Caitlin UltimoFood & Treats / Nutrition

What Is Human-Grade Dog Food?

How to Feed Your Pet Human-Grade Dog Food

When it comes to our pets and their diets, we only want what’s best for them. Dog owners might think that if certain vitamins and minerals found in human foods are necessary for their own diet, that’ll mean the same vitamins and minerals are safe and healthy for their pet food, as well.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case, and feeding your dog certain foods meant for human consumption could even make him sick. If you’ve heard of “human-grade dog food” options, though, you might be left wondering: “What does that even mean? How do I know these ingredients are good for my dog? What are some good options?”

Not to worry—we have the answers.

What is human-grade dog food, exactly?

In fact, the term “human-grade” as applied to pet food doesn’t really have anything to do with the nutritional value of the food, but rather the safety of how it’s prepared. While the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is still working on their own definition, the legal definition of human-grade pet food is as follows: “Every ingredient and the resulting product are stored, handled, processed, and transported in a manner that is consistent and compliant with regulations for good manufacturing practices for human edible foods … ”

What are some of the differences between a diet meant for humans and a diet that’s good for a dog?

While the proper inspection of food (for both humans and dogs) is obviously important, there are other differences to keep in mind between human and dog-appropriate diets. “Most human diets will be too low in calcium and too high in phosphorous for dogs,” said Judy Morgan DVM, CVA, CVCP, CVFT. Meats also have a very low calcium to phosphorous ratio, so canine diets often need to be supplemented with raw ground bone, bone meal, ground eggs shells or some other mineral to make up the difference.

Dogs also can’t absorb vitamin D through their skin from sunlight the way humans do, so your dog food requires some sort of vitamin D supplementation. Zinc, manganese and other trace minerals are also lacking in a meat-based diet, says Dr. Morgan, so those often get added to dog food, as well.

Finally, the human body is good at converting omega-6s to omega-3s, whereas a dog’s body is not, so pups often need to be fed foods with higher quantities of omega-3s to get what they need for good pet health.

What should I keep in mind if I’d like to cook for my pet myself?

Besides the above dog nutrition concerns, remember that the calories in your dog’s diet should come from very specific sources—namely protein, fat and carbohydrates, says Dr. Morgan. “Dogs also need a fiber source for bowel health,” she said, “whether that comes from greens like kale or digestible carbohydrates like butternut squash or pumpkin.”

Try grain-free dog food or a formula with limited legumes for dogs that tend to be overweight, but if your dog is healthy enough or has a hard time actually maintaining his weight, these can actually be very useful in helping him do so. “They’ll need to be well cooked, though,” said Dr. Morgan, “and any vegetables need to be processed in some manner to be highly digestible.”

Simply feeding your dog yogurt or dairy products will likely not satisfy his calcium requirements, and they won’t help with his probiotic needs, either. Plus, with supplementation it’s not enough to just provide the supplement; you’ll need to make sure you pup is getting enough, as well. For example, “remember that vitamin D will probably need to be supplemented,” said Dr. Morgan, “and although it’s found in fish and egg yolks, it’s hard to feed enough of these things to fully satisfy the requirements.”

It’s always best to talk with your vet for specifics on your dog’s dietary needs if you have any questions or concerns.

That seems complicated … is there some other way I can feed my pet “human-grade” dog food?

If you’re still interested in feeding your dog “human” food, but keeping up with all the requirements on your own night after night seems tedious, you might consider feeding him frozen/raw meals intended for dogs specifically. You might be surprised to learn that you can still get many of the same benefits of a home-cooked meal—if you find the right brand. Many raw dog food and pet food companies do not need to add a synthetic vitamin/mineral mix to their foods because they are retaining the nutrients in the food naturally. “Raw meals are much higher in meat and organ content, contain no grains or legumes, and have a low percentage of fruits and /or vegetables, and they often contain ground bone to balance the calcium,” said Dr. Morgan.

For example, Tylee’s Chicken Recipe Frozen Human-Grade Dog Food contains the same quality ingredients that you would feed your family, such as USDA-grade chicken, apples, spinach and carrots. Your dog will be getting all the omega-3 and 6 nutrients needed for a healthy coat, but with this no grain dog food, you’ll be avoiding all those fillers—like corn and wheat—that could upset sensitive stomachs or cause allergies.

Is this type of diet really that much healthier?

Still not convinced a raw meal diet for your pup is the way to go? According to Dr. Morgan, most pets that are fed raw diets will have fewer allergies, skin issues, anal gland problems and other pet health issues, and they’ll absorb nutrients better, produce less and firmer stool, have better dental health and experience fewer obesity issues.