9 Best Human Grade Cat Food in 2023

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Pet owners are treating their pets more like children every day, and why shouldn’t we? You give your cat just as much love and attention as you would give your own child. They both get into trouble when you’re least expecting it and they can both be pretty demanding at times.

Most Popular

The Honest Kitchen Chicken

  • Rich in real animal protein
  • Blend of omega-3

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Overall Best

Smalls Human-Grade Ground Bird Fresh Cat Food

  • Natural sources of taurine
  • High in protein

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Most Affordable

Only Natural Pet Free-Range Chicken

  • Chelated minerals
  • Probiotic supplements

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As much as you love your cat, you probably don’t feed him the same food you eat. Grocery shopping for yourself is hassle enough, so why complicate things when you can just pick up a bag of cat food from the pet store? The next time you do, however, take a look at the label and ask yourself if the product is actually good for your cat. Look for buzz words like organic, natural, or even human grade to give you a clue. Just know that you still need to look at the ingredients list, however, to determine the quality.

The term “human grade” is being used more frequently in the pet food industry, but what does it actually mean? Read on to learn what this term means and how it applies to pet food. You’ll also receive our recommendations for the best human grade cat food recipes.

Health Claims on Pet Food Labels

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When you pick up a bag of cat food, take a moment to scan the information on the front of the package. That’s where you’ll find the name and description of the product as well as some of the products supposed health benefits. You shouldn’t be surprised to see claims like the following:

  • Supports healthy skin and coat
  • Improves digestion
  • Strengthens immunity
  • Supports brain and eye development

These claims are typically made in reference to certain ingredients in the product. The thing to remember, however, is that these claims aren’t strictly regulated. There are limitations in what a pet food manufacturer can put on the label, but these restrictions generally apply to things like suggesting a product treats a specific health problem. General claims like those above are less strictly managed.

So, what about terms like “natural” and “human grade?”

When you see the word natural on a pet food label, you probably assume it’s a good thing. What you need to remember, however, is that just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s of high quality. Low-quality fillers like corn gluten meal are natural, after all. AAFCO’s definition of natural simply states, “an ingredient derived solely from plant, animal, or mined sources” and that it may have been subjected to processing or rendering and still be considered natural.

There are many terms like these that have a certain implication which may or may not always be completely accurate. Human grade is another.

What Does Human Grade Actually Mean?

As you’re grabbing food at the grocery store, you probably take a quick look at the label before throwing things into your car. If you picked up a box of cereal and saw the words “human grade” on the label, it would probably cause you to take pause and wonder what it meant.

The term “human grade” is only used in pet foods, but it makes you wonder, by extension, what something that is NOT human grade might be like.

Foods intended for human consumption are simply labeled “edible” by the USDA. Until recently, there was no legal definition of the term human grade and therefor no restrictions on pet food companies using it on their labels. Now, however, AAFCO defines the term as, “every ingredient and the resulting products are stored, handled, processed, and transported in a manner that is consistent and compliant with regulations for human edible foods.”

In other words, in order for a pet food to carry the human grade designation, it must be treated just like human food in plants or kitchens licensed to produce human food.

Is Human Grade Cat Food Better for Your Cat?

If you’re concerned about the quality of your cat’s diet, you would be right to question the kind of ingredients that go into his food. We would argue, however, that you’d be better off reading the guaranteed analysis and list of ingredients than relying on labeling claims like “human grade” to determine the quality of a product.

The real question is, are human grade ingredients really better for your cat?

There is no strict yes or no answer to this question because it depends on a variety of factors. The fact that something is edible for humans doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for your cat. Cats are obligate carnivores which means they are biologically adapted to subsist on animal products, not plants. If the same corn used to make tortilla chips for human consumption is used in cat food, it might be considered human grade (as long as the other ingredients are as well) but it still isn’t great for your cat.

The key thing to remember is that human grade is simply a designation given to pet food products based on the sourcing and processing of their ingredients – it doesn’t say anything about the nutrient levels or nutritional quality of the product.

