What are the life stages in cat food as identified by AAFCO?

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Although AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) only recognizes two nutrient life stages: Growth and Reproduction, and Adult Maintenance, manufacturers are permitted to market a cat food as suitable for “all life stages” as long as it meets the AAFCO more stringent guidelines for “growth and reproduction.”

AAFCO is considered to be the authority in setting the guidelines and definitions for all cat food ingredients. For a pet food manufacturer to claim that their food is “nutritionally complete,” it must meet AAFCO’s nutritional guidelines.

A pet food with an “All Life Stages” claim can be used from weaning through adulthood. This claim is considered an unqualified (absolute) representation of nutritional adequacy. If substantiated through feeding trials, the protocol for gestation/lactation and growth must be performed sequentially, using the same group of animals.

Any pet food label—for cats or dogs– must include the following words:

“Formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profiles for (specific life stage)”

AAFCO isn’t a government regulatory agency, but the FDA does rely heavily on the organization. Many AAFCO members are representatives of the State Department of Agriculture and they establish nutritional requirements and create pet food labeling.

As AAFCO says, the label is an extremely important part of communication, so it must contain every nutrient needed by the pet, as specified in the AAFCO cat food Nutrient Profiles. The nutrients listed in the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles are based on the nutritional recommendations of the National Research Council (NRC) for cats. The NRC recommendations are based upon the nutritional needs of the pet using purified diets. AAFCO has translated these absolute dietary needs of the pet into the nutrients and levels that should be in pet FOOD.

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