Coverage of dog nutrition and dog food standards is variable in the media and can often confuse dog owners. In my nutrition consultations, I get asked about standards all the time.
The industry association for pet food manufacturers and regulators in the United States is AAFCO, the American Association of Feed Control Officials. If a dog food label says it meets the AAFCO Animal Testing Requirements, it means that the food has been fed to animals in a controlled feeding trial.
The animals are observed for indications of obvious nutrient deficiencies or imbalances during the feeding trial. Some nutritional imbalances are minor or subtle and can take time to eventuate. AAFCO trials are probably not long enough to reveal these imbalances, which is why it is advisable to rotate ‘complete’ dog food products periodically with the aim that one product will include sufficient concentrations of nutrients that the other does not.
If, however, a product says it is ‘formulated to meet AAFCO standards’ a feeding trial has not been done. Someone in the pet food company has simply sat in front of a computer and formulated a recipe to replicate the concentrations of nutrients of foods that have been the subject of feeding trials.
It is up to you, the dog owner, to decide what foods to feed your dog including choices about BARF (bone and raw food) diets. Understanding the labeling of commercial foods is important if you want to make educated choices about your dog’s diet.
Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand