Is Human-Grade Cat Food Worth It? Vets Weigh in on Their Favorite Brands

And what does “human-grade” even mean?

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A pet owner feeds their cat human grade cat food.
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Debating whether to feed your cat a human-grade cat food diet? Consider your options first. Like human-grade dog food, human-grade cat food meets the same rigorous standards that people food must meet. Yet, this doesn’t always mean better quality. Instead, the vets we spoke to suggest looking for cat food that meets guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, along with identifying whole foods in ingredient lists. To save you some time, we did some digging and determined that Stella & Chewy’s and Open Farm are the best human-grade cat food options for your feline family members.

Vet-Approved Human-Grade Cat Food at a Glance


Best Variety


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Vet Favorite

Stella & Chewy’s

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Best Eco-Friendly Option

Open Farm

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Best Raw Food Option

Nutra Complete Premium Chicken Cat Food 100% Freeze-Dried Raw

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Meet the Experts:

What Does “Human-Grade” Mean?

Pet food labeled as “human-grade” means everything about it—the ingredients, the handling, the shipping—meets all of the regulations required of human food. (We don’t call human food “human-grade,” we just say it’s edible.) 

There are no federal regulations when it comes to pet food. The closest thing we have is The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the organization that determines the criteria pet food should meet. The AAFCO has dog and cat nutrient profiles that pet food manufacturers can adhere to when creating recipes for their products. Note that we said can adhere to, not have to adhere to. The AAFCO doesn’t have an approved list of pet food products. It’s up to brands to tell us whether they’ve followed the AAFCO guidelines. 

Some vets, like Michael Thompson, founder and leading veterinarian at Pets Food Safety, consider the human-grade label a sign of high quality. Others, like Dr. Gary Richter M.S., D.V.M, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, see the phrase as a bit of marketing jargon designed to draw us in. Dr. Richter also acknowledges there can be benefits to human-grade cat food diets.

The alternative to human-grade cat food is feed-grade cat food, which is what makes up most of the cat food market. If a pet food’s ingredients don’t meet every single FDA regulation required of edible human food, it’s considered feed-grade.

Human-Grade Food Is Not Raw Food

One clarification that many cat parents may need is the difference between human-grade and raw food. These are two very different things! Raw cat food has never been cooked; human-grade cat food usually has been cooked (again, it must meet FDA regulations for human consumption).

Dr. Daisy May, a veterinary surgeon and pet care writer for All About Parrots, notes there’s lots of debate over raw food diets for pets. “This is a topic that sparks debate among pet owners and experts alike,” she says. “Some argue that a raw diet can mimic a cat's natural diet in the wild, while others raise concerns about the risk of bacterial contamination and nutritional imbalances.”

When in doubt, ask your vet.

Is Human-Grade Cat Food Better for Cats Than Feed-Grade Food?

This is where Dr. Richter says the marketing jargon comes into play. “Kibble or canned food can be human grade, as this describes the ingredients, not the method of processing or production,” he says.  

Even the AAFCO says, “Human-grade does not automatically equal nutritional safety for pets.” It all comes down to what your cat needs. Remember, cats have different nutritional requirements than humans. For instance, cherries provide lots of Vitamins and fiber to us, but are toxic to cats.

It’s more than possible to feed your cat high quality feed-grade food. Dr. Greg Reinhart, Pet Honesty’s Vice President of Research and Development, says, “While nutritionally there is minimal difference between feed-grade and human-grade, human-grade foods are made with ingredients that meet FDA standards for humans. So, it all comes down to preference.”

What Are the Potential Benefits of Human-Grade Cat Food?

The biggest potential benefit you get when you buy human-grade cat food is quality. Typically, human-grade means the ingredients have gone through more rigorous quality standards. But, that’s not always the case.

Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, writing for Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, says, “The same exact corn going into many [not human-grade] pet foods is also going into the tortilla chips in your kitchen. Therefore, the term ‘human-grade’ doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the quality of the ingredient.” The corn could come from anywhere, be non-organic, covered with pesticides and still be considered human grade.

More important than the human-grade label is the stuff inside the package. Look for ingredient lists and any messaging on where the ingredients were sourced or how they were processed. 

Sometimes, a human-grade diet can improve cat digestion. Many reviewers of brands that are free of extra fillers, grains or preservatives say a human-grade diet was the key to easier (and less smelly) poops for their cats. This is highly dependent on your cat’s specific constitution, so check in with your vet if you think human-grade food could be a solution to health issues. 

What Should I Look for in Human-Grade Cat Food?

Dr. Richter says more than the label, cat parents should identify fresh, whole ingredients in their cat’s foods. By this Dr. Richter means avoiding ingredients like meat meals, which are meat byproducts that have been highly processed.

“Human-grade cat food can certainly be a good choice,” adds Dr. May. “But it's not the only factor to consider. Look for brands that provide transparency about their sourcing and manufacturing processes. Check for certification from reputable bodies like the AAFCO.”

The AAFCO agrees, advising pet parents to check out nutritional adequacy statements on pet food packaging to see if the manufacturer has adhered to AAFCO guidelines.

