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

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The newest buzzword in the pet food industry is “human-grade.” If you Google it, you get 114 million search results. But is human-grade dog food with it‑and what does the label even mean? In an industry estimated to be worth $195 billion by 2027, human-grade dog food companies are competing with over 600 traditional brands for pet parents’ attention. We know this is overwhelming, so we asked several vets for their take on human-grade dog food, along with their recommendations if you decide to try it out.

Meet the Experts:

What Does “Human-Grade” Mean?

It’s easy to think of human-grade dog food as people food. This is not the case! The Association of American Feed Control Officials says people food must meet rigorous federal regulations from the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Foods meeting all standards are “edible.” If a pet food product meets the same standards and qualifies as “edible,” the AAFCO says it can be labeled “human-grade,” though it adds, “Edible is a standard; human-grade is not.”

However, Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, DVM, lead veterinarian at Senior Tail Waggers and director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital, notes “human-grade” still means nothing when it comes to actual human food. She considers this phrase more of a marketing tactic than anything else. “Being ‘human-grade’ does not guarantee better ingredients, does not eliminate the risk of potential contamination and does not have anything to do with whether or not the diet is balanced or formulated appropriately for a dog,” Dr. Whittenburg told us.

“Feed-grade” is the term used for food deemed safe for animals, but unsafe for people (or at least, doesn’t meet the FDA, USDA or AAFCO requirements to be considered “edible”). If you’re confused, consider this: A Hershey’s chocolate bar is edible and human-grade (meets federal standards), but not feed-grade (unsafe for dogs).

Jodie Otter, MSW, notes that feed-grade doesn’t mean worse food. All it takes is one ingredient that’s unsafe for humans to qualify pet food as feed-grade. So, some high-quality feed-grade dog food could in fact be more nutritious for your pup than low quality human-grade food. It all comes down to ingredients and their sourcing.

One example of dry kibble that is arguably healthier for dogs than some human-grade food is Open Farm’s dry food. Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, a veterinary epidemiologist, is a fan of Open Farm because of their nutritious options (dry and wet foods, treats, supplements, broths, toppers). We challenge you to find a more transparent dog food brand. Open Farm’s partners include Certified Humane, Oceanwise, The Global Animal Partnership and Terracycle. Their whole goal is the highest quality ingredients from the most sustainable sources and full transparency throughout the process. This is feed-grade food we can get behind.

Is Human-Grade Dog Food Better for Dogs Than Feed-Grade Food?

Many human-grade brands were started by dog parents trying to cure their pets’ digestive problems. For those dogs, human-grade food was better than feed-grade food. Some vets, like Dr. Nell Ostermeier, DVM, CVA, FAAVA, an Integrative Veterinarian at AKC Pet Insurance, think feed-grade diets can take a toll on dogs. “All kibble is highly processed. So, if you choose to feed your dog kibble only, you are choosing to feed all processed food, all the time,” Dr. Ostermeier said, adding a kibble-only diet could dehydrate dogs over time. “This does not make sense from a health perspective for dogs or humans.”

Dr. Venn-Watson agrees. “Unfortunately, many commercial dog brands contain low-quality ingredients, unhealthy fillers and harmful preservatives,” she said.

On the other hand, Dr. Whittenburg pointed out there’s no evidence that AAFCO “edible” handling guidelines offer significant benefits to dogs. “There are many things to consider when choosing a pet food, including formulation, feed trial testing and the unique needs of your individual dog,” Dr. Whittenburg told us. Relying on the human-grade label alone isn’t enough. The bottom line is the best food for your dog depends on… well, your dog!

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

The primary benefits of human-grade dog food are hydration, additional nutrient intake and a potential for improved digestion. “Human-grade food or whole food, that is gently cooked, can provide a high level of nutrients and hydration for your dog,” according to Dr. Ostermeier. Plus, there’s much less processing done to human-grade dog food than kibble or canned food. (Technically, cooking counts as processing. Most human-grade brands state their meals are minimally processed.)

