Animal & Veterinary

Selecting Nutritious Pet Foods

The following consumer information is provided by David A. Dzanis, D.V.M., Ph.D., DACVN
Division of Animal Feeds, Center for Veterinary Medicine.

November 1997

Most pet owners have heard that it is better to feed their animals specially formulated food for pets rather than table scraps. An occasional treat is fine, but table scraps used to excess may unbalance a pet's diet. Purchasing pet foods labeled as "complete and balanced" can help ensure that your pet's diet is nutritionally adequate.

Dog and cat foods labeled as "complete and balanced" must meet standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) either by meeting a nutrient profile or by passing a feeding trial. The AAFCO's Canine Nutrition Expert (CNE) Subcommittee and Feline Nutrition Expert (FNE) Subcommittee have established new nutrient profiles for "complete and balanced" dog and cat foods. Dog Food Nutrient Profiles were established in 1991 and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles were established in 1992. Both were updated in 1995 to incorporate new scientific information.

The new nutrient profiles replaced the recommendations of the National Research Council (NRC) as the AAFCO-recognized authority on canine and feline nutrition. Dog and cat foods labeled as "complete and balanced" based on the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profile must meet all the nutrient minimum and maximum levels as established by the Subcommittee. The Subcommittee set these levels after considering the most current information on good nutrition for dogs and cats. The profiles are designed to provide practical information for manufacturers of dog and cat foods.

There are now two separate nutrient profiles -- one for growth and reproduction and one for adult maintenance, instead of just one for all lifestages. This allows dog and cat foods made for adult animals only to contain lower amounts of some nutrients, eliminating unnecessary excesses. Also, maximum levels of intake of some nutrients have been established for the first time, because of concern that overnutrition, rather than undernutrition, is a bigger problem with many pet foods today.

The protocols for conducting the feeding trials for dog and cat foods have also been updated. With these improvements, label reference to either the AAFCO nutrient profile or AAFCO feeding trials better assures the consumer of the validity of a "complete and balanced" claim. Endorsements, seals of approval, etc., from other organizations do not add assurances of safety and may be misleading.

Attached are tables which list the AAFCO nutritional profiles for dog and cat foods. It must be noted that the levels of nutrients are expressed on a "dry matter" basis, while the levels listed in the guaranteed analysis on the label are expressed on an "as fed" basis. To allow for meaningful comparisons, the "as fed" guarantees must be converted to "dry matter." For a canned product that is 75 percent moisture (25 percent dry matter), multiply the guaranteed level times 4. For a 10 percent moisture dry product, multiply by 1.1.

TABLE 1 -- AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profilesa
NutrientUnits
DM Basis
Growth and
Reproduction
Minimum
Adult
Maintenance
Minimum
Maximum
Protein%22.018.0 
Arginine%0.620.51 
Histidine%0.220.18 
Isoleucine%0.450.37 
Leucine%0.720.59 
Lysine%0.770.63 
Methionine-cystine%0.530.43 
Phenylalanine-tyrosine%0.890.73 
Threonine%0.580.48 
Tryptophan%0.200.16 
Valine%0.480.39 
Fatb%8.05.0 
Linoleic acid%1.01.0 
Minerals
Calcium%1.00.62.5
Phosphorus%0.80.51.6
Ca:P ratio 1:11:12:1
Potassium%0.60.6 
Sodium%0.30.06 
Chloride%0.450.09 
Magnesium%0.040.040.3
Ironcmg/kg80.080.03000.0
Copperdmg/kg7.37.3250.0
Manganesemg/kg5.05.0 
Zincmg/kg120.0120.01000.0
Iodinemg/kg1.51.550.0
Seleniummg/kg0.110.112.0
Vitamins
Vitamin AIU/kg5000.05000.0250000.0
Vitamin DIU/kg500.0500.05000.0
Vitamin EIU/kg50.050.01000.0
Thiamineemg/kg1.01.0 
Riboflavinmg/kg2.22.2 
Pantothenic acidmg/kg10.010.0 
Niacinmg/kg11.411.4 
Pyridoxinemg/kg1.01.0 
Folic Acidmg/kg0.180.18 
Vitamin B12mg/kg0.0220.022 
Cholinemg/kg1200.01200.0 

a Presumes an energy density of 3.5 kcal ME/g DM, based on the "modified Atwater" values of 3.5, 8.5, and 3.5 kcal/g for protein, fat, and carbohydrate (nitrogen-free extract, NFE), respectively. Rations greater than 4.0 kcal/g should be corrected for energy density; rations less than 3.5 kcal/g should not be corrected for energy.

