Care & Husbandry: AAFCO Pet Food Labeling Explained

Pet food labeling can be confusing, and understanding the information provided on the labels is essential for ensuring your pet receives proper nutrition. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) plays a significant role in setting guidelines for pet food labeling. Here's a breakdown of the key points related to AAFCO guidelines and pet food labeling.

What is AAFCO?

AAFCO is an organization comprising government agencies from states, Canada, and the federal government. While AAFCO does not regulate or inspect pet food, it provides model feed laws that state feed control officials can adopt. Pet food manufacturers must comply with relevant federal or state laws, including those outlined by AAFCO.

Key Components of Pet Food Labels (Required by AAFCO)

  • Brand and Product Name: Clearly identifies the product.
  • Net Quantity Statement: Specifies the quantity of the product.
  • Manufacturer or Distributor Information: Provides contact details of the manufacturer.
  • Calorie Content Statement: Indicates energy content in kcal/kg and kcal/common unit.
  • Nutritional Adequacy Statement: Specifies if the product is complete and balanced for specific life stages.
  • Guaranteed Analysis: Lists minimum crude protein and crude fat, and maximum moisture and crude fiber.
  • Ingredient List: Enumerates ingredients in descending order of weight.
  • Species Designation: Indicates the target animal species.
  • Feeding Directions: Provides feeding guidelines for different life stages if applicable.

AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Designations

  • Formulated to Meet AAFCO Profiles: Indicates the product meets nutritional levels established by AAFCO for specific life stages.
  • Animal Feeding Tests Substantiate Adequacy: Confirms the product provides complete and balanced nutrition based on AAFCO feeding trials.
  • Comparable in Nutritional Adequacy: Indicates the product's adequacy compared to a AAFCO-tested product, intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding.

AAFCO Feeding Trials

Feeding trials assess pet food's nutritional adequacy. Protocols include maintenance, growth, and reproduction trials. While imperfect, these trials identify most acute and semi-acute nutritional deficiencies or excesses.

How to Identify Quality Pet Foods

  • Employment of Qualified Nutritionists: Companies with full-time qualified nutritionists are preferred.
  • Quality Control Measures: Look for details on quality control and finished products.
  • Research Availability: Companies conducting research and publishing in peer-reviewed journals are favorable.
  • Company Longevity: Established companies with a successful track record are reliable.
  • Transparency: Companies willing to share comprehensive nutritional profiles are trustworthy.


Understanding pet food labels, especially those compliant with AAFCO guidelines, is crucial for pet owners. While AAFCO guidelines are essential, additional factors such as the manufacturer's reputation, quality control measures, and transparency play significant roles in identifying high-quality pet foods. Consulting with veterinarians and relying on trusted resources can help pet owners make informed decisions about their pets' nutrition.

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