JustFoodForDogs, a human-grade brand, organized a study to compare their menu to commercial kibble. The results indicate their formulas were “up to 40 percent more digestible” compared to dry food. Dogs in the study also absorbed more nutrients when they ate JustFoodForDogs meals.

Human-grade food can also supplement a feed-grade diet to ensure your dog ingests plenty of the good stuff. Say your pup requires a prescription commercial dry food. There are tons of fruits and vegetables you can feed her to fortify her diets with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, while sticking to the prescription. (Obviously check with your vet before trying this!)  

What Should I Look For in a Human-Grade Dog Food?

It’s all about ingredients and processes. Focusing on the ingredient list, quality control standards and nutritional team behind a dog food brand is most important. “If the brand does not provide sourcing information or information on veterinary formulation, it may not be the safest or best food to feed your dog,” Dr. Ostermeier said. “If the food is formulated and balanced according to AAFCO standards, it can be fed as your dog's entire diet.”

Dr. Lindsay Butzer, a veterinarian and PetMeds partner, said nutritionally complete dog foods contain an intentional mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. “Look for statements on the packaging along the lines of ‘meets nutritional requirements of dogs established by AAFCO’ or ‘complete and balanced nutrition for dogs based on AAFCO feeding trials.’”

When checking out ingredient lists, Dr. Linda Simon, who is part of Pawleaks Modern Dog Training’s veterinary consult team, advised reading through an “edible” lens. “Ingredients used in these recipes should be fresh and wholesome, mimicking what you or I might eat. This can include meat (rather than meat and bone meal), grains, legumes, fruits and veggies… The foods should not contain fillers, artificial colors, preservatives or similar ‘bad’ ingredients.”

Dr. Whittenburg urged dog parents to make sure a dog food brand is “formulated by a board certified veterinary nutritionist and feed trial tested to ensure it is high quality.” One thing all vets agree on is that meat or a high-protein ingredient should be listed first.

Which Human-Grade Dog Food Brands Are Best?

Several of our vet sources recommended The Farmer’s Dog. One reason is this brand went “above and beyond the AAFCO standards of nutrition by conducting live feeding trials on actual dogs of all shapes and sizes over a six-year period,” according to Dr. Lindsay. Plus, The Farmer’s Dog can tailor meal plans to a dog’s age, weight, breed, health issues, activity level and more.

Working with board-certified veterinary nutritionists, The Farmer’s Dog formulated recipes using whole ingredients that taste delish to dogs (and humans, apparently). Their site states, “Our meals are prepared in USDA kitchens, where each recipe is gently cooked at low temperatures according to USDA-facility standards.” They also never use feed-grade ingredients.

“Another strong option in the human-grade food department is Ollie,” Dr. Lindsay said. This brand offers meals depending on your dog’s life stage, plus full ingredient lists are displayed and meals are slow cooked. Ollie offers both grain and grain-free options, too, as some dogs benefit from incorporating more grains into their diets. Plus, the Ollie website says their recipes don’t contain by-products, fillers, artificial flavoring, or preservatives, and they used a “board-certified veterinary nutritionist who helped us formulate our balanced and complete, human-grade recipes, abiding by the AAFCO standards.”

Finally, Dr. Lindsay recommended JustFoodForDogs if you’re in the market for more DIY recipes. Their meal kits give you more control over what your dog eats while ensuring the pup gets all the nutrients she needs. JustFoodForDogs could also be ideal for pets with certain allergies or weight concerns, as the brand offers a feeding calculator and various meal sizes for portion control. With nine veterinarians and board-certified specialists on their team and systematic feeding trials, this is an excellent human-grade food option.

Another noteworthy human-grade dog food brand is PetPlate, which prepares dog meals in USDA-certified kitchens. They also feature a guide on reading pet food labels.

So, Should I Feed My Dog Human-Grade Food?

If you’re on the fence, talk to your vet. They know your pet’s health history and can make recommendations based on what your dog needs. If you want an answer here, we defer to Dr. Simon, who concluded, “As a general rule, I suggest to my owners that they feed the best diet they can afford. However, if this means feeding a supermarket brand or a food that is not ‘human-grade’ I have no concern for the health or welfare of the animal.”

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