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Human Grade vs. Feed Grade Pet Foods

My dog is a fan of Honest Kitchen dog food. With that said, it made perfect sense that I attended a luncheon table talk at the recent BlogPaws Conference on Lake Las Vegas. The group leader was Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a fellow pet industry connection but also a veterinarian and President at Calfornia Pet Acupuncture & Wellness (CPAW). He dispenses advice and information from a holistic perspective and prides himself on keeping current and informed with overall wellness for pets.

Mahaney’s terrier, Cardiff, is living (and thriving) despite his diagnoses of Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia and more recently, cancer. When Mahaney talks, I listen, and I am not alone.

Patrick Mahaney

The table topic at this particular luncheon dealt with the type of food, quality of food, and ingredients in the food your dog eats. This is particularly hot discussion for most anyone who prides themselves on being a dedicated dog parent, present company included. Here’s the scoop:

Human Grade vs. Feed Grade Pet Foods: Which one does your dog eat?

Human grade refers to a finished product that is deemed legally suitable, safe, and FDA-approved for consumption by a human.

Feed grade refers to the quality of a finished product which is not suitable for consumption by humans according to FDA standards. It is only legally allowed to be served to animals because of the ingredients it contains or how it has been processed. Further, it may include by-products, chemicals, fillers, and parts from “4D” meats: animals which are dying, diseased, disabled, or deceased. (re-read that last sentence very carefully. Did you shudder as we did?)

Made with human-grade ingredients does NOT mean a finished product is actually legally, human grade. An ingredient might start off being fit for people to eat it, but once it is shipped to a pet food plant and processed according to regulations for feed grade products, the term “human grade” can no longer apply. By true definition, that ingredient is now human grade.

Quite the dose of reality, isn’t it?

honest kitchen

Could your dog’s food contain animal feces potentially containing unhealthy parasites or bacteria? Yes, according to the research Mahaney cites. Your pet’s food could contain animal feces potentially containing unhealthy parasites or bacteria. Such contamination is allowed by the FDA, provided is has been properly heat treated.

Animals that have died in a manner besides slaughter can be used in feed-grade foods created for animals, and that includes your dog or cat. One of the books that really opened my eyes to this topic is by Ann Martin, “ Foods Pets Die For.”

Facts of What and Why I Feed My Dog 

I choose to feed my dog The Honest Kitchen dog food based on a previous history of failed food attempts with my last Cocker Spaniel. It has been over five years and I am only now beginning to want to talk about and share our history of dietary issues and health crises she endured. Those posts will be revealed in coming weeks.

In looking for a dog food to feed in general, some of the qualities important to me include:

  • No artificial ingredients or preservatives: I want it as fresh as possible without having to cook it myself
  • Nutritious and good for my dog
  • Human grade
  • He likes the taste of it and I can rotate flavors if desired without causing digestive upset
  • Made with recognizable ingredients, words I can pronounce, made with human grade ingredients that are not from rendering plants or some of the nasty places Dr. Mahaney spoke of in his discussion
  • I am not as concerned with price of food if I know I am feeding quality because I either pay now or pay later in costly medical bills due to an inferior grade of food.
  • No ingredients from China.

Quick! Make a wish!

The Honest Kitchen isn’t a food I ever thought I would want to feed my dog.  I gave it a shot, and Dex loves it! You add water to what appears to be a somewhat powdery but aesthetically appealing substance, wait a few minutes, and a meal is ready. Old-fashioned dog kibble (the dry stuff) turns brown in processing from all the high heat it endures.

With my dog’s food, the phytonutrients remain and it looks and smells yummy. In fact, I’ve sampled it myself! Rule of thumb for me: If I can’t use it or eat it, neither can my dog.

I add some extras to Dexter’s Honest Kitchen meal; things like cooked meat, veggies, or eggs. You do not have to add things, but the option is there if you want to add variety to your dog’s meal.

What is Dehydrated Food?

Dehydration removes the moisture from fresh ingredients. By doing so, the need for irradiation or chemical preservatives is eliminated. FAQs about The Honest Kitchen can be found here.

For more about Dr. Mahaney and to follow his blog, visit http://www.patrickmahaney.com/

QUESTION: What type of food do you feed your dog?

