Difference between BARF and AAFCO feeding methods

What is BARF?

Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (BARF) is also colloquially known as a ‘Bones and Raw Food’ diet. As the name suggests, a BARF diet will include raw, meaty bones and vegetable scraps. Such diets are typically meant for adult dogs, which some argue would be the desired diet for pets considering that a BARF diet would be similar to what canines would have eaten in the wild before they became domesticated.

The BARF diet is claimed to come with a list of benefits such as a shinier coat due to its more digestible fat and protein content. That being said, there are high-fat commercial fresh pet foods that can also produce the same effects without the risk of an unbalanced diet.

When feeding your pet, it is important to remember that the way your pet is consuming their food may just be as important as what they are actually consuming. For example, another risk of feeding your pet a BARF diet is that of splinters on bones or whole bones that may choke your pet and pose a danger to your pet.

What is AAFCO and how is it different from BARF?

While BARF stands for a type of diet, AAFCO stands for an association, specifically the Association of American Feed Control Officials. BARF is a method of believing how dogs should be fed, focusing on ingredients whereas AAFCO sets minimum nutrient standards and doesn’t concern itself with the ingredients, as long as nutrients are met.

The association is made up of officials that are in charge of regulating the sales and distribution of animal feeds which include pet foods. While the association does not directly test, approve, or certify pet foods to make sure they meet standard requirements, they do establish guidelines for the definition of ingredients used, product labels, feeding trials and laboratory analyses of nutrients within pet foods. 

As pet owners, we always want to ensure that our pets get the nutrition they need and deserve, but how do we know if we are providing just that? That is when the AAFCO steps in. 

Pet foods need to pass a feeding trial using AAFCO procedures or meet one of the Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles established by them before they can incorporate the label ‘complete and balanced according to AAFCO’ on their packaging. This label is known as a nutritional adequacy statement which states that the product is intended to be fed as the sole diet for a pet and is nutritionally balanced. This is also usually why you will not find these labels on snacks or treats since they are not meant to be served as the sole diet for your cat or dog considering they are not nutritionally balanced.

For a product to meet one of the AAFCO nutrient profiles, it must contain every single nutrient listed for the profile minimally at the recommended levels. These recommended levels differ based on life stages of your pet considering that they would have different nutritional needs at different ages (e.g. a nursing dog versus an older less active dog.) Adult pet foods eliminate unnecessary, excess nutrients that younger, growing pets would require.

AAFCO also ensures that medicated feeds and specialty pet labels require additional statements such as providing the user specific information regarding the intended dosage to feed your pet, mixing instructions (if needed) and any withdrawal times. They also state that warning and caution statements must appear in a prominent place on the pet food label.

By providing your pet AAFCO certified foods (i.e. those that earned their ‘complete and balanced’ label), you can rest easy knowing that your pet is getting the right amount of nutrients it needs without any unnecessary risks (e.g. choking on a bone splinter) or not getting enough or too much of a certain nutrient. It is important to understand that AAFCO sets minimum standards and not optimal ones. By combining a BARF philosophy that meets AAFCO standards, such as PetCubes, it is easier to achieve safe and optimal nutrient concentrations. 

Ultimately, whether you decide to feed your pet a BARF diet or an AAFCO certified one, the onus is on you to ensure that your pet gets a well-balanced diet, and whenever in doubt, to seek veterinary advice.

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