AAFCO has created standardized nutrition profiles for pet foods. The profiles are intended to provide guidelines for formulating pet foods that meet the animal’s nutritional needs.
There are four different types of AAFCO nutrition profiles:
- Growth and Reproduction
- Adult and Maintenance
- All Stages
For this blog, I have combined both Growth and Reproduction as their nutrients recommendations have been combined by AAFCO. The growth represents formulations for puppies and the reproduction profile is a formulation for lactating dogs/bitches.
The AAFCO profiles are created through years of research and are based on the latest scientific knowledge. The profiles take into account the different nutritional needs of different life stages, as well as the different activity levels of pets.
The profiles are updated periodically but not as often unless some new scientific information becomes available such as links between DCM and grain-free diets. AAFCO hasn’t mentioned anything about changing their recommendations based on the reported surge in DCM cases linked to pet food diets.
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What is AAFCO?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies responsible for enforcing animal feed regulations. AAFCO develops model regulations and guidelines related to animal feeds and pet food, and provides educational resources for member agencies, feed industry representatives and pet owners.
What is complete and balanced?
A diet is complete and balanced if it meets the animal’s nutritional needs for all life stages, from birth to adulthood. A diet that is complete and balanced for one life stage may not be complete and balanced for another life stage. For example, a puppy food is complete and balanced for growth, but an adult dog food is complete and balanced for adult dogs.
What is a “nutrient profile”?
A nutrient profile is a set of guidelines that defines the minimum and maximum levels of crude protein and fat, as well as the recommended levels of essential nutrients, that a pet food must contain in order to be complete and balanced.
|AAFCO Nutrient Profile||Symbol of the Profile|
|Growth and Reproduction||A|
|All Life Stages||G|
How AAFCO Determines Diets that Meet Its Nutrition Guidelines:
States that have adopted AAFCO’s model pet food regulations require pet food manufacturers to meet the AAFCO Nutritional Statement. Pet food companies that meet the AAFCO Nutritional requirements can demonstrate to the AAFCO board using these two ways;
The company completes a feeding trial that lasts at least 26 weeks on at least eight adult cats or dogs of the intended life stage. Period for puppies’ trial is 10 weeks and 6 weeks for lactating dogs. The feeding trial must show that the food meets or exceeds all of the minimum requirements for nutrients, as well as showing no adverse effects from eating the food.
The AAFCO Feeding Trials are expensive because the AAFCO Feeding Trials manual asks for a well-controlled environment situation, much like a lab. There have been several criticism and campaigns against companies doing feeding trials in cruel environments for pets that have grown and gotten used to being in a traditional home setting – and not a lab. Read all the 6 criticisms of the AAFCO feeding trials here.
Only Royal Canin, Purina and Hills Pets conduct actual feeding trials and most other companies opt for lab-based testing to determine the nutrient levels of their foods.
By Formulating Diets to Meet AAFCO’s Nutrient Profiles:
Companies can also use lab analysis of their food to show that it meets or exceeds the minimum requirements for all nutrients in the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles. This is the most common way that pet food companies demonstrate that their products meet the AAFCO Nutritional Statement.
To do this, a company will have their food analyzed by an independent lab. The lab will test the food for all of the nutrients listed in the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles. The company must then submit the results of the lab analysis to AAFCO. If AAFCO determines that the food meets or exceeds the minimum requirements for all nutrients, the company can then include an AAFCO statement on their product labels.
Pet food manufacturers can qualify to use the ‘Balanced and Complete’ label if they can demonstrate through lab testing that their food recipe meets one of the Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) These profiles are the ones mentioned above such as Growth and Reproduction, Adult and All Life Stages.
The company formulates the food to meet or exceed the minimum requirements for all of the nutrients listed in the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles. The food must also be shown to be complete and balanced for at least one life stage through laboratory analysis, calculations, or both.
The AAFCO profiles are not perfect, but they’re a good starting point for finding a complete and balanced pet food. If you have any questions about your pet’s nutritional needs, talk to your veterinarian.
Does AAFCO approve dog food?
It’s important to note that AAFCO does not approve pet food products. The AAFCO Nutritional Statement is simply a way for companies to demonstrate to the AAFCO board that their products meet the minimum requirements for all nutrients.
As an advisory body, AAFCO does not have the authority to approve or disapprove pet food products. That authority lies with state and federal regulatory agencies. However, many states have adopted AAFCO’s model pet food regulations, which require pet food manufacturers to meet the AAFCO Nutritional Statement.
So, while AAFCO does not ‘approve‘ pet food products, their standards are still very important. If a pet food company wants to include an AAFCO statement on their product labels, they must first demonstrate to AAFCO that their products meet the minimum requirements for all nutrients.
What’s in an AAFCO Nutritional Statement?
AAFCO Nutritional statement is usually found on the back or side of a pet food package and will look something like this:
- ‘Product X is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for All Life Stages, including growth of large size dogs (70 lbs. or more as an adult).’
An AAFCO statement usually includes the following information:
- The name of the pet food product
- The life stage(s) for which the food is complete and balanced (e.g. growth, maintenance, reproduction, all life stages)
- The guaranteed analysis of the food
- The minimum percentage of crude protein and crude fat in the food
- The maximum percentage of crude fiber and moisture in the food
- The caloric content of the food
What’s not in an AAFCO Statement?
An AAFCO statement does not include any information about the quality of the ingredients used in the food. For example, a food that meets the minimum requirements for all nutrients can still be made with poor-quality ingredients.
