What are the life stages in dog food as identified by AAFCO?
AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials, is considered the authority in setting the guidelines and definitions for all dog food ingredients. For a pet food manufacturer to claim that their food is “nutritionally complete,” it must meet AAFCO’s nutritional guidelines.
AAFCO only recognizes two canine nutrient life stages: Growth & Reproduction and Adult Maintenance. However, manufacturers are permitted to market a dog food as suitable for “all life stages” as long as it meets the more stringent guidelines for “growth and reproduction.” To explain a dog food suitable for “all life stages” is also suitable for puppies, too; in fact, sometimes pet food experts do advise putting older puppies on adult food once they become eight or nine months old, since puppy food usually has a higher protein count to accommodate the growth spurts of the very young.
The dog food label must include the following words:
“Formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or 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, therefore, contain every nutrient needed by the pet, as specified in the AAFCO dog Food (or 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 dogs and 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.