Formulating a balanced dog diet usually takes years of study, a fair amount of research, and being good with a calculator.
Luckily, the good guys at the Association of American Feed Control Officials, are there to make sure that you don’t have to worry about these things.
Who are the AAFCO?
AAFCO is the Association of American Feed Control Officials. AAFCO is a voluntary association of several agencies that create nutritional standards for the production and sale of animal food products.
These standards are then used by the state feed control officials to make sure that the food manufacturers really stick to them. 
How do they do this?
Sounds pretty serious right? That’s because it is, and because these are the kind of experts you need on your side in order to make sure that your beloved dog’s nutritional interests are not being overlooked.
They do this in several ways.
- They define ingredients used in pet foods and their properties.
- They develop standard language related to animal nutrition that may be adopted and referenced in law.
- They provide nutritional profiles and nutritional guidelines to which pet food manufacturers can adhere.
It is worth noting that while the AAFCO models are not official regulations, most American states adopt some version of the AAFCO model into their laws and regulations governing animal feed.
AAFCO will not tell you what the best brand of dog food is, but you can rest assured that the diets that adhere to their standards are complete and balanced, or live up to the standards of their other categories. 
What are AAFCO dog food nutrient profiles and how are they made?
The AAFCO designs nutrient profiles for cat and dog foods to establish minimum (and in some cases maximum) levels of nutrients that nutritionally balanced food products must contain.
The AAFCO requirements are based on the nutritional properties of commonly used, non-purified, complex ingredients on a dry matter basis. 
Their nutrient profile requirements differ from those suggested by the National Research Council who provide nutritional requirements based on research done using highly purified diets with highly bioavailable nutrient properties.
The AAFCO pet food committee tasks their Canine and Feline Nutrition expert subcommittees with updating their nutritional profiles according to the latest scientific research.
They make sure that the requirements are scientifically accurate, realistic, and practical.
How can I know if my dog’s food adheres to the AAFCO’s nutrient profiles?
Dog foods bought in an American state that adopt the AAFCO nutrient profile models should be nutritionally complete.
Most dog food brands distributed in multiple American states adhere to the AAFCO nutrient profile models.
The food label should carry one of the following claims.
The first blank space in each of the above statements will contain the name of the dog food and the second blank would specify one of the recognized diet categories or life stages.
“___is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for___.”
Claim number 1 is used for pet food that adheres to the AAFCO nutrient profiles and feed production guidelines.
“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ___ provides complete and balanced nutrition for __.”
Claim 2 is used when pet food that does not adhere to the AAFCO’s nutrient profile requirements and guidelines.
However, the manufacturer can claim that the diet is nutritionally complete for a specific life stage by proving that it is adequate after running animal feeding tests as specified by AAFCO procedures.
“___provides complete and balanced nutrition for ___ and is comparable to a product which has been substantiated using AAFCO feeding tests”
Claim Number 3 means that the pet food is similar to one that has undergone the rigors of the AAFCO animal feeding tests and only has minor, insignificant differences in its formulation.
Diet categories and life stages
The AAFCO recognizes 5 life stages and categories of food. They are:
- Gestation and Lactation
- All life stages
- Intermittent or Supplemental
In order for a dog food label to bear a “Gestation and Lactation”, “Growth”, “Maintenance” and “All life stages” claim, the food needs to either meet the nutritional profile requirements set by AAFCO for those life stage categories or have proven its adequacy through feed testing. 
If a product is labeled as suitable for “Growth” or “All life stages”, the label must have one of the following two statements:
- “including growth of large size dogs (70 lb or more as an adult)”
- “except for growth of large size dogs (70 lb or more as an adult)”
This is important because puppies of large breed dogs have particular dietary requirements that need to be adhered to for normal growth and development.
A product labeled as “Intermittent or Supplemental” dog food is usually one that does not adhere to the previously mentioned standards.
There can be a number of reasons for this.
The most common diets in this category are Veterinary Prescription diets that are intended to help dogs suffering from certain conditions, but are otherwise nutritionally inadequate for normal, healthy dogs.
This definition indicates that these diets should not be fed to normal healthy dogs for long periods of time or alone.
However, if these diets undergo and pass AAFCO nutritional adequacy trials, they can bear the “animal feeding test” nutritional adequacy statement on their label. 
What about dog treats and supplements?
The AAFCO model exempts dog treats that specifically use the terms “treats” or “snack” on their label from meeting their nutritional requirements.
That is because AAFCO recognizes that pet treats are not intended to meet all of your pet’s nutritional requirements. 
The AAFCO warns against the unwarranted use of feed supplements and suggests that the nutrient content of your dog’s food must first be taken into consideration before using such a product.
Aside from being an unnecessary waste of money in a healthy dog, an overdose of certain nutrients may even be harmful!
The AAFCO suggests consulting a veterinarian to evaluate whether your dog needs a supplement product in addition to his complete and balanced diet. 
The bottom line
Bodies like the AAFCO are essential in protecting the wellbeing of our dogs.
Make sure that the state you live in and the dog food that you buy adheres to the AAFCO standards, so you can be sure that your furry family member is getting everything they need.