An AAFCO statement also does not guarantee that a food is safe or suitable for all pets. Some pets may have allergies or other medical conditions that require a special diet. Always talk to your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.
What are the different types of AAFCO profiles?
- The growth profile is intended for use during the animal’s growth period, which generally corresponds to the first 12 months of life for dogs and cats.
- The adult and maintenance profile is intended for use during the animal’s adult life stage. The all stages profile can be used throughout an animal’s lifetime.
- The reproduction/lactating profile is intended for use during the animal’s reproductive years and while it is nursing its young.
- All-stages diet: A diet that is formulated to provide complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages of a pet, but have been formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of puppies or kittens.
Drawbacks of AAFCO Nutrient Profiles:
- Lacks breed-specific requirements: Some breeds have very specific nutritional needs that are not addressed by the AAFCO profiles.
- Ingredients not taken into account: The AAFCO profiles only consider nutrients, not ingredients. A food can meet the minimum requirements for all nutrients and still be made with poor-quality ingredients.
- Does not guarantee safety or suitability: The AAFCO profiles only guarantee that a food meets the minimum requirements for all nutrients. They do not guarantee that a food is safe or suitable for all pets.
The Bottom Line:
The AAFCO Nutritional Statement is simply a way for companies to demonstrate to the AAFCO board that their products meet the minimum requirements for all nutrients. It does not guarantee that a food is made with high-quality ingredients, or that it is safe or suitable for all pets. Always talk to your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.
What is AAFCO Dog Food Nutrients Profiles:
Growth and Reproduction (For puppies and lactating dogs):
A minimum of 22.5% Protein is further broken down into specific amino acid requirements as follows;
- Arginine: Minimum of 1% on a Dry Matter(DM) basis
- Histidine: Minimum of 0.44% on a DM basis
- Isoleucine: Minimum of 0.71% on a DM basis
- Leucine: Minimum of 1.29% on a DM basis
- Lysine: Minimum of 0.9% on a DM basis
- Methionine: Minimum of 0.35% on a DM basis
- Methionine-cystine: Minimum of 0.7% on a DM basis
- Phenylalanine-tyrosine: Minimum of 1.3% on a DM basis
- Threonine: Minimum of 1.04% on a DM basis
- Tryptophan: Minimum of 0.2% on a DM basis
- Valine: Minimum of 0.68% on a DM basis
Below is a screenshot of the AAFCO table with the requirements;
A minimum of 8.5% fat is required with a maximum limit of 1.3% Linoleic acid(LA), 0.08% of alpha-Linoleic acid, and 0.05% of Eicosapentaenoic+Docosahexanoic acid (EiDA).
AAFCO says that “Dietary fat plays an important role in the development of the immune system, energy metabolism, skin and coat health and reproductive function.”
Below is a screenshot of the AAFCO table with the requirements;
There is no specific carbohydrate level requirement but it is generally recommended to be between 4-5% on a DM basis.
There are requirements for the following minerals;
- Calcium: 1.2% on a DM basis. Calcium in diets for growth and reproduction should not exceed 1.8%
- Phosphorus: 1% on a DM basis. Phosphorus in diets for growth and reproduction should not exceed 1.6%
- Ca:P Ratio: 1:1
- Potassium: 0.6% on a DM basis. Ca:P ratioin diets for growth and reproduction should not exceed 2:1
- Sodium: 0.3% on a DM basis
- Chloride: 0.45% on a DM basis
- Magnesium: 0.06% on a DM basis
- Iron: 88 mg/kg
- Copper: 12.4 mg/kg
- Manganese: 7.2 mg/kg
- Zinc: 100 mg/kg
- Iodine:1 mg/kg
- Selenium: 0.35 mg/kg
Below is a screenshot of the AAFCO table with the different minimum mineral requirements for G&R
For Growth and Reproduction Profile, below are AAFCO’s minimum recommended amounts;
- Vitamin A: 5000 IU/kg
- Vitamin D: 500 UI/kg
- Vitamin E: IU/kg
- Thiamine: 2.25 mg/kg
- Riboflavin: 5.3 mg/kg
- Panthothenic acid: 12 mg/kg
Niacin: 13.6 mg/kg
Pyridoxine: 1.5 mg/kg
Folic acid: 0.216 mg/kg
Vitamin B12: 0.028 mg/kg
Choline: 1360 mg/kg
Q: Do all pets need to eat AAFCO diets?
A: No. Some pets may have allergies or other medical conditions that require a special diet. Always talk to your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet.
Q: What is the difference between the growth, adult, and all-stages profiles?
A: The growth profile is for puppies and kittens up to 1 year old. The adult profile is for pets 1 year and older. The all-stages profile can be used for pets of any age but meets AAFCO’s Growth Nutritional Profile.
Q: What is the difference between the all-stages and reproduction/lactation profiles?
A: The all-stages profile can be used for pets of any age but meets AAFCO’s Growth Nutritional Profile. The reproduction/lactation profile is for pregnant or nursing animals and meets the higher protein and fat requirements of these animals.
Q: I’ve seen some pet foods that say “complete and balanced” but don’t have an AAFCO statement. What does this mean?
A: AAFCO has a voluntary program where pet food companies can submit their products for review. If the product meets AAFCO’s standards, it can be labeled “complete and balanced.” Not all pet food companies choose to participate in this program, so not all complete and balanced pet foods will have an AAFCO statement.
Please check back soon for more info on each of the profiles above. Thanks!
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Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at email@example.com