AAFCO Approved Dog Food: Here’s What It Means

Considering that the Association of American Feed Control Officials has their distinct tags spread across virtually every dog food packaging out there, it’s understandable if you erroneously thought they were in charge of food certification.

As it happens, they are not.

In this guide, we’ve covered some details to help you understand what the AAFCO does and what it doesn’t.

What is AAFCO?

Established in the early twentieth century, the AAFCO is a non-governmental organization that standardizes commercial animal feed.

They do this by setting standards and enacting laws to decide what animal feed is made of.

They boast a membership base consisting of the world’s largest pet feed manufacturers.

What do they do?

Contrary to popular opinion, the AAFCO does not actually certify, approve, or test out pet feed to determine whether or not they align with the set standards.

Rather, they provide guides to help manufacturers out with the proper labeling of their feed, conducting feeding trials and laboratory setups to help assess their product’s nutrition level.

The actual feed testing is carried out by independent testing units working alongside the AAFCO.

The organization publishes a Procedures Manual yearly.

The manual outlines current guides to help out with prevailing packaging issues such as label formatting, feed analysis, nutrition claims alongside providing ingredient layout and common terminologies regarding feed packing.

What 5 items are required by the AAFCO?

Outlined below are the required details a product’s label is expected to include:

  • The brand and product name must be featured in the product label
  • The specific breed of an animal the feed was created for must be included
  • The manufacturer’s address must likewise be added
  • The net quantity of the total feed must be included
  • Guides on how to feed (if any) must likewise be featured

AAFCO Approved Dog Food: What does the AAFCO statement on dog food label mean?

An AAFCO statement on a dog food (or any pet food) essentially informs the intending buyer whether or not the meal contains the essential nutrients and for which life stage is the feed relevant.

The life stages are categorized as follows:

  • Growth and Reproduction: Foods designed for pregnant or nursing females and puppies.
  • Adult Maintenance: Foods formulated specifically for adult dogs

Another category that is not designated by the AAFCO is marked as “all life stages,” which are usually designed to strictly meet growth and development standards.

Dog food labels with an AAFCO statement indicate that the feed in question has been analyzed in a suitable laboratory and has been found to contain the minimum nutritional requirements recommended for the life stage of the breed it’s intended for.

At times, laboratory assessments are not enough for AAFCO approval.

A manufacturer usually needs to further conduct feeding tests and experiments to ascertain that their feeds would in no way be harmful to the fed animals.

Depending on the animal breed in question and the targeted life stage, there are some protocols in place to be followed.

These are:

  • Examination of the selected test animals by licensed vets
  • Determination of the appropriate trial period
  • Determination of the number of animals to be featured in the experiments
  • Provision of report formats for observations

As such, it’s essential you pay extra attention to food labels to give you a better view of what meal will be more nutritionally adequate for your pet.

AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles

Predefined nutritional profiles from the organization inform pet food manufacturers on what the optimum nutrient concentrations for dog diets should be.

These profiles get updated whenever new research becomes available. 

With dogs’ food, there are two nutritional profiles available. They are the Adult Maintenance and Growth & Reproduction.

Procedures for AAFCO Approval

Before a new food product can receive the AAFCO’s certified mark, the producer would take set steps to show that the product meets the base requirements.

There, generally, are two ways to ensure this. They are:

Compliant Feeding Trials

With this approach, producers are expected to place some animals from the targeted breed on an experiment.

This concurrently takes place alongside lab analyses to show off the food’s nutritional content.

Nutrition Content Analysis

The producer tenders report from composition analysis of a little sample of the dog food to demonstrate that it complies with the AAFCO base criteria.

Growth and Reproduction

  • Protein (22.5% – broken down into precise amino acid requirements)
  • Fat (8.5%)
  • Vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, choline, folic acid)
  • Minerals (calcium, potassium, phosphorus, chloride, magnesium, sodium, iron, copper, selenium, manganese, zinc, iodine)

Adult Maintenance

  • Protein (18% – broken down into precise amino acid requirements)
  • Fat (5.5%)
  • Vitamins (vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, choline, folic acid)
  • Minerals (calcium, potassium, phosphorus, chloride, magnesium, sodium, iron, copper, selenium, manganese, zinc, iodine)

What about pet foods that don’t meet the AAFCO criteria?

Not all pet food on the market meets up with the AAFCO’s set requirements.

This, to an extent, is okay as most of such feed is intended for supplemental feeding only.

With vitamins and treats especially, they make up just a little portion of your pet’s food requirements and are best served intermittently.

As such, they do not need to meet the set requirements.

However, it’s best if you get your pooch feed that is AAFCO certified.

That way, you’ll be certain your pet is getting all the nutrition it needs from its meal.

Commonly Asked Questions

How do I know if a dog food is AAFCO approved?

If you are interested in knowing whether or not a particular dog food (or any pet fed) meets the AAFCO standards for your dog’s life stage, you should check out the nutritional adequacy label inscribed somewhere on the feed label.

Which dog foods are AAFCO approved?

It is important to know that AAFCO does not approve or endorse animal feed. Consequently, there is no such feed that can be described as an AAFCO-certified animal feed.

Most legislations regarding pet feed, however, usually reference the Procedures Manual as a core component of the nutritional completeness of a feed.

Does AAFCO regulate dog food?

The organization is in no way concerned with the endorsement, approval, certification, or regulation of any pet feed, neither do they review any company’s product’s label.

What are AAFCO guidelines?

AAFCO stipulates that at least 26 weeks of feed trial with a minimum of 8 dogs partaking in the test are required before a feed can be deemed compliant with its minimum guidelines.

Also, the feed being tested is expected to be the singular source of nourishment aside from water.

What is the purpose of AAFCO?

The organization’s never-changing responsibility has been to oversee feed regulations as well as hash out everyday issues encountered in enforcing feed regulations.

It likewise extends to developing just standards, definitions, and policies for the enforcement of feed laws; and to promote uniformity in administration policies.

Final Thoughts 

Standards from the AAFCO have been enacted to help in deciding on which dog meals are nutritionally sufficient and suitable for consumption.

While it’s factual that the organization does not directly relate with consumers, it views its responsibility as safeguarding and preserving the health of your pets.

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Authored By

Ben Pierce

Ben Pierce is a canine behavioral and nutritional specialist, professional dog trainer, and the CEO of Puplore. A former military working dog handler, Ben founded Puplore to provide owners with breed-specific information and to act as a go-to guide to health, nutrition, care, and to help them find the confidence they need to step up to the plate and become the best pup parents they can possibly be. A firm believer in treating all animals with kindness and compassion, and that positive discipline is paramount in achieving a harmonious canine-human relationship, Ben’s former and present careers have enabled him to become a leading light in his chosen profession and business.

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