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Human-Grade Cat Food: What Does It Mean?

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	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Of all the food available for feeding your cat, human-grade cat food is probably one of the most confusing, despite its popularity. Theoretically, human-grade food is self-explanatory. It’s cat food that’s made under FDA regulations for human consumption. However, the principle cannot really be applied to pet food as it is to human food. Another issue is that some human-grade cat food brands aren’t as high quality as the label makes them sound.

To help clear the air and explain why not all human-grade cat food is healthy for your cat, this guide contains everything that you need to know about the food. We also go over the various types of cat food and the pros and cons of these meals to help you determine whether it’s an option that you should try.

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How Does It Work?

There are many not-so-healthy cat foods available on the market. Despite being affordable and meeting Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards for feline nutrition, many low-quality brands aren’t as healthy as you might hope. Compared to regular cat food, human-grade cat food is healthier, though you have to check that the brand that you choose meets all the expected standards.

Human-grade cat food is made in food facilities that are intended for human food, using ingredients that humans can eat. Fresh, whole foods and quality meats are often part of the recipes and are handled with all the care and attention that human food is granted.

two tabby cats eating smalls fresh ground bird and ground other bird recipes


The AAFCO is the guiding force when it comes to pet food. Although the organization is voluntary, it carefully regulates the nutritional contents of pet food and how it’s distributed. However, while the AAFCO ensures that pet food contains the nutrients that animals need, it doesn’t regulate the quality of the ingredients that are used. This is why many less-than-stellar pet food brands use fillers, additives, preservatives, and by-products to in their recipes, as long as they meet the established minimal nutritional requirements.

When it comes to human-grade pet food, the AAFCO cautions pet owners about the claims of certain companies. To be human-grade by the AAFCO definition, the food must be made with 100% human-edible ingredients and manufactured, packed, and stored in FDA-approved facilities. If one of these characteristics isn’t met — even if the food isn’t stored in the right way — it can’t be accurately called human grade. So, strictly by these terms, a pet’s food will most likely never be considered human-grade.

FDA and USDA Regulations

Strictly speaking, there aren’t any official FDA or USDA regulations for human-grade cat food, as the regulations refer to food that is made solely for humans. This is what makes many recipes that claim to be “human grade” slightly suspect.

Despite not meeting any regulations specific to pet food, pet food companies can still be considered human-grade. The facilities that make the pet food should meet all the exact criteria for human-grade standards, though. Many pet food brands prefer not to jump through all the hoops necessary to meet these standards due to the money and time costs.

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What Are the Different Types of Human-Grade Cat Food?

a tabby cat sniffing smalls fresh smooth bird recipe on a bowl

Despite how fancy the name sounds, human-grade cat food is similar to regular cat food, but it meets FDA and USDA regulations. The companies that make human-grade cat food need to meet strict standards to be correctly labeled “human grade,” which includes making the food in facilities that meet human health and safety regulations.

Due to this, the type of “human-grade” cat food that can be made is similar to other recognizable brands that you find on the shelves in supermarkets. It’s also what makes it so difficult to tell whether a cat food formula is human-grade or just uses a few human-grade ingredients.

Dry Food

Affordable, convenient, and long-lasting, dry food or kibble is one of the most popular types of pet food. It can be difficult to find human-grade dry food or kibble, simply because the manufacturing process means the recipes must often rely more on meat meals, additives, and by-products. Due to the high processing temperatures, many of the nutrients in the ingredients are destroyed, which is why less-healthy ingredients are often used to boost the nutritional content.

Slightly more expensive options contain more suitable ingredients, and there are a few brands that do live up to the human-grade claim. High-quality protein sources and whole foods are the essential ingredients to look for.

Dehydrated Food

a tabby cat sniffing smalls freeze-dried raw other bird recipe on a bowl

Processed at a low heat to remove the moisture in the food, dehydrated cat food requires you to add water before serving the meals. The food is preserved by the manufacturing process, giving it a similar shelf-life to dry food without losing nutrients to over-processing.

Human-grade dehydrated food is often easier to find, albeit more expensive. The manufacturing process makes it easier to maintain the levels of nutrients needed in the recipe.

Freeze-dried Food

This process also dehydrates the food by freezing it and vacuuming out any moisture. This process is often combined with high pressure as a non-thermal pasteurization method to reduce the risk of bacterial contamination. Since the food is not thermally processed, the nutritional value of the ingredients is preserved. The end result is a shelf-stable product.
Human-grade freeze-dried food is usually more expensive than traditional kibble because of the higher-quality ingredients and the fact that the manufacturing process is time-consuming.

Fresh Food

Similar to dry food, fresh cat food is a popular way to feed cats. Although it doesn’t last nearly as long as kibble or dehydrated food and needs to be refrigerated after it’s opened, it has higher moisture content. Human-grade fresh food helps manage your cat’s hydration and contains clearly labeled protein sources, broth, and water.


maine coon cat having treat
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Your cat can’t live solely on treats, human grade or otherwise, but they can be rewards for good behavior or as healthy snacks during training sessions. Used alongside an already balanced meal plan, treats can give an extra boost to your cat’s health and nutrition. Like other human-grade cat food, treats are made with the same high standards for health and safety.

