food manufacturers in California can have facilities that don’t fall under the State Law of the California Human Food Safety Act because they are registered as pet food manufacturing facilities. As a result, they may not have to follow the same guidelines as human-grade food set by the US Department of Agriculture and the AAFCO.
The companies can take advantage of these legal loopholes, and mislabel their pet food products. Because of that, it is essential to update regulations, enforce them, and ask for full transparency of pet food manufacturers.
Is Human-Grade Dog Food Healthier?
The AAFCO requirements for human-grade dog food are set very high, and all products must meet standards for everything from sanitation to processing methods. It should result in the end product that is safer and more nutritious than the dog food without the human-grade label.
But is that really the case?
Human-Grade Dog Food Study
A team of nutritionists at the University of Illinois Animal Sciences Department wanted to test how different human-dog foods compared to pet-grade foods (3).
They tested six human-grade dog foods made by the company Just Food for Dogs LLC. Each one had a different source of protein (chicken, turkey, beef, veal, venison, and fish) and starch source (rice, potato, macaroni, or squash).
The researchers determined overall quality based on three main criteria: total digestibility, amino acid digestibility, and dietary fiber content. Even though all food is labeled as human-grade and produced by the same manufacturer, the results showed several significant differences.
Human-grade dog foods containing chicken, turkey, and lamb had high overall digestibility, with a score between 78% and 82%. On the other hand, the digestibility of fish and venison pet foods was relatively low at 67%. For comparison, dog food not made with human-grade ingredients ranges between 64% and 85%. So, overall digestibility was similar to typical dry dog foods.
The overall amino acid digestibility was high, which indicates the use of high-quality protein sources. Observed dietary fiber content ranged widely depending on the food, which is one of the potential explanations for total digestibility differences.
While these mixed results indicate that human-grade dog food uses high-quality protein sources, it remains unclear why overall digestibility remains similar to pet grade dog food.
Link Between Dog Food Quality and Processing Methods
Last year’s study performed by the same team of researchers from the University of Illinois found that dog food quality is directly correlated with the meat processing method (4).
The researchers included four types of pet grade chicken:
Steamed chicken scored the best with 76.5% overall digestibility. Raw chicken was close behind with 75.9%. The retorted chicken had 73% digestibility, while chicken meal came in dead last with only 60%.
Although this study was performed on pet grade dog food, the results indicate that you should consider the processing method when choosing your dog food.
You should also consider other things if you want to fulfill all the dietary needs of your furry best friend.
How to Choose the Best Dog Foods
Whether you want human-grade or not, there are several things you need to pay attention to when buying dog food. Experts from the Clinical Nutrition Service warn that the ingredient lists on products provide very little information on pet food quality. Food labels are even worse, as they are mainly used for marketing purposes.
Here are a few suggestions on how to find out which dog food is the best for your furry friends.
Look for the AAFCO Statement on the Packaging
The AAFCO or Nutritional Adequacy statement has to be showcased on the package. It’s usually printed in tiny print, but it provides useful information. It covers the vital nutritional information, how it was determined, and appropriate life stage use.
Take a look at these AAFCO statement examples by the Clinical Nutrition Service, to better understand what you are looking for:
- Product X is formulated to meet AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles for Y species and Z life stage. Life stages include “maintenance,” or “growth and reproduction,” which is frequently called “all life stages.”
- Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Product X provides complete and balanced nutrition for Y species and Z life stage. Life stages for feeding tests include “maintenance,” “growth,” “gestation and lactation” (pregnancy and nursing), or “all life stages.”
- This product is intended for intermittent and supplemental feeding only.
The first two examples show that the food has been tested, and it is suitable to meet your dog’s nutritional needs. However, in the third example, that dog food isn’t complete and nutritionally balanced, which is not what you need, except if your vet recommends it.
Consult With Your Veterinarian
Who better knows about your dog than your vet. They can give you the right recommendations for pet food companies using the best quality ingredients to meet your dog’s dietary requirements.
Learn About Dog Food Brands
You can learn a lot about the quality of ingredients and a specific brand by investigating the manufacturer. Find the name of the pet food company on the label, and look for the information online, or contact them directly.
Every dog food company should meet these criteria:
If the manufacturer cannot disclose all information from this list, you should stay clear from that particular dog food brand. Find a manufacturer with transparent practices to make sure your dog is getting the best nutrition possible.
Some pet owners go down a different path and decide to try homemade dog food. We review this topic in another guide, so make sure to check it out to find all the pros and cons of homemade dog food.
Human-grade dog food has several advantages, including better quality protein, overall quality control, ingredient sourcing, handling, better regulatory practices, and product safety. Because of that, human-grade dog food is on the higher end of the price spectrum. However, studies covering human-grade ingredients show mixed results, so many pet parents wonder if it is even worth the hype.
It depends on your dog’s food preferences and needs. In the study we covered, pet foods with chicken, turkey, and veal performed significantly better than those containing venison or fish. Research different brands using our tips, and you’ll find the perfect human-grade dog food company in no time.
It means that a particular food is safe for human consumption. However, as we mentioned, the term human-grade lacks legal background, which is why the term “edible” is better suited.
In theory, human-grade ingredients are safe for human consumption. However, we would not advise eating your dogs’ food.
Should You Buy Human-Grade Dog Food?
Human-grade dog food uses human-grade ingredients. The idea is that feeding your canine companion food made for human consumption results in better quality, improved nutrition, better balance, and is viewed as desirable by many pet owners.
Human-grade has a loose legal definition. Many experts argue whether the term is yet another marketing gimmick, or it actually has some backing by providing better nutrition to your dog. According to Dr. Cailin Heinze, MS, VMD, DACVN, and an Associate Professor of Nutrition at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University:
The human-grade label is a very high bar, and most pet foods don’t meet it, and that isn’t really a problem. Dogs and cats aren’t people
So the best dog food for your furry friend is the one that meets all nutrient needs.