What Should You Look for in a Good Cat Food?

It’s important to remember that pet food manufacturers are businesses and their decisions are driven by profits. If adding a few words to the label means they sell more cat food, they’re going to do it. There are plenty of brands out there that make every effort to be honest with their customers, of course, but many of the terms commonly used on pet food labels can be misleading.

So, what do you look for in a good cat food?

The best place to start is with plenty of animal protein. As a carnivore, your cat needs meat. Your cat’s body isn’t designed to process plant material and a high-carb diet will actually cause his body to start breaking down his own muscle for energy. Whole sources of animal protein like meat, poultry, and fish are best with animal-based fats as well. Keep the carbohydrate content of your cat’s food as low as possible, focusing on digestible sources like whole grains and low-starch veggies whenever possible. Fresh fruits and veggies can also provide natural sources for key nutrients.

Aside from high protein content, are some general things to look for in a good cat food:

  • Real animal protein as the foundation. Make sure real animal protein is the first ingredient but it’s better if it is listed as two of the first three ingredients.
  • Blend of omega fatty acids. Fat provides a concentrated source of energy for your cat and both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids should be in balance. Animal sources are best, though plant oils can help provide omega-6s to balance the omega-3s.
  • Limited content of digestible carbohydrates. Carbs should not be the foundation of your cat’s diet, but digestible sources can provide essential nutrients. Whole grains can be nutritious and do not need to be avoided unless your cat has a confirmed grain allergy.
  • No artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. These ingredients don’t provide any nutritional value for your cat – they just make the product look, taste, or smell more appealing.

Artificial ingredients are definitely worth avoiding, but what about byproducts?

The term byproducts can be misleading because not all byproducts are bad. The term simply refers to the parts of the animal left over after the parts intended for human consumption are removed – things like organ meats. The thing to remember here (specifically when talking about human grade pet food) is that the ingredients need to be handled and processed in keeping with human food standards. Many low-quality byproducts used in the pet food industry aren’t properly refrigerated, for example, and therefore wouldn’t be deemed fit for human consumption and therefore not human grade.

Now that you know what to look for in a high-quality cat food recipe, you’re ready to start shopping on your own! Before you do, however, we want to tell you how we make our cat food recommendations so you know whether you can trust the picks we’ve reviewed in depth below.

How Do We Make Cat Food Recommendations?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) exists to regulate the pet food industry, but this organization is made up of officials who work in the industry. Do you see the problem? Many of AAFCO’s regulations are for the health and safety of pets, but their recommendations aren’t always enough to support optimal health. Think about their nutrient requirements – these are states as minimums, not optimal values.

Any cat food we recommend adheres to AAFCO’s minimum requirements, but that’s not a metric we use to determine quality. Instead, we look at the guaranteed analysis and the list of ingredients to determine how well the product meets your cat’s nutritional needs. We consider everything from the proportion of protein to carbohydrate, down to the individual ingredients themselves. We’re by no means perfect, but we wouldn’t recommend something to you we wouldn’t feed our own cats.

Here are some general requirements for a cat food recipe to receive our stamp of approval: 

  • A source of high-quality animal protein as the first ingredient
  • At least 30% crude protein for kittens and at least 26% for adults
  • A minimum of 9% crude fat for kittens and adults
  • A balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from animal sources
  • A rich blend of nutrients from natural sources and supplements, as needed
  • Limited carbohydrate content from digestible sources (like whole grains and veggies)
  • No low-quality fillers, by-products, or artificial additives (preservatives, dyes, or flavors)

There’s a lot of information to consider when reading a pet food label, so we can understand if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. You’ll be glad to know that you don’t have to be an expert – you just need to know what you’re looking for. Take what you’ve learned above and consider some of our recommendations for the best human grade cat food in the next section.

