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What does AAFCO formulated mean?

Dogs eat much of the same food that humans do, however there are differences in the level of nutrients that they require. Protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins are all nutrients that dogs require to grow, metabolize, survive and thrive. But how much do they need and how do pet owners know if their dogs are getting the correct balance?

What is AAFCO?

In Canada there is no governing body that sets requirements for pet food sold and distributed in the great white north. Fortunately, most commercial pet food companies choose to follow American guidelines set by the US association called AAFCO. The Association of American of Feed Control Officials (or AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies that establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods. It is important to note that while AAFCO sets the standard for the nutritional needs of pets, it is the pet food manufacturer's responsibility to correctly formulate and label their food and AAFCO does not create laws or regulate compliance. 

AAFCO pet food regulations were first established in 1917 and were based on the best available research for pet health and nutrition at the time. These original standards have been adjusted and updated over time, based on new research. In 2007, a subcommittee called the Canine Nutrition Expert Subcommittee was established to modernize guidelines for canine and feline diets. These standards govern minimum nutritional requirements for companion animals.

Three happy dogs advertise dry food. Welsh corgi, border coley, and American cocker spaniel on a pink background Three happy dogs advertise dry food. Welsh corgi, border coley, and American cocker spaniel on a pink background dog food shopping stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

What are the AAFCO nutritional requirements for dogs?

Below is the list of nutritional standards for adult dogs and dogs in the growth and nutrition phase, which includes puppies and gestating/lactating dams.

Keep in mind that these values are dry matter values. It can be difficult to compare your food to these AAFCO minimums if you feed your dog fresh, canned, raw or another food with high moisture. If you want to compare your dog’s nutritional label to AAFCO standards, check out our easy guide on comparing pet food dry matter values!

Does my dog’s food meet AAFCO standards?

Most commercial dog foods are formulated to meet AAFCO standards. Look on the label for a statement saying “[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”. 

It is also important to ensure that you are feeding your dog food that is formulated for their life stage. For dogs older than 1 year, they should be getting food that is formulated to meet requirements for “adult maintenance”. If you have a puppy, pregnant female or lactating female, their food should be formulated to meet standards for “growth and reproduction”. Furthermore, if you have a large or giant breed puppy, look for the corresponding AAFCO statement “growth/all life stages including growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult)”, as large breed puppies have slightly different nutrient requirements. 

Alternatively, you can also feed your dog an AAFCO formulated diet that meets requirements for “all life stages”. This will cover requirements for both puppies, adult dogs and gestating/lactating dams. The life stage formulation can be found after the AAFCO statement on the label.

Owner shopping for dog food
Owner shopping for dog food

View Sources

Dzanis, David A. "The Association of American Feed Control Officials dog and cat food nutrient profiles: Substantiation of nutritional adequacy of complete and balanced pet foods in the United States." The Journal of nutrition 124, no. suppl_12 (2021): 2535S-2539S.

Canadian Pet Connection. “Understanding AAFCO Standards for Pet Foods” (2020).

AAFCO. “AAFCO 2021 publication” (2021). 

Dog food advisor. “AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles” (2020). 

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