This article was written by Adam Cecil of PolicyGenius.
The Daily Mail scared a lot of readers with this headline: "How pet food is killing your dog." Sensationalist? Yes. But is there a nugget of truth in there?
Some, including the Daily Mail, claim that dog food is full of ingredients that would make it unfit for human consumption -- ingredients like meats from diseased slaughterhouse animals. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates both human and pet food, its standards for pet food are much lower. Though pet food must be deemed "safe," the FDA does not require pre-authorization before coming to market and safety is judged based on the type of ingredients, not necessarily the packaging or processing methods. For example, scientists question the effect of heating processes on the overall nutritional value of dog food, despite the addition of amino acids and vitamins as supplements.
Watch our video taste test of human grade dog food:
Critics of commercial dog food also look at the history of dog food. The first modern dog food product was invented by James Spratt in England in 1860. His product -- a biscuit made up of wheat meals, various vegetables, beetroot, and meat -- was the first attempt at creating a nutritious "complete meal" for dogs. Since then, commercial dog food has become part of the largest pet-related industry in the world -- it's estimated that Americans alone spent $23 billion on pet food in 2015 -- primarily by marketing itself as the only safe and nutritious way to feed your pet.
It's that specific marketing message that this generation's pet nutritionists, veterinarians, and owners are rebelling against. Dogs have been man's best friend for thousands of years, but commercial, dog-specific food didn't exist until 1860. Surely, dogs didn't just starve in the street for all of the years in-between?
One example of a veterinarian pushing back against commercial companies is Australian vet Ian Bullinghurst, the creator of the Bones and Raw Food (BARF) diet. His argument is very simple: dogs have survived for millions of years eating raw food, both in the wild and with human settlements, and that they don't have the ability to digest grains. BARF and other raw food diets are just as controversial as commercial dog food -- critics say that you put both you and your dog at risk for disease from uncooked meats.Read more about the best dog foods:
- What's the best food for my adult dog?
- What's the best food for my puppy?
- What's the best food for my dog's sensitive stomach?
Another example is something called "human grade dog food." According to The Honest Kitchen, one of the pioneering human grade pet food companies, human grade means that this food is fit for human consumption. It's not just about the ingredients involved, though The Honest Kitchen does claim that they don't use any of the rejected meat products that other dog companies use. It's also about the processes used to cook and package these foods. The Honest Kitchen's plant is inspected by the FDA with the same standards that they use for human food plants.
Evermore is another company selling what they call "human grade" dog food, though they also use the buzzword "gently-cooked" to describe their process. What does it mean to be gently-cooked? It means that their foods are prepared with a low-heat cooking process that keeps as much of the natural nutrients in their ingredients as possible while also killing bacteria like salmonella that live in raw meat.
Human grade dog food is obviously not part of the raw food movement -- instead, these companies are trying to improve the process of cooking and packing dog food so that adding nutritional supplements becomes unnecessary. Both The Honest Kitchen and Evermore claim that their meals are nutritionally complete, tapping into the language used by bigger commercial dog food companies to market their kibble.
However, just because their meals are "human grade" doesn't mean they're great for humans. PolicyGenius' own Jon Marquez tasted meals from both companies and found that they weren't exactly the tastiest instant meals in the world. Jon did prefer The Honest Kitchen, mostly because their ingredients list -- chicken, quinoa, and spinach -- sounds very similar to a meal he might pick up here in our hometown of Brooklyn. If you want to watch his reaction to tasting dog food in real time, you should check out our video taste on YouTube.
Additionally, it's important to note that there is no central governing body that decides what the "human grade" qualifications are, and not all companies who use the term human grade are talking about the same thing. If you choose to purchase food from a company claiming to be human grade, investigate those claims carefully before paying for a premium product. The Bark found that Newman's Own Organics and other dog food companies use the term human grade in their online FAQs and marketing material, despite the fact that they haven't gone through any process to prove that to their customers.
With all of the different options out there when it comes to dog food, you may be wondering: What should I actually be feeding my dog? Is it fine to feed her high-quality kibble, or should I switch to a raw diet or human grade dog food? As veterinarian T.J. Dunn, Jr., put it for PetMed: "It depends!" Every dog is different, and you'll need to perform your own research and closely observe your dog in order to make sure their diet is healthy. Dunn suggests that just reading the labels is a great first step towards understanding your dog's diet. At the end of the day, just the act of researching the food you give your dog shows that you love and care about their health, and that is way more indicative of how healthy your dog will be in the long run. And as far as finally choosing a food? Dog behaviorist Cesar Millan said it best: "Go with what suits you and your pets' lifestyle, but always pick nutritionally balanced food, the highest quality you can afford."
Oh, and remember that you don't have to taste test it first.
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