Aafco Approved Dog Foods

What are AAFCO’s Dog Food Nutrient Profiles?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials developed nutrient profiles to “establish minimum and some maximum nutrient concentrations for dog and cat foods.”*

Although AAFCO has been around since 1906, these profiles were not created until 1991. (Cat food profiles were created in 1992.) According to the FDA, the nutrient profiles are updated as “new, science-based nutritional information becomes available, most recently in 2016.”

These profiles are updated when new findings from research in pet nutrition becomes available. They provide practical guidance for pet food manufacturers.

There are two dog food nutrient profiles: Adult Maintenance and Growth and Reproduction.

  • Adult Maintenance: Dog foods formulated for adult maintenance have the nutrients adult dogs need. Dogs over the age of one are considered adults, except for some large and giant breeds who do not fully mature until age two.
  • Growth & Reproduction: The Association of American Feed Control Officials recognizes puppies and pregnant or lactating dogs have different nutritional needs from adult dogs. As such, they developed a nutrient profile for this group.
  • You may see variations of these nutrient profiles on dog food packaging. A food that fits into the Growth and Reproduction nutrient profile may state it’s formulated for puppies or gestational mothers.

    What we’re looking for:

    Meets AAFCO nutritional standards: It’s important to look at a brand’s recall history and to locate an official nutritional-adequacy statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials on the bag, box, or can. The AAFCO statement is a sign that the food is nutritionally complete and balanced, explains Dr. Zay Satchu, the co-founder and chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet. All of the dog food recommended below meets or exceeds AAFCO standards.

    Made with high-quality ingredients: While ensuring that your dog’s food meets AAFCO standards is a good starting point for your research, when you’re shopping for dog food, you can definitely dig deeper. “​​I personally prefer to only select companies that employ a full-time board-certified veterinary nutritionist on staff and don’t just consult with one,” says Texas-based integrative veterinary expert Dr. Hunter Finn. Veterinarian Dr. Shelly Zacharias, a vice-president of medical affairs for Gallant, also stresses that dog-food ingredients lists should name the exact type of meat included (instead of “meat” or “meat by-products”) and should not contain white flour, preservatives such as BHA or BHT, propylene glycol, or rendered fat.

    If your standards are higher than knowing just what kind of meat is in your dog’s food, Dr. Jamie Richardson, the chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, says a growing number of the pet owners she sees are interested in human-grade or fresh pet foods. As this is a relatively new concept in the pet-food world, definitions vary a bit by brand, but, generally speaking, something labeled “fresh pet food” is minimally processed, does not contain preservatives, and is gently cooked to retain nutrients and reduce the risk of harmful bacteria present in some raw diets. These foods look a lot more like human food than traditional kibble or canned wet food. They usually come frozen and need to be thawed before each meal. If you would rather cook your own dog food, Finn pointed us to the handy online tool Balance IT, which will help you put together a nutritionally balanced menu.

    We should also note that the FDA has put out a warning about certain grain-free foods, which the agency thinks may be linked to an increase in dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs. According to veterinarian Dr. Sara Ochoa, “Large and giant-breed dogs are predisposed to this disease.” The majority of the vets we spoke with explained that the correlation doesn’t stem from the lack of grains in these foods but rather from the legumes or peas that have been added as a replacement. Veterinarian Dr. Angie Krause says, “When a dog’s diet gets so high in legumes as a protein source, it may change their uptake of certain amino acids.” Since every dog is unique, if you’re thinking about changing your dog’s diet, it’s a good idea to consult with your veterinarian before doing so.

    Tastes good: Veterinarian Dr. Stephanie Liff of Pure Paws Veterinary Care explains that palatability is a vital part of deciding what to feed a dog. “I want my patients to like eating it,” says Liff, who feeds her three-year-old Labradoodle a combination of human-grade and air-dried raw food as well as kibble. One way you know your dog is eating the right food, according to Liff, is if it produces “good-quality (easy to pick up) stool.” And if you’re wondering whether your dog likes the taste of its food, it should be obvious enough: If your dog enjoys the food, it will probably eat it in one sitting. “Dogs do not necessarily love to just leave food in the bowl until the next time they’re feeling hungry,” says Finn. With all the choices available today, you should have no problem finding food your dog loves.

    Breed size: The main difference in foods formulated for small and toy dog breeds, according to Richardson, is that these are made in smaller chunks. Because little dogs have smaller mouths and teeth, you want to give them something that’s easy for them to bite and chew. And because they don’t eat as much as large or giant-breed dogs, you may have more financial wiggle room when it comes to choosing their food.

    Wet versus dry food: The decision to feed your dog wet food rather than dry often comes down to convenience, personal preference, and price. But if you have a dog that’s reluctant to drink enough water, serving it wet food can be a sneaky way to help it stay hydrated. In addition to wet dog foods that come in a can, fresh and human-grade dog foods should be considered wet foods since their cooking process helps retain the food’s original moisture.