The 4 Best Human Grade Cat Foods

When shopping for cat food, you can’t shop by price if you want to get something good. Unfortunately, simply scanning the front of the package isn’t even better – many of the terms used on pet food labels don’t even have a strict definition. Your best bet is to learn the basics about reading pet food labels and do your own research. To help you get started, we’ve accumulated a list of the best human grade cat foods – check them out:

Smalls Fresh Food Delivery

Our Top Overall Pick: If you want to feed your cat the best of the best, fresh cat food is worth considering. Smalls cat food is our top pick for fresh cat food and it is extremely easy to order. Simply provide some basic information about your cat’s age, weight, and activity level so they can calculate his calorie needs then they’ll send you pre-portioned packages of fresh cat food right to your door. Smalls cat food is made with wholesome, human grade ingredients and cooked in small batches at low temperatures to preserve the nutritional quality. It comes in two flavors: fish and chicken.

The Honest Kitchen Grain-Free Chicken Recipe

The Best Dehydrated Human Grade Cat Food: One of the first pet food brands on the market to produce human grade cat food was The Honest Kitchen. This chicken recipe remains a favorite among cat owners, made with free-range chicken and other premium ingredients like sweet potatoes, spinach, and pumpkin. It is gently dehydrated instead of cooked at high temperatures which preserves more of the nutrients in the raw ingredients, making it a higher quality product overall for your cat. Keep in mind that you need to rehydrate this product before feeding it to your cat and it may take some time for your cat to get used to the texture.

Caru Classics Turkey Stew Grain-Free Wet Food

The Best Wet Human Grade Cat Food: Founded just 10 years ago, Caru is a Canadian pet food company that offers numerous human grade cat food recipes. These wet foods feature delicious chunks of real meat like turkey cooked in a tasty gravy. This turkey recipe is complete and balanced for all life stages and contains added vitamins and minerals to ensure optimal nutrition. All of the ingredients are human grade and the product is slow-cooked at low temperature to preserve the nutritional value.

Whole Life LifeBites Salmon Recipe Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Cat Food

The Best Freeze-Dried Human Grade Cat Food: High heat processing can destroy the nutritional quality of raw ingredients, canceling out half the point of human grade cat food. This Whole Life LifeBites Salmon Recipe Grain-Free Freeze-Dried Cat Food is a better option because it is freeze-dried instead of cooked which means it retains more of its original nutritional value. This particular recipe from Whole Life features USDA chicken, salmon, fruits, and vegetables in a nutritionally balanced meal. It is completely free from chemicals, additives, and preservatives and comes with the Whole Life 100% human grade guarantee.

The Best Human Grade Cat Treats and Toppers

There aren’t a lot of human grade cat foods on the market, simply because they are more expensive to make. Many of the biggest pet food manufacturers share production facilities with other brands instead of having their own plants, which makes it more difficult to control quality.

The Honest Kitchen and Caru are the top two human grade cat food brands on Chewy, but there are a number of treats and food additives available. Here are some options:

Only Natural Pet Free-Range Chicken Bone Broth

Cats don’t tend to drink a lot of water, so adding bone broth to your cat’s diet can increase his moisture intake. This Only Natural Pet Free-Range Chicken Bone Broth is a nutritious option that is also loaded with flavor. Made from slow-simmered chicken bones, this bone broth is packed with nutrients and is completely human-grade as well. Use it as a meal topper or to rehydrate freeze-dried food.

Whole Life Just One Ingredient Pure Chicken Breast Freeze-Dried Treats

As the name suggests, these Whole Life Just One Ingredient Pure Chicken Breast Freeze-Dried Treats are made from just one ingredient – human grade chicken breast. These treats make the perfect training treat or snack for your cat and can also be used as a meal topper to add a boost of protein to your cat’s diet. They provide lean protein and natural flavor, plus they are minimally processed.