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Where Is It Used?

At first glance, human-grade cat food is used just like any other cat food: to provide a healthy, nutritional diet for our feline pets. With the focus on whole foods and high-quality meat ingredients, the recipes are considered to be healthier than most other cat foods. For pet owners who prefer to avoid the downsides of “feed-grade” cat food, the human-grade standard can be preferable. If the product is manufactured, packaged, and stored under the strict standards that make it human-grade and contains the nutrients that your cat needs, such cat food is considered suitable for your cat. However, this isn’t always the case.

Although human-grade cat food can be used to feed cats, it’s not always as high quality as you might expect. Being “human grade” doesn’t ensure that the formula is a healthy choice for your cat. There are a few caveats that you need to keep in mind so you use human-grade cat food for its intended purpose. First, you need to make sure the food meets AAFCO nutritional standards. Second, you must determine whether the cat food is completely human-grade or simply contains ingredients that could be eaten by humans.

If the cat food doesn’t meet AAFCO standards, it’s best to choose a different brand. There’s no point feeding your cat with better ingredients if the food doesn’t contain the right nutrients to be healthy for them. Your veterinarian can help you determine whether a cat food that claims to be human-grade contains the necessary nutrition and is not just taking advantage of a marketing gimmick.

Advantages of Human-Grade Cat Food

two tabby cats eating smalls fresh ground other bird recipe

Perhaps the biggest selling point of human-grade cat food is that it’s healthier for your cat — when done correctly. Real, high-quality ingredients that provide all the nutrients that your cat needs are preferable to ingredients that aren’t as well-balanced nutrition-wise.

It’s not just the healthiness of the food or the ingredients that make human-grade cat food so popular, though. The quality of the food is important too. Although there are products that don’t meet quality standards, the brands that do ensure that your cat is eating only the best food available. Compared to certain feed-grade foods that rely on 4D meats (meat from dying, diseased, disabled, or deceased animals), human-grade alternatives are more ethical and tastier.

Disadvantages of Human-Grade Cat Food

One of the biggest disadvantages of human-grade cat food is the fact that there is no official regulation for it. The claim relies solely on the honesty of the brand making the food and its ability to maintain food safety laws. It’s for this reason that the AAFCO cautions pet owners about trusting the “human-grade” label too much. Certain supposedly human-grade cat foods might not completely meet expectations.

Another issue is that human-grade cat food is usually more expensive. Since the ingredients are required to be edible for humans and meet necessary safety standards, the manufacturing costs are much higher than for regular cat food. Due to the food being of much higher quality, it has a much higher sale price.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Is the Difference Between Feed-Grade and Human-Grade Cat Food?

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Image Credit: Smalls

There are two main types of cat food: feed grade and human grade. Human grade is becoming more popular due to a growing preference for feeding cats meals that don’t contain filler ingredients. However, most pet food is considered “feed grade,” which means the food doesn’t meet FDA standards for human consumption.

While some feed-grade cat foods do contain by-products, chemicals, fillers, and even 4D meats, other brands are made with human-grade ingredients. They just can’t be considered fully human grade due to the manufacturing or packing process not meeting all the quality and safety standards. The ingredients might be human grade but the final product is not.

Can Humans Eat Human-Grade Cat Food?

Under the strictest definition, human-grade cat food can be eaten by humans. However, not every recipe that claims to be human-grade meets regulations. A label saying, “made with human-grade ingredients,” for example, doesn’t mean the food is actually human-grade. Unfortunately, parts of the manufacturing process might make the final product unsafe for human consumption. Also, labels that state that the recipe uses real ingredients don’t mean it’s human grade either.

To be completely safe for humans to eat, food products have to meet all of the high standards set by the FDA and the USDA for human food at all times during the manufacturing process. Please do not try your cat’s food. The human-grade term in cat food is used to indicate that the ingredients are food grade, not feed grade.
This is the difference between using high quality, clearly identifiable meat from healthy animals that could also be intended for human consumption vs a meat by-product meal from who knows what part of an animal.

A Quick Reference Guide

Human-Grade Cat Food Feed-Grade Cat Food
Made with ingredients that are safe for humans to eat, such as whole foods and quality meat Doesn’t meet human food safety standards
Manufactured in facilities that meet USDA specifications for food safety Can contain meat meals, fillers, additives, preservatives, and unidentified by-products
More expensive than regular cat food Sometimes contains 4D meats from dying, diseased, disabled, or deceased animals
High-quality options meet AAFCO standards for feline nutrition Meets AAFCO standards for feline nutrition




Human-grade cat food is one of the healthier ways to feed your cat, provided that the brand that you choose does everything to ensure that it meets human-grade standards. This means that the cat food has to be made with high-quality ingredients and also prepared, packed, and stored in facilities that pass USDA regulations for food safety.

We hope that this guide has helped you understand the difference between human-grade and feed-grade food and whether it’s an option that you want to try.

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Featured Image Credit: Smalls