What Are AAFCO Nutrient Requirements For Dogs?

Most dog owners give their pets the same meal every day, for months or even years. When dogs are fed in this manner, it is more vital than ever that their diet satisfies at least minimal nutritional standards.

Hence, it’s even more critical now to ensure the meal that your dog is being fed has all the nutrient requirements that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has set.  

However, many of us are still lost when it comes to the AAFCO and their nutrient standards. So, in this article, we will guide you through the nutritional profiles that are beneficial for your dog.

AAFCO nutrient standards for dog food

The AAFCO is a body that only provides rules for ingredient definitions, product labelling, feeding trials, and laboratory assessments of pet food nutrients.

So, they do not directly test, regulate or approve pet meals. However, since they have their own nutrient requirements set for dog food, pet food manufacturers strive to fit these standards to ensure that the meals they make are of the highest quality and nutritious for their consumers.

What are AAFCO dog nutrient profiles?

Dog food must fulfil the nutritional criteria defined by AAFCO in order to be labelled as "complete and balanced."

There are two nutrient profiles depending on a dog's life stage that establish these nutritional adequacy requirements, which are:

  • Adult maintenance - Consists of protein (18%), fats (5.5%), minerals and vitamins
  • Growth and reproduction - Consists of protein (22.5%), fats (8.5%), minerals and vitamins

Any product that does not fulfil both of these requirements must be labelled as "intermittent or supplementary feeding only." These meals aren't considered complete and balanced. Therefore they shouldn't be used as your pet's primary source of nutrition.

Three Pet Food Categories of Nutritional Adequacy 

According to AAFCO, there are three pet food categories that are utilised in these regulations. They are:

1. Complete and balanced pet food

This term refers to a product that has all of the necessary nutrients in the proper proportions. However, as explained above, AAFCO has created two recognised nutritional profiles based on a dog's life stage. 

The nutritional requirements defined by AAFCO for each of those profiles must be met by dog meals advertised as "complete and balanced," and they must do one of three things, which are:

  • Family products
  • A product labelled as a "family product" is similar to, but not identical to, one that has undergone animal feeding studies.

    Minor formulation modifications that do not impact the nutritional foundation of the goods may be included in the variations in the food.

  • Meet nutrient profiles
  • AAFCO nutritional standards for the growth and reproduction or adult maintenance life stages are verified by a third-party laboratory examination of a sample. Puppies and pregnant or nursing females, for example, should eat dog meals graded for growth and reproduction.

  • Feeding test
  • A feeding test necessitates the participation of at least eight animals to begin the analysis, and at least six animals must complete it with acceptable weight growth, physical condition, and blood test results. 

    A feeding test for growth and production products will last around 1-13 weeks, whereas the tests for adult maintenance products will be completed in 6 months. 

    2.  Intermittent pet food

    Pet food items with this designation do not fulfil the complete and balanced nutrition criteria because they are not meant for continuous use. For example, if your dog suffers from an iron deficiency and your vet recommends specially formulated pet food that is high in iron, this meal is considered intermittent pet food. This is because this meal will not be given to your pet if it solves its iron deficiency issue.

    3. Treats and snacks

    Treats are a subset of pet food, and they aren't meant to be a complete and balanced meal for your pet. As long as the words "snack" or "treat" are prominently placed on the label, AAFCO standards do not require pet treats to fulfil normal nutritional adequacy criteria.

    AAFCO guaranteed analysis

    A guaranteed analysis is required on all pet food labels to inform the customer of the product's nutritional content. 

    The AAFCO requires pet food to meet minimum crude protein and crude fat percentages, as well as maximum crude fibre and moisture percentages. The term "crude" refers to a specific technique of evaluating the product, not to the nutrient's quality.

    Some companies also provide guarantees for additional nutrients. Often, the most significant amount of mineral component is assured.

    Guarantees are stated "as fed" or "as is," meaning the amounts contained in the product as they appear in the container or bag including the moisture content.  

    How do I know if my dog’s food follows AAFCO’s nutrient requirements?

    You can check the nutritional adequacy statement on the pet food label to verify if a product meets one of the AAFCO dog food nutrition requirements. 

    This is why you should learn how to read the labels in your dog’s food packaging. By doing so, you will better understand whether your dog is getting all the nutrients it needs from its diet.

    Conclusion 

    AAFCO establishes basic criteria for balanced and comprehensive pet nutrition. While many pet owners and dog food specialists believe that the standards might be improved, you can be confident that dog food that satisfies AAFCO requirements will offer the nutrients that most dogs require. 

    *To get more information on the nutritional standards set by the AAFCO, click here.*

    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.

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