AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles

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The following items represent some of The Dog Food Advisor’s most frequently asked questions about AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles.

What is AAFCO?

AAFCO is an acronym for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. AAFCO is a non-profit organization that sets standards for both animal feeds and pet foods in the United States.

What are AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles?

In order for a dog food to be marketed as “complete and balanced”, it must meet the nutritional standards established by AAFCO.

These nutritional adequacy standards are defined by two nutrient profiles based upon a dog’s stage of life…

  • Adult maintenance
  • Growth and reproduction

Where can I find the AAFCO nutrient profile for each recipe in a review?

The AAFCO nutrient profile symbol can be found at the end of each recipe in a review and is enclosed in brackets.

SymbolAAFCO Guideline
[A]All Life Stages
[M]Adult Maintenance
[G]Growth and Reproduction
[S]Supplemental Feeding Only
[U]Unspecified on Product's Webpage

What does growth and reproduction mean?

Dog foods rated for “growth and reproduction” are designed for puppies and pregnant or lactating females.

How can a manufacturer claim a particular product meets one of the two AAFCO nutrient profiles?

In order for any dog food company to claim a product is “complete and balanced” for a specific life stage, that claim must first have been validated in one of two ways…

  • Laboratory analysis only
  • Laboratory analysis plus actual feeding trials

How can a consumer know which method was used to verify AAFCO nutritional adequacy?

The first method uses laboratory analysis of a sample to verify the food meets AAFCO nutritional standards. The label will read…

“(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”

The second not only uses laboratory analysis but also proves that nutritional adequacy by conducting actual feeding trials with real dogs. This type of adequacy statement will probably read…

“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition”

What if a dog food cannot meet either of the AAFCO nutrient profiles?

Any product that cannot meet either the AAFCO adult maintenance or growth and reproduction standards must state…

“This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only”

In other words, a product not intended for long-term use.

How can I tell if a particular dog food is OK for my puppy?

Any dog food that claims to meet AAFCO nutrient profiles for either “growth” or “all life stages” should be OK for most puppies.

If you expect your puppy to weigh 50 pounds or more as an adult, please be sure to read our article, How to Choose the Best Puppy Food and Lower Your Dog’s Risk of Hip Dysplasia.

Is it OK to feed a puppy a dog food claiming to be suitable for “all life stages”?

AAFCO only recognizes two dog food nutrient profiles

  • Adult maintenance
  • Growth and reproduction

However, manufacturers are permitted to market a dog food as suitable for “all life stages” so long as it meets the guidelines for both “Growth and reproduction” and “Adult maintenance”.

How can you know if a dog food meets AAFCO guidelines for large breed puppies?

Starting in 2016, AAFCO guidelines require specific pet food label provisions for large and giant breed puppies (those whose adult weight is expected to exceed 70 pounds).1 2

Manufacturers will have up to 2 years to comply with these new guidelines.

AAFCO will require dog foods formulated for growth or all life stages to specify whether they include or exclude growth of large-breed dogs with one of the following statements:

[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages including growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).

[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages except for growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).

What determines whether a particular dog is considered a large breed puppy?

AAFCO defines a large breed puppy as any dog whose adult weight is expected to exceed 70 pounds.

However, to increase safety, The Dog Food Advisor uses a more conservative 50 pound lower limit for defining large breed puppies.

This is the same 50 pound value recommended by a majority of veterinary and pet food experts.3 4 5 6

What does it mean if a dog food has been validated using an AAFCO Feeding Trial?

Some companies use feeding trials to validate claims that their products are nutritionally “complete and balanced”.

Many consider an AAFCO feeding trial to be the “gold standard” when verifying the nutrient quality of any commercial dog food.

However…

We recommend buyers of these foods to exercise caution before making a purchase.

That’s because…

Feeding trials typically include 8 dogs, each at the same stage of life for which the claim of nutritional adequacy is made: gestation, lactation, growth or maintenance.

Puppies are fed the same dog food (exclusively) for 10 weeks. Adults consume the test food for 26 weeks.

AAFCO protocols mandate specific diagnostic tests to determine if the feeding trial was successful.

Unfortunately, many of these trials include small or medium breed puppies only.

They make no effort to consider the calcium content of the food, which (if excessive) can increase a large breed puppy’s risk of developing hip dysplasia and other skeletal deformities.

So…

Just because a company uses feeding trials to prove its food is safe for growth or all life stages does not necessarily mean it’s suitable for large breed puppies.

That’s why we strongly recommend analyzing the energy-weighted calcium content of any dog food that’s recommended for puppies using feeding trials.

Notes and Updates

  1. Linder DE, “Confused About What to Feed Your Large Breed Puppy? New Rules May Help“, Clinical Nutrition Service, Cummings Veterinary Medical Center, Tufts University (February 24, 2017).
  2. Dzanis DA, “The Revised Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles, Part 1“, Petfood Insights (March 11, 2015).
  3. Lauten SD, Nutritional Risks to Large Breed Dogs: From Weaning to the Geriatric Years, Vet Clin Small Anim 36 (2006) 1345.
  4. IAMS, “How to Transition Your Puppy to Adult Food
  5. Purina, “When to Switch from Puppy Food to Adult Dog Food
  6. Yuill C, DVM, MSc, CVH, “Nutrition: General Feeding Guidelines for Dogs“, VCA Hospitals (November 2011)