What Are The AAFCO Approved Dog Food?

Some pet owners and retailers assume that the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is in charge of certifying pet foods. However, this is not the case.

Here are some facts to assist you in understanding what AAFCO does and doesn't do to help you care for your dog with confidence. 

Photo by Blue Bird from Pexels

What is AAFCO?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a private, nonprofit membership organisation with voluntary membership. Members include the world’s largest pet food manufacturers. 

AAFCO creates model quality standards, rules, and legislation to regulate what goes into commercial animal feed, especially dog food, which consumes so much of our weekly shopping money. 

In 1909, the organisation began creating animal feed standards, around the same time that entrepreneurs realised commercial packaging and selling of pet meals might be successful.

What do they do?

AAFCO develops guidelines or models for laws to ensure that animal feed producers, including pet food manufacturers, give clear, accurate, and consistent information.

Every year, AAFCO publishes the AAFCO Manual, which is an official document. This handbook covers labelling problems such as label format, component lists, nutrition claims, and guaranteed analysis, in addition to giving ingredient definitions and feed terminology.

Pet meals are not directly tested, regulated, approved, or certified by AAFCO to ensure that they fulfill the standards. Instead, they provide guidelines for ingredient definitions, product labelling, feeding trials, and laboratory assessments of pet food nutrients.

Third-party testing facilities then analyse the food in accordance with the AAFCO criteria. Here are the guidelines that AAFCO has set for pet food labelling:

  • Brand and product name has to be included in the label
  • Must specify the specific animal that the food is created for
  • Ingredient list
  • Net quantity
  • Name and location of the manufacturer
  • Nutritional adequacy statement 
  • Guaranteed analysis
  • Directions on how to feed

Additionally, AAFCO constantly revises its standards based on the most recent research in pet nutrition to best support our dogs’ health and wellness. 

Here are some of the new updates they made to their dog food rules in 2016:

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is now regarded as an essential vitamin for puppy growth. So, every puppy-specific product should incorporate DHA and state the DHA amount in the Guaranteed Analysis on the product label.
  • The AAFCO now recommends manufacturers to state which life stage the food is meant for (growth or maintenance), under the nutritional information.
  • Producers must now indicate whether or not their products are suitable or not for the growth of large breed canines.
  • The quantity of Vitamin D that should be taken on a daily basis has been lowered. Any dog meals that surpass this level should be modified to meet the new guideline, according to AAFCO.

What does the AAFCO label on the packaging mean?

The AAFCO statement on pet food packaging describes whether the food includes required nutrients, how that determination was made, and for which life stage the food is acceptable.

It essentially informs you that the meal is "full and balanced" for a specific life stage. There are two types of life stages; growth and reproduction, and adult maintenance.

For pet food to be advertised as "complete and balanced" for a particular life stage, AAFCO nutritional adequacy requirements must be fulfilled or surpassed.

To establish that their food is complete and balanced for a certain life stage, pet food producers utilise laboratory analysis and, on occasion, feeding experiments. They conduct these tests for approval from AAFCO.

So, AAFCO has specific feeding test protocols for each life stage, which include:

  • Veterinarians have to conduct physical examinations.
  • The minimum amount of animals that will be included in the tests
  • Duration of the trials
  • Clinical measurements and observations

Therefore, learning how to read dog food labels can help you get a better understanding of which meal will be more beneficial for your pet.

AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles

The AAFCO established nutritional profiles to define minimum and some maximum nutrient concentrations for dog diets. 

These profiles were not generated until 1991, even though AAFCO has been around since 1906. 

When discoveries from pet nutrition studies become available, these profiles are updated. The most recent change was done in 2016. They provide pet food producers with realistic advice.

Adult Maintenance and Growth and Reproduction are the two nutritional profiles for dog food. Here’s what they mean:

    • Growth and Reproduction: Puppies, pregnant or nursing dogs, and adult dogs have varied dietary demands, according to the AAFCO. As a result, they created a nutritional profile for this population.
  • Adult Maintenance: Dog meals include the nutrition that adult dogs require. Except for some gigantic breeds, which do not completely develop until the age of two, dogs above one are considered adults.
  • How are the profiles evaluated?