Note: We were not compensated to write this post; we share information we feel is of interest and value to our readers along with info about products we like and use. Always check with your dog’s veterinarian before making any feeding changes.

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  1. We have tried some of the packets of the Honest Kitchen food form the conference. My boys loved it and it is so easy to prepare. Of course, the couple of minutes that it needs to sit was excruciating for Bentley. Haha! Your facts on what could be in their food is terrifying!

    1. Yeah that scared the bejeebers out of us and we are so glad we feed a super quality food I feel safe about. LOL on Bentley waiting.

  2. I feed a raw diet, mostly homemade, but occasionally using dehydrated or premade. I am a huge fan of THK, their products, and what they stand for.

  3. Great post! Kirby eats mostly homemade meals (http://kirbythedorkie.com/recipes) which keeps him healthy and active with sparkly eyes and a beautiful coat to prove it! I actually read a study where minute particles of drugs used for euthanasia were found in commercial dog food. Cancer in dogs is on the rise and I firmly believe commercial dog foods are the culprits. Like you, I’d rather pay more now for good food than later for vet bills because my heart beats Kirby!

    There are some good companies providing healthy foods which owners can find with due diligence. HK is one of those companies!

    1. I am such a fan of yours, Kirby, and thank you for weighing in. Cancer is in dogs is on the rise and I am with you: So many additives, colorings, preservatives and disgusting ingredients are contributing. TY for being such an advocate for good health for dogs.

  4. I feed a high quality grain free kibble which runs neck to neck in comparison with this product. I’ve always stayed with dry kibble for the simple fact that it generates movement of the gums and aids in scrubbing the teeth much better than we can even by using a toothbrush on our dogs. From what I can tell about this product is that it’s basically mush, put mush in your mouth and it will no doubt build up in the gums. I also realize that one can give their dog a safe crunchy chew to do what the dry food does…. However, all your really doing is pushing the mush further into the gums which will cause serious dental problems and possible gum disease.

    I love Carol, Dex and Dar but need to go with Buyer Beware on this one. Any product that has to put down other products to sell it self needs to be closely watched, usually they are hiding something.

    1. I have to totally disagree. Kibble to scrape food from teeth is the equivalent of thinking a pretzel can remove tartar from your own human teeth. It ain’t so. Nothing, repeat, nothing replaces brushing. Please know your dog needs his or her teeth brushed – food does not scrape tartar and get into the gumline.

      This is not mush – it is a rehydrated food. I will be writing about my dog dying because of inappropriate food and treats I believe caused her harm. I am now of the ilk that buyer beware and I did my homework, talked to the right people, vets, holistic, etc and feel 100 percent confident feeding the Honest Kitchen. I would not eat dry dog food but I would eat this. Sorry, nothing being hidden here. No matter what your dog eats, still brush your dog’s teeth. I have written extensively on this topic. I wholeheartedly and factually based disagree with you, Stephen. I am firm in my stance and have done enough research over 20 years to feel confident in this statement.

      PS Honest Kitchen is totally transparent – they hide nothing. Whatever questions you have, ask here, call their customer service, go on their Facebook and ask: I adore them on every level. This is a reason I feed the food.

      1. I hate to disagree with you Carol, but a dog’s diet can be used to clean their teeth. I feed a raw diet, like many others, and the chewing the bone and gristle, tendons and sinews is what cleans the tarter or actually prevents it’s build up in the first place. This is size appropriate food for the animal being fed. I did not switch to raw until he was nearly a year old and he was on the diet for a few months before I noticed the tarter build up getting less and less. I feed both cats and my GSD this diet and my 4 yr old dog has the pearly whites of a puppy. (I have never brushed his teeth)
        That being said, I just ordered some samples from the Honest Kitchen to see how he does on a mix of raw and kibble diet. He was so sensitive to the processed kibble that he was miserable and constantly in a state of allergic reaction. The cats get the raw cause it just made sense not to put the poor things through the chemical chaos that is everyday kibble. It is neat to find a product that is human grade and am looking forward to seeing how they like it!

        1. I do believe there is some room for agreement here and that a dog’s diet can actually help keep teeth clean – I do not believe that it is the only thing a pet parent should do. I am such an advocate for brushing after seeing what happens to countless numbers of pets who don’t have their teeth brushed. With that said, it sounds like what you are doing is working. So if it “ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” right? I hope THK is helpful for your dog. TY for the comment 😉

        2. Its not a good thing to mix raw and kibble both together..you are supposed to wait 10-12 hours between feeding raw food and kibble..it doesn’t digest together.