UBite Raw Bits Free Run Turkey Freeze-Dried Cat Treats

Made with a single ingredient, these freeze-dried cat treats are packed with protein. This UBite Raw Bits Free Run Turkey Freeze-Dried recipe features 100% pure meat from free-range, sustainably sourced turkey. The lean protein supports your cat’s lean muscle mass while also giving his diet a boost of natural flavor. Made with zero additives or preservatives, these treats are completely natural.

Zesty Paws Freeze-Dried Raw Human Grade Treats

These freeze-dried cat treats are made from human grade free-range chicken breast, a rich source of lean protein. They work well as a treat or a meal topper and they are freeze-dried raw to preserve nutritional value. In addition to being human grade, these treats are made without GMOs and they are all-natural. After all, they’re only made with a single ingredient: chicken!

PureBites Chicken Breast Freeze-Dried Raw Cat Treats

Though not marked as such on the label, these freeze-dried cat treats from PureBites are made from human grade chicken breast. Considering chicken breast is edible according to the USDA, however, that’s not a surprise. These treats are freeze-dried to preserve the nutritional value and they are low in calories but high in real chicken flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What does human grade mean? There didn’t used to be an official AAFCO definition for human grade but now there is. The definition is, “every ingredient and the resulting products are stored, handled, processed, and transported in a manner that is consistent and compliant with regulations for human edible foods.” In other words, both the ingredients and the final product need to be treated like human food.
  2. Are byproducts in cat food bad? Not necessarily. The term byproduct simply refers to the leftovers from slaughtered animals after the parts intended for human consumption are removed. This may include everything from beaks and necks to organ meats and hooves. As you can imagine, some of these are actually beneficial and nutritious for cats while others aren’t. The trouble is, you can’t always tell where byproducts come from. Unnamed byproducts like “poultry by-product meal” are particularly troubling (versus “chicken by-product meal).
  3. Is raw cat food human grade? Remember, the human grade designation applies to the ingredients as well as the final product. If the ingredients used to make the food meet USDA requirements for edible and the products are made in a human food facility, it can be called human grade raw cat food.
  4. Do we recommend human grade cat food delivery services? Generally speaking, we’re a huge fan of fresh cat food. Fresh food is typically higher in nutritional quality than the average dry food and is often higher in moisture and natural ingredients. Many fresh pet food companies use human grade ingredients, but not all of them are qualified to label their products as human grade because they aren’t strictly made in human food facilities. You’ll have to consult the website for any company you’re considering to find out.
  5. Is human grade cat food better for my cat? Again, it all depends on the recipe. Just because something is human grade doesn’t necessarily mean it’s of high quality. That being said, few pet food manufacturers are going to go through the hassle of making their product human grade without also using higher quality ingredients. It’s still your responsibility as a cat owner to evaluate the product for yourself, however.

It’s not uncommon for pet owners to treat their pets like children, but many don’t actually feed them like children. While you can’t expect your cat to thrive on a diet similar to your own, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be eating the same quality. Human grade cat food is made from ingredients fit for human consumption and processed in human food facilities.

Remember, there is no guarantee that human grade cat food is better than traditional food, but it’s up to you to do the leg work. If you want to give human grade food a try and you’re not sure where to start, try one of our recommendations above.

2 thoughts on “9 Best Human Grade Cat Food in 2023”

  1. layladog@hotmail.com'

    I tried the NomNomNow for cats and had to demand a refund as neither my two indoor cats nor five outside feral cats would touch it (I know this as it was on camera). The raccoons would eat it up; but, they’ll eat anything. I offered, via NextDoor, the unused packs to any neighbor who wanted it; none did, so it ended up in the trash. Additionally, there were many discrepancies in the weight of the food packs (ranging from 103g to 123g) and appearance (some downright scary looking and completely different from the other packs). Some of the chunks of meat were way too large and the vegetables – especially the carrots – were rubbery. So, now, I’m wondering how you gave it a top pick rating. Did NNN send you a specialized version knowing it was going to be reviewed or did you not actually test it on your own cats? Makes me question the reliability of your ratings.

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