What Is AAFCO’s Cat Food Nutrient Profile?

Keeping cats healthy and active requires us to provide them with a balanced diet that includes all the nutrients they require in the right amounts, in order to maintain a healthy weight, grow properly, and recover quickly from illness or injury.

Here's a rundown of everything you need to know about cat nutrition, including what goes into nutritional cat food.

What are the required cat nutrients?

Nutrients are dietary components necessary for life. Cats can receive these nutrients from a variety of food sources. For instance, calcium can be gained from egg shells, bone, organ tissues, and mineral supplements.

Here are six types of nutrients for your cat;

  • Protein – provides energy.
  • Fat – boosts the cat’s immune system.
  • Carbohydrate – generates heat.
  • Vitamins – to maintain optimal health.
  • Minerals – vital for bone and teeth.
  • Water – hydration and helps to flush out toxins.

Even though energy isn't listed as a nutrient, a cat's diet would be incomplete without it. The amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrate in a serving of food is measured in Kcal.

AAFCO nutrient standard for cat food

AAFCO is known as the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are a non-profit membership organisation comprised of municipal, state, and federal government agencies.

According to the FDA, to have "complete and balanced" in the nutritional adequacy statement, a dog or cat food must either:

  • Meet one of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.
  • Pass an AAFCO feeding test.

‘Complete’ defines as the food containing all of the needed nutrients. Whereas, balanced means that the nutrients are present in the right quantities.

AAFCO has two categories of nutrient standard for cats (on which the Complete and Balanced claim is based).

  • "Growth and Reproduction" (active adult cats, inactive adult cats, and senior cats)
  • "Adult Maintenance" (active adult cats, inactive adult cats, and senior cats) (kittens and nursing females)

Apart from that, the standard AAFCO feeding trial establishes basic guidelines for determining the nutritional safety of food. These physiological indicators are evaluated to verify that all animals in the study remain healthy and in good condition.

The following are the baseline parameters that are measured during the trial:

  • Hemoglobin
  • Packed cell volume (PCV)
  • Alkaline phosphate
  • Albumin

What is the nutrient requirement AAFCO sets for cat food?

Specific nutritional needs for cats are specified by the AAFCO based on their life stage, which is divided into growth and reproduction and adult maintenance.

For the growth and reproduction stage, cats need at least 30% protein. Where else, for Adult Maintenance they need at least 26% protein. For both life stages, the quantity of nutrients required is broken down into specific amino acids, minerals, and vitamins, as well as at least 9 % fat.

Type of food category

The best diet for your cat is determined primarily by its age, health, and personal preferences. The type of food are divided into 3 categories;

  • Complete foods
  • Supplements
  • Treats

1. “Complete and balance food”

This diet includes all essential nutrients in correct amounts. As stated above, AAFCO has established two nutritional profiles for cats based on age.

The AAFCO nutritional requirements for each of those profiles must be met by "complete and balanced" cat foods that do one of three things:

  • Family product
    This is a product that has been tested on animals but is not identical. Minimal formulation alterations that do not affect the nutritional value of the product may be added.
  • Dietary guidelines
    A third-party laboratory examines a sample to verify AAFCO nutritional criteria for growth and reproduction or adult maintenance, kittens and pregnant or nursing females should eat growth and reproduction-grade cat foods.
  • Feeding trial
    A feeding test requires at least eight animals to begin, and at least six animals to finish with acceptable weight growth, physical condition, and blood test results to complete.

    A feeding test for growth and production products takes 1-13 weeks, whereas adult maintenance products take 6 months.

2. Supplements

    Since supplements are not meant to be consumed on a long-term basis, they do not meet the standards for complete and balanced nutrition. You can use them if your cat is showing signs of deficiency in a particular area.

    3. Snacks and treats

      Treats aren't supposed to be a complete and balanced diet for your pet. AAFCO rules do not require pet treats to meet conventional nutritional adequacy criteria if the terms "snack" or "treat" are clearly labelled.

      What vitamins do cats need in their diet?

