What Are the Recognized Nutritional Standards for Pets

This article was written by Guest Author, Sophie Lavallée, M.Sc Agronomist

Do you ask yourself the following question: Who decides on nutritional standards for pets?

And beyond who decides, how does this become a guideline respected by the entire Pet Food industry?

Enjoy this reading!

In the United States, the authorities of each state enforce the laws and follow the guidelines of the US Food and Drug Administration, Center for Veterinary Medicine; (FDA/CVM) and the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). AAFCO is the official resource for the nutritional profiles of commercial dog and cat food in North America. This organization is sourcing their primary references largely from the minimum nutrient requirements for healthy cats and dogs published by the National Research Council 2006 (NRC) of the United States and also on the latest publications.

To ensure the requirements for complete and balanced foods are met, AAFCO considers the apparent digestibility of ingredients commonly used in pet food. They include safety factors to account for differences in the availability of nutrients in a food due to variations in ingredients and processing. They also take into account the nutrient requirements according to the stages of life of cats and dogs.

Foods that claim to be “complete and balanced” for cats and dogs, must meet the minimum and not exceed maximum for all essential nutrients in order to maintain good health and this, at all stages of life of the animal. Whether for puppy or kitten growth, reproduction, which includes pregnancy and lactation, and for maintaining basic functions for adult animals.

Because of these safety factors, the term “allowances” is more appropriate for describing AAFCO values ​​than “requirements”. The values ​​published by AAFCO are sufficient to meet the nutritional requirements known to almost all healthy dogs and cats and are a better reference for dogs and cats than the minimum requirements. The AAFCO recommends upper limits for certain nutrients, which obviously implies that some elements, if consumed in excess, can be harmful to health. This is so important that the authorities in place check these parameters when products are crossing borders or when they are marketed in different states.

What is the verification mechanism in the United States? As part of the pet food regulation, each state is responsible for monitoring and ensuring that established laws and regulations are respected. It is usually the State Department of Agriculture that conducts these controls, so that only products that are not adulterated and properly labeled can be marketed. Almost all states also require products sold therein to be registered and that their labels meet strict requirements for product names and ingredients.

And what about in Canada? In Canada, nutritionists, agronomists and veterinarians, as well as the Pet Food Association of Canada, encourage companies that manufacture pet food to voluntarily apply the AAFCO model. While there is no regulatory mechanism or sanction, pet food companies follow the AAFCO rules on a voluntary basis and do so in good faith. Pet food sold in Canada is currently subject to the following Canadian and international regulations:

  • Prohibition of the feeding of specified risk material (SRM) to any animal, including dogs and cats.
  • The labeling and advertising of pet food is governed by the Consumer Packaging and Labeling Act and the Competition Act, administered by Industry Canada competition bureau.

It is the responsibility of pet food manufacturing companies to formulate and test their products in accordance with AAFCO standards to ensure the quality and welfare of the animals that consume them. The formulation tools and the use of animal nutrition expertise are necessary.

AAFCO in brief:

1- AAFCO is an independent group whose members come from government agencies representing the 50 states of the United States, Canada (one representant) and the US Federal Government (FDA/CVM).

2- AAFCO establishes nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods.

3- AAFCO defines the official names and definitions for all pet food ingredients, and applicable labeling requirements.

4- FDA/CMV and AAFCO work together in the area of ​​feed regulation, in particular to establish definitions describing novel feed ingredients.

5- The AAFCO has no legal authority to regulate and / or enforce the pet food regulations. It is the states or countries (in this case Canada) that are responsible for this regulation.


We hope you enjoyed learning more about nutritional standards for pet. Feel free to contact us should you have any questions on this subject.




https://www.aafco.org/Publications Page consulted dec 20th 2018

https://www.petfoodinstitute.org/pet-food-matters/commitment-to-safety/pet-food-regulations/ page consulted dec 21th 2018

https://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/products/animalfoodfeeds/petfood/default.htm page consulted dec 21th 2018