We humans know how important it is to eat healthy food with as little additives and nasties as possible. But while you might know exactly what it is you’re putting in your body, do you know what your pooch is putting in theirs? Ensuring your pupper gets the right amount of high-quality dog food is just as essential as perfecting your own diet. However, the same standards that govern human food don’t apply to dog food. Instead, pet food quality is measured against AAFCO standards, which few Pet Owners have even heard of.
Here’s a quick guide to help you understand AAFCO standards and why they matter.
What is AAFCO?
AAFCO stands for the Association of American Feed Control Officials. It’s a nonprofit group responsible for defining the ingredients used in pet food and setting labelling requirements. Though it’s an American organisation, AAFCO standards are recognised globally and used to regulate many countries’ pet food industries.
The Australian pet food industry is largely self-regulated, but we do have the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA), which sets standards based on those put forward by AAFCO. As such, most Aussie dog food brands follow the guidelines of AAFCO, and many include statements to that effect on their packaging.
What are the AAFCO standards?
The AAFCO standards not only cover what goes into your pup’s food, but also what goes on the label. Here’s a breakdown of what those guidelines actually mean.
The ingredients used in your dog’s favourite wet food (as well as its overall nutritional makeup) depend on what life stage it’s designed for. AAFCO separates these life stages into two categories.
First, there’s what’s called “adult maintenance”, which is used to denote food intended for adult dogs. Next, there’s the “growth and reproduction” category, which describes food designed for puppies and lactating females. You may occasionally see dog food marketed for “all life stages”, but this usually means it follows the stricter “growth and reproduction” guidelines.
AAFCO’s ingredient standards vary between these two categories. Dog food in the “adult maintenance” category must include a minimum of 18% protein and 5.5% fat. For the “growth and reproduction” category, food must consist of 22.5% protein and 8.5% fat.
If you see the term “Complete and Balanced” on your dog’s food, it means the product meets or exceeds these ingredient guidelines.
The only foods these standards don’t apply to is treats. You’d be hard-pressed to find a dog treat that’s advertised as “Complete and Balanced”. Instead, you may see a statement on the package advising that it’s designed for “intermittent or supplemental feeding only”.
Labelling standards are frequently used on labelling for human food, covering everything from the ingredients’ country of origin to information. But did you know there are also labelling guidelines for your canine’s cuisine? Like their ingredients guidelines, most pet food brands in Australia follow the standards set by AAFCO.
First up, there’s the 95% rule. For dog food to be named after a specific ingredient, that ingredient must make up at least 70% of the product’s total weight, and at least 95% of its weight with water removed. If two or more ingredients are named, neither can make up less than 3% of the product’s total weight. For example, a product called “beef and vegetable”, 95% of its total weight must be beef and vegetable. Furthermore, there cannot be less than 3% of either ingredient.
Next, there’s the 25% rule. This applies to dog food named after specific ingredients along with a descriptor (think “chicken entree” or “beef dinner”). Any product that uses these descriptors must make up a minimum of 10% of its total weight (25% after water is removed).
Third is the “with” rule. If dog food is described as “with” an ingredient, it must make up no less than 3% of the product’s total weight. For example, for something to be called “casserole with beef and gravy”, it must contain at least 3% beef and 3% gravy.
Finally, we have the least strict rule of the four – the “flavour” rule. For dog food to be marketed as “beef flavour” or “chicken flavour”, it only needs to contain the named ingredient in any quantity.
Like human food, your pooch’s grub should also list the ingredients in order of largest amount to smallest amount by weight.
Why are AAFCO standards important for dog food?
We expect the food we eat to contain exactly what it says on the label, right? Well, why should it be any different for our dogs? They’re our family members, after all, and AAFCO standards are essential for ensuring the quality of their food.
Knowing the AAFCO standards can help you make smarter choices about what your dog eats. It’s easy to get caught up in the marketing of dog food, with adjectives like “tasty” and “succulent” being thrown around all the time. By learning the guidelines (and those four rules we outlined earlier!) you’ll be able to see through all the jargon.