What is the role of the AAFCO in commercial dog food?

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The AAFCO 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 the AAFCO’s nutritional guidelines.

To meet the AAFCO’s nutritional guidelines, a pet food must:

  • 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.
  • Have nutrient profiles that are broken down into two categories (or life stages) – Growth & Reproduction and Adult Maintenance. If the pet food meets all of the nutrient requirements of both Growth & Reproduction AND Adult Maintenance as listed in the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles, then that pet food would be considered to be nutritionally adequate for “all life stages.”

The dog food label must also include the following words:

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

Sometimes, a product doesn’t meet AAFCO’s minimum and maximum levels, but can still use the labeling when:

  • A pet food company can formulate and market their products for a specific life stage – provided the nutritional profile of the pet food still meets the levels specified in the appropriate AAFCO Nutrient Profile.
  • A product is used by a veterinarian, for the treatment of certain conditions where the pet’s diet must be lower in certain nutrients.
  • A product is based on establishment of “product families.” The lead product member must pass the AAFCO feeding trial, and the other members of the family be deemed nutritionally similar to the lead product by meeting specified nutrient and calorie criteria. Most often, the statement for the product-family members is the same as in number (2) above.

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