Human-Grade Dog Food: Is it Best for Your Pet?

John Egan - The Upside Blog

by | Read time: 5 minutes

The world’s first human-grade food for dogs trotted onto the market in 2002. Since then, the market for human-grade food for dogs and cats has exploded, reaching a global value of nearly $2 billion in 2022.

To be sure, human-grade pet food is practically as popular with pet owners as bones are with dogs. But do you know what human-grade pet food is and how it’s regulated? And are you aware of its potential benefits, including improved digestion and rigid quality standards?

Here, we chew over what human-grade pet food is, how it’s regulated and what its potential benefits are.

Woman in Striped Socks and Pajamas Feeding Bowl of Human Grade Dog Food to Her Little White Dog

(Note that online information about human-grade pet food mentions dogs more often than cats. Therefore, some references in this article are canine-specific.)

What is human-grade dog food?

Legally, there’s no official definition of human-grade pet food, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, a nonprofit that develops pet food regulations.

But as pet food manufacturer Purina explains, a pet food product can’t be labeled as “human-grade” unless all of the ingredients are deemed edible for humans and the food itself meets federal manufacturing and packaging regulations. Under these guidelines, most pet foods don’t qualify as “human-grade.”

This doesn’t mean, though, that all ingredients in food for humans are safe for dogs and cats. In fact, an ingredient that’s considered safe for a human might endanger a pet. Ingredients that may be hazardous to your dog or cat include:

  • Avocado
  • Garlic
  • Onion, onion powder and onion flakes
  • Salt
  • Walnuts

“Human-grade does not automatically equal nutritional safety for pets,” the feed control organization warns.

Furthermore, a human-grade designation doesn’t automatically translate into the healthiest food alternative for your pet.

“While a dog food that is called ‘human-grade’ could mean that it has passed all the necessary requirements to be edible to humans,” says Petco, “it doesn’t always imply that it will also be a nutritious meal option for your pet as it may still lack a complete nutritional profile for dogs, such as the correct levels of specific vitamins and minerals.”

Traditional pet food is known as feed-grade pet food. The Association for Pet Food Consumers points out that feed-grade pet food might be made with human-quality ingredients and might follow human-level food safety standards, but the FDA doesn’t require it. In other words, feed-grade pet food is less tightly regulated than human-grade pet food is.

“It’s important to note that human-grade dog food doesn’t refer to human foods you give your dog from your kitchen,” says Dutch, a provider of online veterinary care. “Instead, any meals you make for your dog at home are homemade. Meanwhile, human-grade pet foods are manufactured in facilities or commercial kitchens.”

How is human-grade dog food regulated?

A number of organizations have some sort of oversight regarding human-grade pet food.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates pet food and its ingredients. This regulatory umbrella covers human-grade pet food. Under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, all food for animals must be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances and be “truthfully” labeled.

In addition, many states have their own laws regulating pet food. California goes so far as to prohibit pet food from being marketed as human-grade.

Unlike the FDA, the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not regulate pet food.

The USDA does impose standards for organic pet food, though. Furthermore, the USDA defines which foods and ingredients are “edible.” Therefore, any human-grade pet food must meet the “edible” standard. To be called “edible,” food must stay with the human food chain and follow FDA guidelines.

Meanwhile, although the Association of American Feed Control Officials doesn’t regulate, test or approve pet food, it does come up with model regulations for pet food.

How can you tell if pet food is human-grade? The product label displays the words “human grade,” according to the Truth About Pet Food website. Any pet food that doesn’t adhere to human-grade standards is classified as feed-grade.

Under guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials, pet food must qualify for the USDA’s Process Verified Program in order to be called “human-grade.” This program ensures food labeling and marketing aligns with certain quality standards.

What are the nutritional benefits of human-grade dog food?

Proponents of human-grade pet food tout a number of nutritional benefits, such as:

It’s worth noting that little research exists to back up these claims. However, more studies of human-grade pet food are emerging. For example, a University of Illinois study released in 2021 found that dog diets consisting of human-grade ingredients “are not only highly palatable, they’re extremely digestible.

“Human-grade dog food is a good option for many dogs, especially those who need to improve their digestion,” according to Dutch, the veterinary company.

Even though human-grade pet food offers potential advantages, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University cautions that feeding it to your dog or cat doesn’t guarantee better health or better food quality. Some critics even go so far as to brand human-grade pet food as a marketing gimmick.

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