AAFCO-Approved Pet Food: Everything You Need to Know | PetMD

Dr Elsa Jungman

What Is AAFCO and What Does It Do?

Published: December 28, 2020
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Choosing the right cat food or dog food is a challenge for every pet parent. There are plenty of factors to consider, but one thing that all vets agree on is that whichever pet food you select, it needs to be AAFCO-approved.

But what is AAFCO? What does it mean for a pet food to be AAFCO-approved? This guide will break down everything you need to know about AAFCO-approved dog food and cat food and why it’s so important for pet food packages to have an AAFCO statement on them.

What Is AAFCO?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a private, nonprofit, voluntary membership association.

AAFCO is made up of officials that are charged with regulating the sale and distribution of animal feeds (including pet foods) and drug remedies. AAFCO also establishes standard ingredient definitions and nutritional requirements for pet foods. Individual states often use AAFCO’s recommendations to create pet food regulations.

Does AAFCO Test Pet Foods or Regulate Pet Food Ingredients?

AAFCO does NOT directly test, regulate, approve, or certify pet foods to make sure that they meet the standard requirements. Instead, they establish guidelines for ingredient definitions, product labels, feeding trials, and laboratory analyses of the nutrients that go into pet foods.

Pet food companies then use third-party testing agencies to analyze their foods according to the AAFCO guidelines.

AAFCO guidelines for pet food labels include:

  • Product and brand name

  • Species of animal that the food is intended for

  • Net quantity

  • Guaranteed analysis

  • Ingredient list

  • Nutritional adequacy statement (complete and balanced statement)

  • Feeding directions

  • Name and location of the manufacturer

Does the FDA Regulate Pet Food?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) makes sure that the ingredients used in pet food are safe and have a purpose in pet food.

Some ingredients, like meat, poultry, and grains, are deemed safe. Other substances, like vitamins, minerals, flavorings, and preservatives, may be generally recognized as safe for an intended use. The FDA also regulates specific claims such as “low magnesium.”

The FDA requires that pet food packaging include:

  • Proper identification of the product

  • Net quantity

  • Name and location of the manufacturer/distributor

  • Proper listing of all ingredients

Ingredients must be displayed in order of the largest amount to least amount by weight.

States may have their own regulations as well. Many states follow models based on AAFCO recommendations.

What Is the AAFCO Statement on a Pet Food Label?

The AAFCO statement found on pet food packaging explains whether the food contains essential nutrients, how that was determined, and for which life stage the food is appropriate for. It basically lets you know that the food is “complete and balanced” for a particular life stage.

Life stages are separated into two categories:

  • Adult Maintenance: These foods are intended for adult dogs or cats.

  • Growth and Reproduction: These foods are designed for puppies/kittens and pregnant or lactating females. A newer guideline for puppy foods also includes a statement about large dogs (those over 70 lbs.)

Foods that are marketed for “all life stages” must meet the more stringent standards for “growth and reproduction.” However, this is not an AAFCO designation.

Nutritional adequacy standards established by AAFCO must be met or exceeded in order for a pet food to be marketed as “complete and balanced” for a certain life stage.

Any product that does not meet either standard must be labeled for “intermittent or supplemental feeding only.” These foods are not deemed to be complete and balanced and should not be fed as your pet’s primary diet.

Products that are clearly labeled as a snack or treat do not have to contain one of these AAFCO designations.

Testing Procedures for AAFCO Approval

Pet food companies use a laboratory analysis and will sometimes conduct feeding trials to prove that their food is complete and balanced for a certain life stage.

Feeding Trials

Feeding trials use both a laboratory analysis of the food as well as conducting actual feeding trials. AAFCO outlines specific protocols for conducting feeding tests for each life stage that include:

  • Minimum number of animals in the trial

  • How long the test should last

  • Physical exams performed by veterinarians

  • Clinical observations and measurements such as weight and blood tests

For example, “adult maintenance” feeding trials for dogs must include a minimum of eight healthy dogs that are at least 1 year of age, and the trial must last 26 weeks.

Pet foods that pass the feeding trial requirements will have a label stating something like:

“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of food) proves complete and balanced nutrition for (life stage).”

Laboratory Analysis

AAFCO publishes specific dietary nutrient requirements for dogs based on the two life stages—adult maintenance or growth/reproduction. If a laboratory analysis was used to verify that a pet food meets AAFCO’s nutrient profiles, the label will read:?

“(Name of food) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (Dog/Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for (life stage).”

AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles
?

Growth and Reproduction

  • Protein 22.5%

    • Further broken down into specific amino acid requirements

  • Fat 8.5%

  • Minerals

    • Includes calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium

  • Vitamins

    • Includes vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline

Adult Maintenance

  • Protein 18%

    • Further broken down into specific amino acid requirements

  • Fat 5.5%

  • Minerals

    • Includes calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium

  • Vitamins

    • Includes vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline

AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles

AAFCO publishes specific dietary nutrient requirements for cats based on one of two life stages—adult maintenance or growth/reproduction.

Growth and Reproduction

  • Protein 30%

    • Further broken down into specific amino acid requirements

  • Fat 9%

  • Minerals

    • Includes calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium

  • Vitamins

    • Includes vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline, biotin

Adult Maintenance

  • Protein 26%

    • Further broken down into specific amino acid requirements

  • Fat 9%

  • Minerals

    • Includes calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, iodine, selenium

  • Vitamins

    • Includes vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, niacin, pyridoxine, folic acid, vitamin B12, choline, biotin

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