You Are What You Eat: The Case for Human Grade Pet Food

Panorama of healthy fresh ingredients for pet food

You Are What You Eat: The Case for Human Grade Pet Food

One of the single most important things that pet owners can do to help ensure the long term health of their pets is to feed them high quality food. Like with humans, proper nutrition has a direct effect on both the quantity and quality of a pet’s life. You are what you eat– this statement holds true for animals and people alike as the link between nutrition and health has been long established.

Why is high quality food important?

Providing the highest quality of nutrition for pets is crucial to their longevity. Animals need the same combinations of nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins & minerals) as humans. Having the right balance is important because adequate nutrition helps pets have more energy, prevent or fight disease by boosting the immune system, makes for a shinier coat, builds muscle, strengthens bones, aids in digestion, and puts less stress on organs such as the heart, kidney & liver. This is along with a host of other physical and behavioral benefits.

Also, pets require different combinations of nutrition depending on their stage of life. For example puppies require a different type of diet than senior dogs. Hypoallergenic formulas helps to fight allergy related conditions and other formulas are created to help with specific health issues such as heart disease.

What exactly is high quality food?

Higher quality diets include meat and/or meat meal, unrefined, minimally processed foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats and proteins. The best of the high quality or premium foods contain human-grade ingredients including all natural Omega 3 & Omega 6 fatty acids.

Low quality foods on the other hand contain byproducts, fillers, chemical preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors. Corn, wheat and soy ingredients that are often used as fillers are sometimes found to be the first allergic component when a pet presents with an intolerance or allergy to their food.

The higher the quality of food the better it is for digestion. The more digestible the food, the more nutrients that are absorbed.

Human Grade vs Feed Grade

It should come as no surprise that pet food is only loosely regulated. Basic guidelines are set forth by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Association of American Feed Control Offices (AFFCO). The FDA makes sure that pet food is safe to consume, produced in a sanitary environment and labeled correctly. The AAFCO regulates very basic guidelines for nutritional content, but neither entity has much to say about the contents of the food beyond that it should not be harmful.  This lack of regulation is why a lot of dog food brands contain fillers like cornmeal, soybean hulls and other ingredients that add no nutritional value.

Human grade food is highly regulated by the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is deemed as edible for humans. Facilities are subject to detailed inspections and requirements for the actual content of the food and the production process. Only pet foods made in human grade facilities can legally obtain human grade status. Human grade pet foods have a much denser nutritional profile better suited for the needs of pets and tend to be more expensive.

Unlike human grade, feed grade food is not deemed edible for humans. It contains fillers and animal byproducts that can contain highly processed diseased or rotten meat. It addition, it can have discarded materials from meat production like beaks, feathers and fat, and also food waste from restaurants.

Choosing human grade food for your pet

With more and more information about pet nutrition becoming available, along with frequent recalls of commercial pet foods, pet owners are demanding much better food choices for their animals.  The first step, of course, in choosing the best food is to talk with your veterinarian and discuss the nutritional needs of your pet.

There are several companies that offer high quality food for your pet.  For dogs, companies such as “The Farmer’s Dog,” “Ollie,” and “NomNom Now” produce vet-formulated human grade food and all meat is USDA certified. Click here for a comparison of human grade dog food put together by This Dog’s Life. For cats, brands such as “The Honest Kitchen,” Tiki Cat King Kamehameha,” and “Ziwi Peak” are considerations. For a comparison of the high quality cat foods compiled by Pets Lady, click here.

Pet owners should purchase the highest quality food they can afford. When choosing a pet food always read the ingredients list. The first 5-7 items are the major ingredients and should include real meats, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid foods with animal byproducts, refined grains and sugars, artificial preservatives, synthetic chemicals, artificial flavoring, and fillers.

What about homemade food?

Homemade pet food is becoming more and more popular. Various concerns about recalls, poor quality and possible contaminants are leading pet parents toward wanting more control over the safety and nutrition of their pet’s food. Using fresh, high quality ingredients at home makes perfect sense for both your pet and your wallet, but creating a nutritionally balanced meal at home is trickier than one would think.

Although a quick google search will reveal tons of recipes, research has shown that many homemade dog food recipes are not nutritionally adequate. A study of home-prepared maintenance diets for dogs published in 2013 reveals that out of 200 dog food recipes that were pulled from websites, pet care books, and veterinary textbooks, only 5 percent contained adequate levels of all essential nutrients. Given this fact, some argue that using a variety of recipes could ensure the right balance. However, “even the use of a strategy for rotation among several recipes from multiple sources would be unlikely to provide a balanced diet because many of the recipes have similar deficiencies.” In other words, many of the recipes are nutritionally inadequate in the same ways.

This doesn’t mean you should not make your own pet food, but you should be careful so that you don’t cause more harm than good.  The best sources for nutritionally complete and balanced recipes for homemade dog food are board-certified veterinary nutritionists. They can take into account your dog’s age, weight and any health problems that they may have, and design recipes suited to their specific needs. Your  veterinarian can refer you to a veterinary nutritionist, or you can find one on your own through your local veterinary school or the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN). Another option is to go through one of the online services, Petdiets.com or BalanceIt.com, that are run by veterinary nutritionists.

No matter if you choose to purchase higher quality food or make it yourself, it will result in healthier and happier life for Fido or Fluffy!

[ Sources: PetMD, Chewy PetCentral, Dog Food Insider, Healthy Pets, IBPSA ]

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