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Ever wondered what your dog is eating and whether it’s healthy for them? Or have you ever asked yourself who makes sure your pup’s food is safe to eat?
In 1991 the American Association of Feed Control Officials established nutrient profiles for all types and sizes of pet food. These nutrient profiles play a vital role in regulating the pet food industry and ensure your dog is getting all the nutrients and vitamins they need.
Read more to find out more about profiles in detail, how they were made, and how you can tell if your dog’s food meets the standards of the AAFCO.
Who is the AAFCO?
The AAFCO is a non-profit organization made up of several agencies that help regulate the animal food industry. They do this by creating a set of rigid rules and nutritional standards that are then used by many state food control regulators.
These state bodies will then put in place and maintain these standards set out by the AAFCO, making sure pet food manufacturers stick to them.
The AAFCO will also do things such as:
- Define the ingredients used in pet food and their nutritional value
- Create and establish a standard language used across the pet food industry that can be adopted into national law.
- Establish nutrient profiles and guidelines that pet food manufacturers can follow.
Yet, the AAFCO is not an official regulator. Instead, think of them as an advisor. Many American states adopt some variation of the AAFCO recommendations into their laws so they can properly regulate their animal foods.
The AAFCO will not tell you directly what the best dog food brand is. But any diet that meets their high standards is balanced, complete, and safe for your pup to eat.
What are AAFCO nutrient profiles?
As previously mentioned, the AAFCO formulates nutrient profiles for both cat and dog foods. These ensure there is the right level of nutrients in a pet food product. Sometimes, this will be the minimum expected amount of nutrients. But, in other cases, this can be the maximum expected amount to help manage some health conditions.
The AAFCO will build their nutrient profiles based on the most frequently used ingredients, in addition to non-purified, complex materials.
Likewise, they have several subcommittees specifically tasked with updating their nutrient profiles. They will use the most up-to-date scientific studies and information.
The AAFCO always aims to ensure its profiles are scientifically correct. But they also want to remain realistic and practical for pet food manufacturers. Any dog food that adheres to the recommendations of the AAFCO must be balanced and complete.
How do I know if a dog food meets the requirements of the AAFCO?
Generally, there will be an AAFCO statement on the dog food packaging if it meets an AAFCO nutrient profile. Most pet food brands sold and distributed in America will adhere to the requirements of the AAFCO for a specific life stage.
Here is an example of an AAFCO statement where a pet food meets the required standards and nutrients of an AAFCO nutrient profile:
“(The name of pet food) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (Dog or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for (specific life stage).”
On occasions, some pet food may not adhere to an AAFCO nutrient profile. The pet food manufacturer can claim it is balanced and complete for a life stage through extensive animal feeding tests, as set out by the AAFCO.
Here is an example of this type of statement:
“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of pet food) provides complete and balanced nutrition for (specific life stage).”
AAFCO Testing Procedures
Sometimes a pet food manufacturer will undergo feeding trials to verify that their diet is okay for a specific life stage.
Usually, these feeding trials are conducted through laboratory analysis. However, they must also take part in physical feeding trials. The AAFCO has a robust set of criteria and safety protocols that the manufacturer must adhere to. These include:
- The number of animals used in the trial
- The timespan of the trial
- Regular clinical observations and analysis to monitor blood and weight
- Veterinarians to conduct physical examinations
For example, a dog food claiming it is suitable for adult maintenance must be subjected to a feeding trial using eight dogs that are a minimum of 1 year old. Also, the trial must be conducted over 26 weeks.
Once a pet food has adhered to the standards set out by the AAFCO, they can use the animal feeding tests statement we previously discussed.
AAFCO life stages and food categories
The AAFCO recognizes that there are different nutritional needs depending on the life stage of a pet. Each life stage needs specific nutrients to give them support.
At present, the AAFCO acknowledges that there are 5 life stages. These are:
- Adult Maintenance
- All Life Stages
- Gestation/ Lactation
- Intermittent/ Supplemental
Any pet food that claims to be suitable for adult maintenance, all life stages, gestation/ lactation, or growth must either adhere to a nutrient profile or have extensive animal feed testing.
Also, any product that claims to be suitable for all life stages or growth must have one of the following statements:
- 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)
This is vital because large breed puppies have different dietary needs compared to smaller breeds. Without these specific nutrients, it can cause significant health conditions. For example, larger breeds need added sources of glucosamine and protein. These help to support their overworked joints and maintain muscle mass.
For a dog food to be appropriate for growth and gestation/ lactation it must contain at least 22.5% protein and 8.5% fat, based on a dry matter basis. Whereas, for adult maintenance, the formula only needs 18% protein and 5.5% fat.
This shows how rigid the AAFCO is when they formulate their nutrient profiles.
Pet food stating it is suitable for intermittent or supplemental use might not adhere to an AAFCO nutrient profile. This could be for a variety of reasons.
These types of diets are normally veterinary prescription diets. They are formulated for dogs suffering from a specific health condition, such as kidney disease. These types of formulas are not meant to be consumed by healthy dogs.
Diets like these can start animal testing so that they can meet AAFCO requirements and have a statement on their packaging.
The AAFCO plays an essential role in protecting your pup’s well-being. They help ensure your dog is receiving the appropriate nutrients and vitamins they need to live a happy, healthy life.
All dogs are different, and depending on their life stage, they may need specific nutrients for support. This is why the AAFCO is so important.
Whenever you choose a dog food, consider the state you live in, and whether it adheres to the standards and safety practices set out by the AAFCO. If you have any immediate concerns, consult your veterinarian, who can advise you further.
About the author
James is the founder of HonestWhiskers.com. He made a promise to provide only the best, most accurate information for your pup. He has partnered with veterinarians and pet nutritionists who are experts in their fields so that you can trust the advice they give you.
Kayla founded Journey Dog Training in 2013 to provide high-quality and affordable dog behavior advice. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who’s worked with hundreds of private clients, thousands of shelter dogs, and dozens of working detection dogs. Kayla’s dog and cat behavior advice has been featured in NPR, the Chicago Tribune, and Pet MD. She’s an avid adventurer who is currently doing #vanlife on the Pan-American Highway with her two border collies and a cat. Aside from running Journey Dog Training, Kayla also runs the nonprofit K9 Conservationists, where she and the dogs work as conservation detection dog teams. You can get 1:1 advice with a Journey Dog Training team member here.