      2. You would totally eat this? So your saying you will eat raw chicken. Good luck with that…

    2. Stephen, I have to reply to your comment only out of concern. My dog LOVES crunchy kibble but he gets only a tiny handful in the mornings and no more. Why? Because a dog’s natural diet requires at least 70% water so eating mainly a dry kibble would require his body to provide the needed moisture to reconstitute the food in his digestive tract thus placing an excessive strain on his kidneys. I brush Kirby’s teeth but given a choice, I’ll take gum disease over kidney failure any day.

      1. Fyi gum disease and other dentition issues leads to heart disease which in turn can cause kidney failure.

  5. Honest Kitchen is second to none. I’ve been feeding my dogs Honest Kitchen for the past six years. I couldn’t disagree more with Stephen that this food is mush!!! The Honest Kitchen has taken the rather unusual step of applying for and receiving FDA approval to label its pet foods human grade. What other company can claim this? There is NOT one controversial ingredient in ANY Honest Kitchen recipe. Since I switched to Verve Honest Kitchen, my dogs’ bloodwork is pristine, and most importantly, they are healthy. With regards to brushing my dogs’ teeth, I do it twice a day, once in the morning and before bed. Why would you not brush your dog’s teeth as you would your own teeth? That is pure nonsense thinking that kibble alone will take care of plaque build up!

    1. WOW, Diane, that is quite the testimonial. And thank you, also, for brushing your dog’s teeth.

  6. Yikes! If this isn’t enough to make people switch foods…I have honestly never used their food, but I might have to look into it. We have been looking to switch Lola’s diet and I have been researching our options.

    1. They have a fantastic customer service line, too, Sarah, so if you have questions, they can answer them. I like to vary Dexter’s diet, so I add different things to it, though not required. The Preference formula, incidentally, is a plain base from The Honest Kitchen that has nutrients but not a protein: You just add a cooked meat to it. In any case, thanks for the comment and chiming in.

  7. While I think THK is a great product, it’s not for everyone. I began feeding the Zeal formula to my French Bulldog last September, but I had to switch her to a raw diet in January because she began having bouts of diarrhea and vomiting every couple of weeks. I tried the other formulas from THK first, and she would immediately vomit after eating them. She has been fully checked out by a vet and has received a clean bill of health, other than some acid reflux and allergies. So far so good with the raw diet.

    1. You are right; different foods are for different dogs and cats. You have to do what is best for your pet. My last Cocker Spaniel had IBD (irritable bowel disease) and I only wish I knew about The Honest Kitchen back then. Best wishes to your baby and so glad to hear things are under control.

  8. My older dog is 15 1/2 and has had chronic pancreatitis for over three years. I decided to get her off the prescription kibble (which she was symptom-free on) and onto something with better ingredients. I have a 3-year old miniature poodle, too. I got some of the samples of the Verve and Preference, and both dogs LOVED it. I bought a 4-lb box of the Verve at a local retailer and both my dogs enthusiastically gobbled it up – then I bought a 10-lb box. After a couple of days, neither dog wanted to eat the food. It also smelled different…had no aroma whatsoever. The smaller box smelled like vegetable soup. It also seemed to have a ton more oats. I shook the bag up thinking it might be a “contents settling” thing, but it didn’t make a difference. Bottom line, neither dog would eat from the 10-lb box.

    I contacted HK and got this response: ” There is some natural variation from one box to the next, as we do very minimal processing to the whole food mixes. This box may have been filled from the top or bottom of the larger batch. :)”

    I took the box back to the retailer, got a store credit, and bought another 4-lb box, thinking I’d just gotten a dud box. Well, both dogs gobbled that box up. And…it had that veggie soup smell again. I noticed the 4-lb boxes were all manufactured in the last quarter of 2013, and the 10-lb box was from January of this year. I went ahead and ordered another 10-lb box (had to get it from Amazon, as my local retailer only had one other 10-lb box – which had no lot or manufacture date info on it, no thanks) and once again…no smell and the dogs wouldn’t eat it. This latest box was manufactured in March of this year.

