AAFCO nutrient profiles for dogs

Only 2 nutrient profiles are official

In the AAFCO article, I already mentioned their defined Nutrient Profiles for dogs. But let's dig a little deeper here.

chihuahua dog

Though clever marketing may have led you to believe that different Nutrient Profiles exist for senior dogs, German shepherds, boxers, etc. whereas only 2 Nutrient Profiles are official.

Dog food fit for senior dogs according to the banner only needs to comply to the Nutrient Profile for 'Adult Maintenance' and nothing more.

Historically the recommendations of the National Research Council (NRC) were followed, though nowadays these are replaced with the AAFCO Canine Nutrient Profiles. The Nutrient Profiles for dogs were established by AAFCO's Canine Nutrition Expert (CNE) Subcommittee in 1991 and this was updated in 1995 based on new scientific data.

These profiles are designed with dog food manufacturers in mind as to give them practical information about minimum and maximum levels of ingredients in dog food.

AAFCO Nutrient profiles for dogs in case of growth/reproduction and for adult dogs (maintenance)

TABLE 1 -- AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles dor dogsa

Nutrient

Units
DM Basis

Growth and
Reproduction
Minimum

Adult
Maintenance
Minimum

Maximum

PROTEIN

%

22.0

18.0


Arginine

%

0.62

0.51


Histidine

%

0.22

0.18


Isoleucine

%

0.45

0.37


Leucine

%

0.72

0.59


Lysine

%

0.77

0.63


Methionine-cystine

%

0.53

0.43


Phenylalanine-tyrosine

%

0.89

0.73


Threonine

%

0.58

0.48


Tryptophan

%

0.20

0.16


Valine

%

0.48

0.39


FATb

%

8.0

5.0


Linoleic acid

%

1.0

1.0


MINERALS

Calcium

%

1.0

0.6

2.5

Phosphorus

%

0.8

0.5

1.6

Ca:P ratio


1:1

1:1

2:1

Potassium

%

0.6

0.6


Sodium

%

0.3

0.06


Chloride

%

0.45

0.09


Magnesium

%

0.04

0.04

0.3

Ironc

mg/kg

80.0

80.0

3000.0

Copperd

mg/kg

7.3

7.3

250.0

Manganese

mg/kg

5.0

5.0


Zinc

mg/kg

120.0

120.0

1000.0

Iodine

mg/kg

1.5

1.5

50.0

Selenium

mg/kg

0.11

0.11

2.0

VITAMINS

Vitamin A

IU/kg

5000.0

5000.0

250000.0

Vitamin D

IU/kg

500.0

500.0

5000.0

Vitamin E

IU/kg

50.0

50.0

1000.0

Thiaminee

mg/kg

1.0

1.0


Riboflavin

mg/kg

2.2

2.2


Pantothenic acid

mg/kg

10.0

10.0


Niacin

mg/kg

11.4

11.4


Pyridoxine

mg/kg

1.0

1.0


Folic Acid

mg/kg

0.18

0.18


Vitamin B12

mg/kg

0.022

0.022


Choline

mg/kg

1200.0

1200.0


a Presumes an energy density of 3.5 kcal ME/g DM (metabolizable energy/gram dry matter), as determined in accordance with Regulation PF9, which is 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.

The levels of nutrients are expressed on a "dry matter basis" so ignoring water content. Dog food labels however, list ingredients on an "as fed" basis so including water content.

Source: FDA - U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Further reading about nutrient requirements for dogs

The book "Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (Nutrient Requirements of Domestic Animals)" by the National Research Council of the National Academies is the standard. It's a very detailed 400 pages scientific book and the most comprehensive available of the daily nutrient and caloric requirements for dogs (and cats). This book is primarily intended for scientists, dog food manufacturers and veterinarians. You can find the Nutrient Profiles for Dogs in this massive book (and much more).

AAFCO nutrient profile compliant dog food, is it good enough?

Is their approval like a golden seal? Do you know what to do with the AAFCO adequacy statement, now that you know about the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles for dogs? Is dog food without it of any good for your pet?

The AAFCO statement applies only to commercial food

Only commercial dog food can get the AAFCO statement on it's bag. So using this stamp-of-approval you cannot simply compare commercial dog food to a raw meat diet or BARF feeding method.

What about all those different dogs?

different dogs, different needs

Also, these profiles rule out differences in nutritional requirements based on dog breed. Would you really think that a dog that evolved to be a lap-sitter, such as a Chihuahua, really needs the same food as a working breed, such as a German shepherd? Or dogs that shed heavily during the season need the same amounts of protein are dogs that do not shed at all such as Poodles?

Furthermore, as the dog genome has been sequenced it becomes possible to even further fine-tune a dog's individual needs based on his unique genotype.

Well, perhaps this is a fine-tuning level of finding the best dog food for a specific dog already. The AAFCO Nutrient Profiles just give an average standard to aim for as a dog food manufacturer.

So in order to be compliant with the Adult Maintenance Nutrient Profile all a manufacturer has to do is add protein up to 18%, fat up to 5% and make sure the required amounts of vitamins and minerals are present. In theory, this can be done using proteins from sources that are indigestible for dogs. This perhaps is the biggest disadvantage of the Nutrient Profiles. The list is only about quantities and not quality!

You still need to look in more detail at the dog food label and evaluate the ingredients for their bioavailability. You can supply your dog with all the protein he needs, but when his digestive system cannot process it his body won't profit from the food (it will pass right through). It even does not distinguish between meat or vegetable protein. Also, carbohydrates are missing from the profile.

Meeting the specified nutrient levels by number doesn't tell you anything about palatability or bioavailability of the food. Dogs may not like the taste and smell of it or produce large stools because they cannot digest what's in it.

Also, when dog food has the AAFCO Adequacy Statement based on compliance with the Nutrient Profile, this means that the food has not been tested in a Feeding Trial. "No testing animals were used" sure sound like a good thing on a label, though also know that your dog then becomes the guinea pig.

To quickly summarize the value of Nutrient Profiles for dogs: compliance to the AAFCO Nutrient Profile is a minimum requirement when you're out there trying to select the best dog food. This of course does not apply when you choose for a raw meat diet, barf or home made dog food as this typically doesn't come with a label on it.

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