Everything About AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles

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Creating the healthiest and most balanced diet possible for dogs can be a terribly complicated process. 

Fortunately, there is an organization whose main mission has been this for many decades. My article will be about the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials). 

You can find out more about their nutritional guidelines and how to find out if the product of your choice is AAFCO approved.

What is AAFCO?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a nonprofit organization that sets standards for pet food. It is not an official government agency and is not able to enforce specific food manufacturing procedures. 

Nevertheless, this voluntary association has members such as federal and state officials, veterinarians, or scientists. Because of this, US states prefer to apply AAFCO’s guidelines when regulating pet food production.

What they do?

So you can see that the opinions of these experts are well worth relying on. This way, you can get one step closer to meeting the nutritional needs of your dog or cat as best you can.

And how do they do all these “making standards” things? Well, they have several ways:

  • They identify common ingredients commonly used by manufacturers in pet foods. They also determine these ingredients’ properties.
  • They also affect standard language related to animal nutrition. It is often the case that this language is also accepted and used in law.
  • The most well-known activity of AAFCO is the creation of nutritional profiles and nutritional guidelines. These are guidelines that pet food manufacturers must adhere to.

Are they regulating pet foods?

In short, no. As I mentioned, AAFCO is a non-governmental agency. For this reason, it does not even officially regulate, test, inspect, or approve pet food products. 

However, the guidelines they establish are adopted into law by most U.S. states. At AAFCO, they won’t tell you which is the best dog food brand. 

On the other hand, recipes that meet the organization’s requirements provide a complete and balanced diet for your pooch.

Everything about AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles

The Association of American Feed Control Officials uses nutrient profiles to determine the minimum and maximum amount of certain nutrients in dog and cat food. After this, a product can be referred to as nutritionally balanced. 

AAFCO was founded in 1906, but the profiles mentioned above were only created in 1991 (and the profile for cat food in 1992). Otherwise, nutrient profiles are constantly being updated as science evolves. The latest version is from 2016.

Continuous updating is done regularly by the Canine and Feline Nutrition expert subcommittees within the association. Their job is to make the requirements accurate, practical, and realistic. All this is supported by scientific grounds.

These requirements have been compiled based on certain properties of frequently used complex ingredients. 

It is important to note that the AAFCO requirements are different from those recommended by the National Research Council. The latter were created based on research that included highly purified diets and highly bioavailable nutrient properties.

Does your dog’s food meets the AAFCO’s requirements?

As I mentioned, most U.S. states use the nutrient profiles prescribed by AAFCO. Thus, if you buy a product that meets such criteria, you can be sure that it will be nutritionally complete.

Fortunately, you can easily find out if the dog food you choose adheres to the organization’s guidelines. We usually come across four types of claims:

AAFCO claimWhat it means
“ __ is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for__”This product absolutely follows the recommendations of the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles.
“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that __ provides complete and balanced nutrition for __.”Although the product does not meet the AAFCO nutritional requirements, it is still nutritionally adequate for the specific life-stage based on the animal feeding tests required by the AAFCO.
“__ provides complete and balanced nutrition for __ and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests”That particular pet food is very similar to another product that has passed the AAFCO animal feeding tests. However, there may be minor differences in composition.
This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding onlyThis usually applies to veterinary prescription diets.

In the above claims, the first blank space contains the name of the dog or cat food, and the second contains a certain life stage or diet category.

What should be on a pet food label?

According to AAFCO guidelines, nine components must appear on the label of a dog or cat food:

  • The detailed brand and product name
  • The net quantity statement
  • Details of the manufacturer or distributor
  • Calorie content (kcal/kg or kcal/other unit). The method of determination (measured or calculated) must also be indicated.
  • Nutritional adequacy statement. If the “complete and balanced” claim can be found on the product, the manufacturer should also indicate the method of substantiation and the species and life stage for which the product is intended.
  • Guaranteed analysis. (The four mandatory components are the min. crude protein and crude fat, and maximum moisture and crude fiber.)
  • Ingredient list (descending order of weight)
  • Species designation
  • Feeding directions 

What are the different dietary categories and life stages?

There are five categories and life stages: Gestation or Lactation, Growth, Maintenance, All life stages, and Intermittent or Supplemental. 

In order for one of the first four to appear on the label, pet food must meet AAFCO’s nutritional requirements or prove its quality and suitability by feed testing. 

Maintenance meals are recommended for healthy adult pets. Dogs older than one year are generally considered adults. An exception to this is some large and giant dog breeds that reach adulthood around two.

