AAFCO is an abbreviation for Association of American Feed Control Officials.
The AAFCO label must be on any food that is imported or exported in of Canada. It is your first line determining if a pet food is right for your dog or cat. It has two significant pieces of information that you can use to rule out certain diets. First, it will tell you if the food has been subjected to feeding trials, or if it was formulated. In most cases, people do not like the idea of animal testing, but in this case, we do. The food is fed to a group of 8 pets for 10 to 26 weeks depending on their life stage. Then the animals undergo specific diagnostic testing to prove whether they thrived on the diet in question. If there were no feeding trials done, then the AAFCO label would say that the food was formulated. It is this writer’s opinion that a formulated diet makes your pet the test subject. It also prevents the company from getting any feedback or follow-up as to how well a pet would do consuming it as a primary food source.
The second bit of information you can attain from that label is if the pet food is for a puppy/kitten or an adult pet. We are told that they are working on a denotation for Seniors as well, but that has yet to happen. If the food is labelled as an adult diet, you may find in the AAFCO label that it is for a juvenile. This causes many issues with your pet as the nutrient and calorie requirements are very different between a puppy versus an adult dog, and the same goes for cats. It is NOT illegal for a manufacturer to take a kitten diet, repackage it, and label it as an adult food as long as the AAFCO label states their findings.
All Life Stages Diets – If you look at the AAFCO label for an all life stage diet you will find that it is a puppy/kitten food. This type of diet must reach the minimum requirements for all stages of life, and a growing animal has the highest requirements, therefore “all life stages” is essentially a puppy/kitten food.
So what if your pet food is not exported – what are the regulations?
Members of the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) also manufacture to the nutritional standards set out by AAFCO. Unfortunately, this is voluntary and not mandatory. If you cannot find a PFAC of AAFCO label on the bag, it may be a gamble you are not willing to take when it comes to your pet’s nutrition.
Unfortunately, the Guaranteed analysis only includes minimum and maximum numbers for certain things, and the percentages can vary depending on how much water is in the food. This stops you from directly comparing bags.
The ingredients list is not always easy to interpret as the more the weight, the higher on the list the food goes. If you are thinking of chicken, keep in mind bones are heavy. Companies can also break things like rice down to different types (brown rice, white rice) to make them weigh less.
Food companies are very clever and spend large amounts of money annually on marketing.
Written By: Darlene Cannon, RVT