Why AAFCO Matters to Your Pets

September 22, 2021 at 2:00 PM by Megan Humkey

Megan Humkey

Man Reading Dog Food Label

Have you ever read the label on a bag of dog or cat food? If we’re honest, probably not. If you have, you might have noticed a little something called an AAFCO statement. What is AAFCO, and why are they making statements about your pet food? Read on to find out!

Who is AAFCO?

AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. They are a non-profit, volunteer organization composed of officials from each state and various federal agencies like the FDA, USDA, and Pet Food Institute. 

They don’t act in any regulatory capacity. However, each member does have some authority in their own state or federal agency. And most states have adopted AAFCO nutritional requirements and standard ingredient definitions for pet food. 

AAFCO Labeling Requirements

Just like the FDA requires human food to have certain things on labels, AAFCO requires all pet food to have the following things printed on the label:

  • Brand and product name
  • Net quantity statement
  • Manufacturer or distributor information
  • Calorie content statement
  • Nutritional adequacy statement 
  • Guaranteed analysis
  • Ingredient list
  • Species designation
  • Feeding directions

Some of these are pretty self-explanatory, and it makes sense they’d be on your bag of pet food, like the brand and product name or species designation—after all, you don’t want to feed dog food to your cat. 

Knowing the manufacturer or distributor information can come in handy, especially when there have been recalls in the news. A lot of people are surprised to know which major corporations actually manufacture pet food.

It seems obvious that Diamond makes Diamond food, but did you know that they also make lots of other brands like Nutra Nuggets, Premium Edge, Professional, and Taste of the Wild.

How about that General Mills (of Honey Nut Cheerios fame) makes Blue Buffalo?

Mars—yes, the company that makes candy bars—owns Iams, Eukanuba, Royal Canin, Pedigree, and Whiskas, to name a few. Nestle owns Purina, and Science Diet is made by parent company Hills.

What Are the Nutritional Adequacy Statements?

You should find one of two AAFCO statements on any bag of dog or cat food. The most common statement says, “(This brand) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for adult dogs/kittens/senior cats/etc.” This means that AAFCO has laid out an ideal diet’s essential ingredients and nutritional components for that age and species.

Basically, they say that, for example, an adult dog food needs to have a minimum of 18% protein and 5.5% crude fat. They don’t specify what kind of protein or fat. And technically, the dog food company can change their protein source for up to six months before they’re required to put it on the label. This means that you think you’re buying your dog lamb and rice food, but because lamb is expensive during certain times of the year, you might actually be buying chicken and rice dog food. 

Shocking, isn’t it? Don’t panic yet. We still have another AAFCO statement!

This other statement will look something like this: “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (brand) provides complete and balanced nutrition for adult cats/puppies/senior dogs/etc.”

Ok. What are animal feeding tests or trials?

Animal Feeding Tests

In these AAFCO tests, dog and cat food companies feed this food to eight dogs (or cats) for a specific period of time, typically six months. They test their bloodwork, body fat, and a slew of other things during the trial. The pets cannot have any of those values change during this test, or the food will not pass. 

The feeding trial guidelines vary depending on the stage of food being tested (adult, reproduction, growth, all life stages).

Once a food has earned its feeding trial label, the manufacturer cannot change any ingredients without putting that food through another trial. So, if you have a food that has gone through a feeding trial you know it has quality ingredients that are all listed on the label!

Which Foods Have Been Tested?

A pet food test or trial is an expensive endeavor. And, as we said above, even if a company has passed a trial before, if they change the formulation of their food they must undergo another trial. Because of this, the majority of the foods you find in pet stores will have the statement about simply being formulated to meet nutritional levels as laid out by AAFCO. 

Have you noticed more pet food commercials now than ever before? Several popular pet food brands today seem to have chosen to spend their money on advertising and marketing rather than feeding trials. Only four companies routinely put their money where their mouths are and undergo feeding trials for their foods; that’s why most veterinarians recommend those brands. Veterinarians are scientists, after all, and they appreciate brands that have the research to back up their claims. 

Those four brands are:

  • Science Diet
  • Royal Canin
  • Iams/Eukanuba
  • Purina

In A Nutshell

The world of pet food can seem confusing and overwhelming at best, and at times can lead down quite the internet rabbit hole.

Talk with your veterinarian about what foods they recommend and why.

You can also find your state and local AAFCO representatives here.

Topics: Pet Care

Megan Humkey

Written by Megan Humkey

Megan Humkey is a former veterinarian technician and the owner of Sawtooth Wordsmith where she offers copywriting and editing services. She joined the IPH family in 2010 and never looked back!