    First ingredients are brewer’s rice, chicken by-product meal, and wheat | Medium breeds | Dry food

    Of the 13 veterinarians we spoke to, nine said Royal Canin dog food is their top pick for their own pets and the dogs they treat at work. Dr. Gregory Gstrein, a staff veterinarian at a VCA Animal Hospital in California, says, “The best foods are backed by actual research and feeding trials, and Royal Canin does the extensive work needed to prove their foods yield excellent real-world results.” Dr. Catriona Love, an associate veterinarian at Heart of Chelsea Veterinary Group, feeds Royal Canin to her five-pound, 12-year-old Chihuahua rescue and says that of the three dog-food brands she recommends to her patients, Royal Canin is the most palatable. “I think the animals tend to like it more,” she says.

    First ingredients are water, pork by-products, and pork liver | All breed sizes | Wet food

    Veterinarian Dr. Jeff Werber says he likes Royal Canin because the brand has a positive track record and a trusted name, and its products are readily available. He told us he has always been a fan of mixed feeding, meaning providing a little of both dry and wet foods. Werber explains that because a lot of dogs don’t drink enough water, adding moist canned food (which has fewer carbs and more flavor) to their dry food is a win-win. He says his dogs “love with a capital L” Royal Canin’s low-fat canned dog food.

    First ingredients are turkey with ground bone, turkey liver, and turkey gizzard | All breed sizes | Dry dehydrated raw food

    When it comes to raw-food diets for dogs, there are some strong opinions in the veterinary community. Unsurprisingly, many vets feel that feeding your pet raw food can lead to potential health risks for both the dog and the humans who live with it. “I am not an advocate for any raw food at this time, as there is a very real risk for contamination to other household members, including people,” says Finn. “If the research comes out years down the road and suggests that raw food is indeed better for pets and can improve their lives, then I will be the first person to switch my dogs over immediately. Unfortunately, the research is lacking at this point in time.”

    Others, including Krause, Liff, and veterinarian Dr. Marty Goldstein (who literally wrote the book on holistic medicine for pets and has his own line of dog food), explain that extra hygienic precautions need to be taken with raw foods, but they believe those precautions are worth the added nutritional benefits, such as improved digestion and immune-system functioning as well as less inflammation and fewer allergies. Liff says she has patients that do well on raw diets, but she always has “a lengthy discussion with owners about food handling to prevent foodborne illness.”

    According to Goldstein, freeze-dried raw foods have less risk of foodborne illnesses and can be stored without refrigeration. Krause says that if her own dog didn’t have specific food sensitivities, she would feed it a raw diet — specifically, these Stella & Chewy’s dehydrated raw turkey patties. They meet AAFCO standards and can be served dry or mixed with a little warm water to rehydrate them. Krause told us she’s a fan of literally everything the brand makes, saying, “Stella & Chewy has never put out anything I haven’t liked.”

    First ingredients are ground beef, russet potatoes, and eggs | All breed sizes | Frozen wet food

    Fresh or human-grade dog food is more appealing to many dog owners who appreciate that it looks more like something they would eat. “If health and wellness are a priority, I absolutely recommend human-grade fresh food,” says Satchu, who feeds fresh-cooked dog food to his own pets. However, he stresses that whatever food you pick (especially some of the newer, designer-label foods) must be nutritionally balanced. The AAFCO stamp of approval helps to make this easy to differentiate. When we spoke to veterinarians about the best food for puppies, Richardson recommended the direct-to-consumer subscription brand Nom Nom. According to her, the brand works directly with a veterinary nutritionist to create diets specific to your pet that conform to AAFCO standards. “There are not a lot of other companies who do that,” she told us.

    Nom Nom says its plans start at around $3 a day for the smallest dogs with few dietary restrictions. To determine a meal plan (and an actual price), the company asks you to fill out a survey about your pet’s breed, age, activity level, and weight goals. If you want Fido to try before you buy, you can order a variety pack with four of the brand’s foods for a flat $15.

    Is there an AAFCO Nutrient Profile for All Life Stages?

    The only two AAFCO nutrient profiles are Adult Maintenance and Growth and Reproduction. Dog food manufacturers can develop and market a product as suitable for all life stages, though.

    Similarly, foods that fit into the Growth and Reproduction nutrient profile may state they are formulated for puppies or gestational mothers.


    What dog foods are recognized by AAFCO?

    What pet foods are AAFCO-approved? In short, AAFCO does not approve, certify or otherwise endorse pet foods. There is no AAFCO-approved pet food. Most state feed laws and regulations reference to the AAFCO Official Publication as part of the nutritional adequacy labeling for pet foods.

    Is Purina dog food AAFCO approved?

    All of Purina’s dog food products meet or exceed AAFCO’s nutrient profile standards, so you can feel confident knowing your dog is eating a complete and balanced diet. Explore all our dog foods and don’t miss out on other dog nutrition articles.

    Does AAFCO regulate pet food?

    AAFCO is made up of officials that are charged with regulating the sale and distribution of animal feeds (including pet foods) and drug remedies. AAFCO also establishes standard ingredient definitions and nutritional requirements for pet foods.

    Does Blue Buffalo meet AAFCO standards?

    Each formula provides complete and balanced nutrition and is formulated to meet AAFCO’s nutrient profiles.