Marketing words like “natural” and “grain-free” don’t necessarily mean the product is healthier for your cat either. Remember, there aren’t regulations for pet food, so brands don’t have to prove their ingredients are “natural,” whatever that means. “Grain-free” is also often used to indicate the food is low in carbs or higher in protein. However, some cats need high quality whole grains in their diet to give them more fiber.

Dr. May recommends choosing a cat food that meets your specific cat's needs, taking into account their age, activity level, and any health issues they might have. Talk to your vet to determine which ingredients are most important in your kitty’s diet.

Pro tip: It is possible to incorporate human-grade cat food into your pet’s diet as a supplemental form of nutrition. Some wet food options make great toppers, especially if you decide a full human-grade diet isn’t feasible for your cat’s palette or your budget.

Which Human-Grade Cat Food Brands Are Best?

There are many human-grade cat food options on the market. While we can’t tell you which one is best for your cat, we can tell you what our experts recommend.

“Owners should look for certified AAFCO brands,” says Thompson. “Stella & Chewy's…or Open Farm are a few brands offering human-grade cat food that also meet AAFCO guidelines.”

We also recommend Smalls, a human-grade cat food that is gently cooked and offers tons of variety (because we know cats can be picky eaters).

Package of Smalls human-grade cat food on yellow background.

Best Variety

1. Smalls

What We Like

  • variety of proteins and textures
  • transparent about ingredients and sources
  • subscription-based

What We Don't Like

  • freezer and fridge storage required
  • returns not accepted
  • could get pricey


We love Smalls for the variety they offer, both in terms of proteins and textures. They offer chicken, turkey, beef and fish recipes. Some come in patés while others are diced or minced. With a subscription, you never have to worry about going to the store to replenish. One drawback may be making sure you have freezer and fridge storage available for your cat all the time. Smalls food packets need to be kept frozen until 24 hours before serving, then thawed in the fridge. Smalls also offers guidelines on how much to feed your cat based on which food you choose and how much your cat weighs. For example, one packet each day of the chicken options for a 10-pound cat. Another potential con: If you only feed your cat Smalls, it could get pricey. Each package of food starts at $4.

(For 5 oz.)

Pouch of human-grade cat food by Stella and Chewy

Vet Favorite

2. Stella & Chewy’s

What We Like

  • no artificial preservatives or colors
  • no added hormones or antibiotics
  • contains bone broth
  • transparent packaging
  • meets AAFCO guidelines

What We Don't Like

  • not much variety
  • larger serving size

Stella and Chewy's

If you want 100 percent human-grade choices from Stella & Chewy’s, go with their boxed wet cat food line. Choose between cage-free chicken and turkey in either paté or minced morsels. While this isn’t much variety in terms of flavor or protein, Stella & Chewy’s does offer different textures. We really love the transparency on the packaging; the company includes the human-grade phrase and confirmation that they’ve adhered to AAFCO guidelines for cat nutrition. The serving size is one package per day for a cat weighing six to eight pounds. Again, that means for large cat breeds, this diet could get pricey quickly.

(Per case of 24, 2.8-oz. pouches)

Pouch of human-grade cat food by Open Farm
Open Farm

Best Eco-Friendly Option

3. Open Farm

What We Like

  • sustainably sourced
  • wide variety
  • 100% traceable ingredients
  • meets AAFCO guidelines

What We Don't Like

  • lower percentage of crude protein than other options

Open Farm

Open Farm’s wet cat foods are all 100 percent human-grade and sustainably sourced. In fact, the company indicates which food options have a lower carbon footprint for eco-conscious pet parents. Not only does Open Farm offer salmon, beef, chicken and turkey recipes, they also have a chicken and salmon blend and a herring and mackerel blend, making this the widest variety of flavors in our round-up. We loved the sourcing transparency so much that we’d even go as far as recommending their line of dry food options (an option for cats who are so picky they only want kibble or like to nibble throughout the day). The pricing is comparable to Stella & Chewy’s, at about $3 per 5.5 oz. box.

(Per case of 12, 5.5 oz. pouches)

Pouch of human-grade cat food by Nutra Complete

Best Raw Food Option

4. Nutra Complete Premium Chicken Cat Food 100% Freeze-Dried Raw

What We Like

  • vet-formulated
  • high crude protein content
  • smaller serving size

What We Don't Like

  • freeze-dried texture might deter some cats
  • expensive

Nutra Complete

If you do want to try a raw food option for your cat, we recommend Nutra Complete. Dr. Richter formulated it himself and it has by far the highest crude protein content among the food options on our list (45 percent). The recipe contains chicken, chicken liver, vegetables and fruits chosen for optimal nutrition. A ten-pound cat requires just one cup of this food per day, which is good news considering each 12 ounce bag costs $31 on Amazon. If you want Dr. Richter’s quality ingredients without completely transitioning your cat to a raw, freeze-dried diet, try one of his vet-formulated, single-ingredient treats. My cats cannot get enough of the Chicken Liver Nutra Bites.  

(for 12 oz.)

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...

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