    I contacted HK again with this info and got this response back: “Thank you for the feedback! There have been no changes to the Verve recipe. The formula is still the same. I do know that there will be some slight variation from one box or one batch to the next. This may be due to settling of the ingredients in transit or storage, or in the larger batch of food. I really don’t know of any way for us to prevent this from happening, I’m afraid, and it would occur with any similar type mix. If you noticed more oats visible in one box vs. another, it sounds like it may not have been well blended.”

    She didn’t address the smell issue (I asked again about that – I’m still waiting to hear back), but if there’s no smell – clearly the formula has changed. And I’m not seeing a slight variation from box to box, I’m seeing a significant variation between 4-lb boxes from last year and 10-lb boxes from this year.

    Yes, this is a lengthy rant – but the bottom line is this customer is still out on whether or not Honest Kitchen is a reliable product in terms of consistency of product and quality control. In terms of transparency, I’ve pointed out some pretty specific things and have basically been told I’m imagining it. I’ve had dogs for 18 years and have never had a problem with my dogs eating. They aren’t picky eaters. If they’re backing away from it, there’s something wrong…at least for them.

    If someone else can give me a viable reason why my dogs would eat food manufactured last year but not this year, or why the smell has disappeared despite the formula not changing…I’m all ears!

    1. I am not sure how to answer that but I appreciate you weighing in. I know the packaging has changed but that has not affected quality of product. I will personally send your note to the folks at Honest Kitchen and see if anyone can help you out with your questions. I know my dog does a happy dance when he sees the container of the food coming out.

  9. I have 17 rescue dogs and 4 rescue cats. At present the cats all get commercial Kitten Chow, except for one, who is a borderline diabetic, she gets prescription MD for cats. As for the dogs, they get Pedigree dry For Small Breeds (all of my dogs are under 50 lbs., most are under15 lbs.. I cook their supper for them, however, when I am out of town on business or on a long Transport, My SO does not know how to cook the food or divide it out among them…. Plus there are times in my job that I can’t make it home to cook their supper…. How much is this Honest Kitchen?? I have found, quite honestly that a lot of the more natural foods (including the refrigerated food is quite expensive, therefore, cost prohibitive for me…. If this is more affordable, it might be a great alternative….My dogs all LOVE their homemade suppers I fix for them and I don’t mind doing it…(electric pressure cooker is, in my book, one of the best tools in the kitchen…..) My vet approved the ingredients I use and I vary the recipe just enough to keep even my most finicky dog, (the Queen herself) my 4 1/2 lb. Toy Rat Terrorist, CRICKET…. She pretty much runs the show around there…. The ingredients are about what the Pedigree wet and dry used to run me every two weeks $165.00 to $185.00. I would like to know how much yours is and how I can get a sample of it to try on “the kids” and where to get it or order it…. It sounds like it would be great, especially when I am in a “CRUNCH”….

    1. Hi Jillian, First, congrats and thank you for helping 17 dogs and 4 cats: You obviously have a huge, caring heart and love animals. That is awesome!

      You absolutely can get samples of the food and talk to the fab customer service folks at The Honest Kitchen, too. http://www.thehonestkitchen.com/contacts

  10. Honest Kitchen is a great food! It looks and smells like a homecooked meal! And the ingredients are wonderful too. We were incredibly shocked to find out about “Human-grade” versus “Feed-grade.” You are too right about either paying now for quality food, or paying twice to thrice as much later in veterinary costs because of health issues which low-quality food and junk-food ingredients can cause. Great article!

    1. Thanks SO much, Tiffany. Learning the difference in grades of food was enough to scare me and the fact that The Honest Kitchen is the only dog food that is literally human grade and not just “made with human grade ingredients” was the final selling point for me. It has been a blessing for our dog.

  11. Carol this is a great post! At GiggyBites we try to steer our customers toward the fresh foods and The Honest Kitchen has been great! We haven’t seen any of the issues the earlier post mentioned with the 4# & 10# boxes being different. And you couldn’t be more on target about the increased benefits of feeding this great fresh food vs. what seems like higher costs. You’ll save on vet bills for sure. All of the treats that we make are human grade start to finish and even dogs with sensitive bellies can handle them. The least amount of processing is the best for us & our dogs

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