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AAFCO TESTS (Association of American Feed Control Officials)

What is AAFCO ?

L'AAFCO is an american institution that aims at adapting theoritical nutritional recommandations (ex : those from the National Research Council or NRC), to provide practical guide-lines to petfood manufacturers. The experts of the subcommitee in charge of dog and cat food propose minimum and maximum levels for all nutrients, taking into account:

  • the digestibility of the ingredients available for the petfood industry (which is a difference compared to classical nutritional studies based upon purified or semi-purified diets) ;
  • the balance to respect between the main nutrients (ex: between calcium and phosphorus),
  • upper limits not to go beyond for some minerals and vitamins.

The last recommandations from AAFCO for dog and cat food have been edited in 1996 (they are reactualized each year). They are considered as very reliable references in this field.

In the USA, a manufacturer that sells a petfood formulated by reference to the "AAFCO Nutrient Profile" for a designated lifestage, is allowed to write this mention on the packaging. However, the ultimate goal consists in getting the "AAFCO label " , which is the best evidence of quality. This label is obtained by conducting appropriate feeeding trials to corroborate nutritional adequacy. AAFCO has elaborated different protocols, corresponding to different life stages: maintenance, growth or reproduction. By submitting a food to these long-term protocols, we check that the product really corresponds to its claims.

Examples of AAFCO feeding protocols

Minimum testing protocol for proving an adult maintenance claim for a dog/cat food

A minimum of 8 healthy adult dogs/cats (at least 1 year old) are exclusively fed with the test diet. The test runs for a minimum of 26 weeks. An individual physical examination takes place before and after the test. Though, each animal is evaluated as to general health, bodyweight, and some blood parameters (including taurine in cats). Only small changes are tolerated. The diet fails if any animal shows clinical or pathological signs of nutritional deficiency or excess.

Minimum testing protocol for proving a growth claim for a dog/cat food

8 weaned puppies/kittens from 3 different bitches/queens are required to start the test. They must not be older than 8 weeks of age, and an equal sex distribution is recommanded. They are exclusively fed with the tested diet during 10 weeks minimum. At the same time, 8 puppies/kittens chosen according the same criterions form a concurrent control group. This last group receives a diet that already demonstrated that it meets the growth requirements as determined by AAFCO protocols. The same observations that in the first example are recorded. The average body weight gain is compared to the growth of the control group.

Minimum testing protocol for proving a gestation/lactation claim for a dog/cat food

A minimum of 8 pregnant bitches/queens over 1 year old are required to start the test. (For dog breeding, the male must belong to the same breed as the female). A concurrent control group of 8 pregnant females receives a diet that already passed successfully this specific AAFCO protocol. The feeding of the test diet starts at or before estrus, and is completed when the puppies are 4 weeks old, 6 weeks for kittens. For larger litters, puppies/kittens may be transferred to females with smaller litters. For example, a bitch under 13 kg should not suckle more than 5 puppies, and 5 kittens should be a maximum for a queen.

- observations concerning females: general health, food consumption, body weight evolution, blood parameters ;

- observations concerning the litters: litter size, stillbirths and congenital abnormalities, body weight gain and general health. Data recorded for the control group are used as references to interprete the results of the test.

A manufacturer desiring to prove an unqualified claim for nutritional adequacy must use the litters obtained from performing the gestation/lactation protocol for the growth protocol. If both tests are positive, the diet is qualified as "complete and balanced for all stages of life".


In the States, ROYAL CANIN has to perform these tests to position its products among the premium products of the market. They are done in our Research Center of Rolla (Missouri).

In Europe, these tests have not yet become very common, but it is likely that they will be more and more cited as references. ROYAL CANIN does not want to be late in this way: our main products are actually submitted to the same protocols, in order to accumulate data that will allow us to communicate on this subject later.

Donated by the Borg Cardona and Co. Ltd. visit Borg Cardona website

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