    A dog food product must first be tested to see if it fulfils AAFCO's nutritional profile criteria and is "complete and balanced." There are two ways to determine whether the dog food satisfies these requirements:

    AAFCO-Compliant Feeding Trial

    This approach incorporates feeding experiments with actual dogs in addition to laboratory analyses to demonstrate the food's nutritional properties. 

    The food that passes this trial will be labelled as such: "Animal feeding experiments utilising AAFCO protocols establish that [Product Name] offers full and balanced nutrition,"

    Nutrient Content Analysis

    This approach involves laboratory analysis of a small food sample to ensure that it complies with AAFCO criteria. 

    The product that passes this analysis will have a label as such: "[Product Name] is prepared to satisfy the nutritional standards set by the AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles,"

    What about pet foods that don’t meet the AAFCO criteria?

    Products that do not match the AAFCO's nutritional profile criteria for dogs are permitted to be sold. These products are usually labelled as designed for intermittent or supplemental feeding only.

    This is most often the case with treats and vitamins, which are designed to make up a tiny part of your dog's total calorie intake. It also applies to some veterinary diets, which are designed to meet specific nutritional requirements.

    Therefore, it is better to get products that have met the AAFCO criteria as you will have the reassurance that your dog is getting the nutrients it needs through its diet. Try out Petcubes’ Superior Blend Beef that is carefully curated by professionals and meets the AAFCO nutritional profile requirements, and you can be confident that your dog is getting a well-balanced diet.

    AAFCO approved ingredient list

    According to AAFCO standards, a pet food producer must give a confirmed analysis on the product label and a list of components in decreasing order, with the highest weight mentioned first.

    An ingredient label on a pet food product might be confusing at first. So, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

    • Consider major and minor components.
    • All components must be listed in order of weight, from the most to the least. Thus, the most significant contributions are listed first, followed by the smallest contributors.

    Besides that, the terms "all-natural," "organic," and "wholesome" are frequently used on pet food labels.

    These words may sound identical, yet they might refer to quite different aspects of the product. Therefore, AAFCO regulates some of these words. 

    It's critical to understand the distinctions and definitions of these terms. Here are a few examples:


    There is no clear definition of this in animal feed laws, but according to AAFCO, every component in pet food must be produced, packed, and held in compliance with federal standards.


    To avoid bacterial cross-contamination, it's vital to observe hygienic handling standards for raw meat if it's labelled as raw.


    Synthetic fertilisers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering are not authorised in certified organic pet meals, which must include at least 95% organic components.

    Common ingredients listed on labels

    The AAFCO guidelines are based on a set of common ingredients. These are specific carbohydrate, fat, fibre, and protein sources that were chosen for their low cost. 

    Vitamins and minerals must almost always be added to these meals. They'd never pass AAFCO requirements otherwise. Here are some examples of the most regularly used ingredients:

    • Fish meal
    • Meat and bone meal
    • Animal byproducts meal
    • Chicken liver meal
    • Vegetable oil

    The word "meal" is used because the goods are grounded into uniform-sized particles in addition to being cooked. Although meat meals provide more nutrition, they also result in more processed pet food. 

    The meat is boiled and cooked down until it is a dry powder to eliminate the liquid, then the meal is put into the kibble recipe to be cooked once more.


    The AAFCO guidelines are essentially there to aid in defining which meals are complete and balanced diets for your dog. 

    While AAFCO does not directly assist consumers, the organization's stance on feed regulations explicitly states that the most essential component of feed control is to safeguard both consumers and the regulated sector. 

    They also strive to protect human and animal health. Hence, understanding what AAFCO does, can help you understand which dog food is more beneficial for your canine’s health. 

    *For additional information on AAFCO, you can access it 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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