For “Growth” and “All life stages”, the manufacturer should keep in mind that large breed puppies have different nutrient requirements. Therefore, one of the following two sentences should be included:

  • Including growth of large size dogs (70 lb or more as an adult)”
  • Except for growth of large size dogs (70 lb or more as an adult)

The term “Intermittent or Supplemental” refers in most cases to prescription diets. Such products are made for special diet pets but are unsuitable for dogs or cats in normal health. So it’s no coincidence that you can only buy these products with the help of your vet.

Is there an AAFCO Nutrient Profile that meets all life stages?

Pet food manufacturers can produce products that they claim are suitable for every stage of life. Nevertheless, AAFCO does not have such a nutrient profile.

Details of the testing procedures for AAFCO approval

Following AAFCO guidelines, pet food manufacturers may carry out inspections. This can be done through feeding trials and analysis. They can then claim that their products are complete and balanced for certain life stages.

Feeding trials

In this process, in addition to specific feeding trials, laboratory analysis is also performed. AAFCO has established an essential protocol for conducting feeding trials. 

Elements of this protocol include the minimum number of animals in the trial, the length of the test length, various physical tests (performed by experts), clinical measurements and tests such as blood tests, weight measurement, and so on.

To perform the adult maintenance body test, the following conditions must be met:

  • Minimum 8 animals older than one year should start the test
  • All animals should be in normal health and weight (i.e sick and overweight animals, for example, are excluded).
  • At the beginning and end of the test, a blood test should be performed, in which four parameters are monitored. These are hemoglobin, packed cell volume, alkaline phosphatase, and albumin.
  • The test should last for a minimum of half a year, during which the animals should only consume the food in question.
  • As these are normal weight animals, they should not lose more than 15% bodyweight.
  • None of the animals should be killed or removed during the test.
  • A minimum of 6 out of 8 animals must complete the test.
  • Data should all be compared to a control group or historical colony averages.

For the test of growth diets, the conditions are as follows:

  • Minimum 8 animals no older than 8 weeks should start the test
  • All animals should be in normal health and weight (i.e sick and overweight animals, for example, are excluded).
  • At the beginning and end of the test, a blood test should be performed, in which four parameters are monitored. These are hemoglobin, packed cell volume, alkaline phosphatase, and albumin.
  • The test should last for a minimum of ten weeks, during which the animals should only consume the food in question.
  • None of the animals should be killed or removed during the test.
  • A minimum of 6 out of 8 animals must complete the test.
  • Data should all be compared to a control group or historical colony averages.

And finally, the conditions for reproduction diets tests:

  • Minimum 8 animals older than one year and on at least their second heat should start the test
  • All animals should be in normal health and weight (i.e sick and overweight animals, for example, are excluded).
  • At the beginning and end of the test, a blood test should be performed, in which four parameters are monitored. These are hemoglobin, packed cell volume, alkaline phosphatase, and albumin.
  • The litter size should be recorded
  • The test lasts from the beginning of estrus for 4 weeks after delivery. During this time, the animal can only eat the food in question.
  • None of the animals should be killed or removed during the test.
  • A minimum of 6 out of 8 animals must complete the test.
  • Data should all be compared to a control group or historical colony averages.

Do treats and supplements also have to meet AAFCO guidelines?

In short, no. Treats, snacks, and supplements do not have to meet AAFCO requirements

This is because AAFCO knows exactly that treats are not intended to provide a balanced diet for your dog. 

However, the organization warns you not to give irresponsibly large amounts of treats to your pet. This can lead to an unbalanced diet on the one hand, and obesity on the other, and other health consequences. 

Always consult your veterinarian if you want to give a different supplemental product to your dog.

What about products that don’t meet the AAFCO standards?

The thing is, you can also find such products on supermarket shelves. But don’t worry, these are mostly different treats, snacks, or supplements. 

You should not give your dog more than 10% of his daily calories from these. 

Fortunately, most dog food brands adhere to AAFCO requirements, and it’s easy for you to figure that out.

Final words

AAFCO is doing everything we can to provide better nutrition for our pets. 

Make sure the food you choose adheres to this organization’s standards. This way, you can rest assured that your beloved pet will receive as many nutrients as possible.

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Amber LaRock

Amber LaRock

My name is Amber, and I am a licensed vet tech with 10 years of experience in the field. I spent the majority of my career working in emergency medicine, but recently transitioned to creating accurate pet care information online. There is nothing more important to me than helping pet owners understand their furry friend’s health, and giving you the tools you need to offer your pet the best future possible!

Peter Laskay

Peter Laskay

Hey, my name is Peter, and I am the owner of this site. I have loved animals since I was a kid. I am constantly training myself; I recently obtained an accredited certificate in pet nutrition. But I am constantly learning about training, grooming for dogs and cats. I am currently a happy owner of two dogs, six cats, and two red-eared sliders. My goal is to provide my visitors with the most authentic information possible on any pet-related topic.