b Although a true requirement for fat per se has not been established, the minimum level was based on recognition of fat as a source of essential fatty acids, as a carrier of fat-soluble vitamins, to enhance palatability, and to supply an adequate caloric density.

c Because of very poor bioavailability, iron from carbonate or oxide sources that are added to the diet should not be considered as components in meeting the minimum nutrient level.

d Because of very poor bioavailability, copper from oxide sources that are added to the diet should not be considered as components in meeting the minimum nutrient level.

e Because processing may destroy up to 90 percent of the thiamine in the diet, allowance in formulation should be made to ensure the minimum nutrient level is met after processing.

TABLE 2 -- AAFCO Cat Food Nutrient Profilesa
NutrientUnits
DM Basis
Growth and
Reproduction
Minimum
Adult
Maintenance
Minimum
Maximum
Protein%30.026.0 
Arginine%1.251.04 
Histidine%0.310.31 
Isoleucine%0.520.52 
Leucine%1.251.25 
Lysine%1.200.83 
Methionine-cystine%1.101.10 
Methionine%0.620.621.50
Phenylalanine-tyrosine%0.880.88 
Phenylalanine%0.420.42 
Threonine%0.730.73 
Tryptophan%0.250.16 
Valine%0.620.62 
Fatb%9.09.0 
Linoleic acid%0.50.5 
Arachidonic acid%0.020.02 
Minerals
Calcium%1.00.6 
Phosphorus%0.80.5 
Potassium%0.60.6 
Sodium%0.20.2 
Chloride%0.30.3 
Magnesiumc%0.080.04 
Irondmg/kg80.080.0 
Copper (extruded)emg/kg15.05.0 
Copper (canned)emg/kg5.05.0 
Manganesemg/kg7.57.5 
Zincmg/kg75.075.02000.0
Iodinemg/kg0.350.35 
Seleniummg/kg0.10.1 
Vitamins
Vitamin AIU/kg9000.05000.0750000.0
Vitamin DIU/kg750.0500.010000.0
Vitamin EfIU/kg30.030.0 
Vitamin Kgmg/kg0.10.1 
Thiaminehmg/kg5.05.0 
Riboflavinmg/kg4.04.0 
Pantothenic acidmg/kg5.05.0 
Niacinmg/kg60.060.0 
Pyridoxinemg/kg4.04.0 
Folic Acidmg/kg0.80.8 
Biotinimg/kg0.070.07 
Vitamin B12mg/kg0.020.02 
Cholinejmg/kg2400.02400.0 
Taurine (extruded)%0.100.10 
Taurine (canned)%0.200.20 

a Presumes an energy density of 4.0 kcal/g ME, based on the "modified Atwater" values of 3.5, 8.5, and 3.5 kcal/g for protein, fat, and carbohydrate (nitrogen-free extract, NFE), respectively. Rations greater than 4.5 kcal/g should be corrected for energy density; rations less than 4.0 kcal/g should not be corrected for energy.

b Although a true requirement for fat per se has not been established, the minimum level was based on recognition of fat as a source of essential fatty acids, as a carrier of fat-soluble vitamins, to enhance palatability, and to supply an adequate caloric density.

c If the mean urine pH of cats fed ad libitum is not below 6.4, the risk of struvite urolithiasis increases as the magnesium content of the diet increases.

d Because of very poor bioavailability, iron from carbonate or oxide sources that are added to the diet should not be considered as components in meeting the minimum nutrient level.

e Because of very poor bioavailability, copper from oxide sources that are added to the diet should not be considered as components in meeting the minimum nutrient level.

f Add 10 IU vitamin E above minimum level per gram of fish oil per kilogram of diet.

g Vitamin K does not need to be added unless diet contains greater than 25 percent fish on a dry matter basis.

h Because processing may destroy up to 90 percent of the thiamine in the diet, allowance in formulation should be made to ensure the minimum nutrient level is met after processing.

i Biotin does not need to be added unless diet contains antimicrobial or antivitamin compounds.

j Methionine may substitute choline as methyl donor at a rate of 3.75 parts for 1 part choline by weight when methionine exceeds 0.62 percent.

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