      Vitamins are chemical substances that contain carbon and are required in small amounts in the diet. Many enzymes (substances that facilitate chemical reactions) required for regular feline metabolism could not function without vitamins. According to AAFCO, cat foods should contain the following vitamins:

      • Vitamin A: required for vision, bone and teeth formation, reproduction, and skin and mucous membrane maintenance
      • Vitamin D: increases calcium and phosphorus levels in the blood to aid bone formation and maintenance.
      • Vitamin E: Antioxidant
      • Vitamin K: Important for normal blood clotting
      • Thiamin: plays an important function in the metabolism of carbohydrates
      • Riboflavin: Allows carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to turn into energy
      • Pantothenic Acid: Needed in glucose and fat metabolism as well as the synthesis of certain amino acids
      • Niacin: Processing fats, carbohydrates, and protein
      • Pyridoxine: Helps in breaking down amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids
      • Folic Acid: required for DNA synthesis and the amino acid, methionine
      • Biotin: Builds up fatty acids, amino acids, and DNA/RNA
      • Vitamin B12: It is required for fat and carbohydrate metabolism as well as nerve transmission.
      • Choline: It is required as a neurotransmitter, a component of cell membranes, and for lipid transport.

      Check for more details on the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles.

      Apart from vitamins, minerals are necessary for a cat's survival and are involved in practically all physiological processes. They are stored in bone and muscle tissue and contribute to enzyme creation, pH regulation, nutrition use, and oxygen transfer.

      However, if your cat is experiencing nutritional deficiency, you may add cat supplements to their diet, which will help to replenish the missing nutrients, but before that please consult with your veterinarian first.

      What is crude fat in cat food?

      The crude fat level in cat food is indicated in the guaranteed analysis part of the product and is calculated by extracting the fat contained using ether.

      While protein is a significant source of energy for cats, fat is the most energy-dense food in the diet. Fats also function as transport molecules and aid in the transmission of nerve impulses. Skin and coat health, wound healing, and inflammation are all aided by essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

      Fat and necessary fatty acids are found in items such as salmon, poultry, liver, and cattle found in cat diets. When extra fat is added to a diet, the fat source is expressly indicated in the ingredient list. For example, cow fat, fish oil, or soybean oil.

      How can I determine if my cat’s food meets AAFCO guidelines?

      Label reading is very essential here because by doing so you can identify each ingredient and determine if it’s in the correct quantity.

      Here are some pointers to help you understand and to make the best decision possible:

      • Product name: The product name usually highlights a key ingredient, but it is not always the case. What type of cat food is this?
      • Net weight: How many grams/kg is it?
      • Statement of purpose or intent: Cat-specific food must be clearly identified on the box. Stating precise nutritional requirements that can only be met by feeding them certain foods.
      • Ingredient list: Ingredients have to be listed in decreasing order according to weight. Because they have a larger moisture content than components in dry form, items like chicken or lamb are put higher on the ingredient list.
      • Guaranteed analysis: Because they differ from ingredients, nutrients including protein, lipids, and fibre must be specified in terms of quantity or percentage.
      • Feeding directions: General guidelines rather than rules are provided for feeding the product to a cat. Please refer to your veterinarian if you need more detailed instructions.
      • Nutritional adequacy statement: If the food is for a specific lifestyle or age group of cats, be sure to state it in the labeling. For example, Is this for kittens or adult felines?
      • Statement of responsibility: It's important to have a list of firms and contact information for everyone who is involved in the creation of the product.


      To ensure your cat gets the nutrients it needs, always choose an AAFCO-approved product. Check out PetCubes Gently Cooked Cat food for a well-balanced meal for your cat. It is professionally crafted and meets the nutritional profile criteria established by AAFCO.

      *Click here for additional information on the AAFCO guidelines.*

      Reviewed by: 

      Dr Francis is one of the top wildlife nutritionists in Asia. Originating from Montreal, Canada, he left at 21 to pursue his Masters and subsequently a PhD in wildlife nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. Instead of taking the path of common animal science to learn about farm animals, or through the veterinarian space and taking a certificate in nutrition, he took the road less travelled to dive deep into the world of animal ecology, metabolism and nutrition.