Lamb, eggs, potatoes, cranberries -- if you've looked at Sparky's dog food label and become hungry, don't feel bad. Since the 2007 pet food crisis, pet owners have been more alert to what their furry friends eat. As a result, more pet food companies are making human-grade food.
If you walk through your supermarket, chances are that many, if not most, of the dog food on the shelf will use feed-grade ingredients. These foods tend to be cheaper because they're cheaper to produce. Feed-grade ingredients consist of products that aren't fit for human consumption but are allowed to be legally fed to animals. In many cases, the ingredients are waste products from human foods. They're also rendered byproducts from slaughterhouses and processing plants, dead animals from ranches, farms, animal shelters, feedlots and other facilities, and food waste, including fat and grease, from restaurants and stores.
Human-grade ingredients in dog food are considered edible by humans. Human foods are more vigorously regulated than pet food, and the FDA and USDA conduct regular inspections of facilities producing food for people. Only pet food made in human-grade facilities, subject to inspection and approval needed for human grade status, is considered human-grade pet food. The Association of American Feed Control Officials -- AAFCO -- states as far as pet food is concerned, there is no legal definition for human grade. If one ingredient that isn't human grade is in the food, the package can't claim that the food is human grade or human quality. For example, a dog food with USDA-inspected chicken is human grade. But if it contains poultry meal, it is not human grade.
Ingredients to Avoid
If you want to feed Sparky human-grade commercial dog food, a little careful reading of the label will guide your choice. Things to avoid include meals and byproducts -- the leftover parts of processed animals -- preservatives, flavoring, wheat, corn and soy. Keep an eye open for "animal fat" or other generic fats and proteins and try to find things such as "beef fat" or "chicken fat." Corn gluten meal and wheat gluten meal attempt to provide protein for dogs, but it's best to stick with animal protein instead of substituting with cheaper, lower-quality foods. Soy protein and rice protein concentrate are also incomplete proteins.
Reading the Label
Pet foods aren't allowed to claim "human grade" or "human quality" on their packaging, as AAFCO is afraid people may mistake the dog food for human food. Pet food manufacturers are allowed to discuss ingredient quality on promotional material and their websites. If you search beyond the label, look for statements that all of the ingredients are USDA/FDA human grade and the food is processed in a compliant facility. Whatever brand you choose for Sparky should note that it meets AAFCO's standards for meeting his dietary needs.
Making Homemade Food
If you really want to be sure that Sparky is eating human-grade dog food, you can cook for him yourself. It will require some research to ensure that he gets the nutrients he needs and to ensure you don't include something that's toxic to him. For example, onions, raisins and grapes should be avoided. If you decide to take this approach, talk to your vet or a veterinary nutritionist to learn if Sparky has special nutritional needs and how to ensure you meet those requirements.