Cat Food Label Lessons: What is an AAFCO Statement?

Vladimir Negron
Dec 23, 2014
2 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

When shopping for a cat food, do you ever wonder what some of the information printed on the label means? petMD has created a series to take out the guess work and demystify pet food labels. This article will discuss the significance of an AAFCO statement.

What is the AAFCO?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which was founded in 1909, is a voluntary membership association of local, state, and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal drug remedies and animal feeds, including dog and cat foods. The organization defines and establishes regulations for pet food and feed ingredients, as well as sets standards for nutritional adequacy.

What is an AAFCO Statement?

The "AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy or purpose" also called a "nutrition claim" or "complete and balanced statement" ? identifies which life stage and/or lifestyle the product has been approved for. Under AAFCO regulations, this statement must be substantiated by the manufacturer.

It is important to remember that AAFCO regulations deal with the maximum and/or minimum levels of only the nutrients that AAFCO deems essential to a pet’s health. For example, AAFCO requires that an adult cat food must contain at least 18 percent protein if the manufacturer is going to call it complete and balanced — or words to that effect.

If you find an AAFCO statement on a cat food label (e.g., "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Brand A adult cat food provides complete and balanced nutrition for maintenance of adult cat."), you can be confident that it contains at least 18 percent protein. But this does not mean that 18 percent protein is an necessarily an ideal amount for your cat. The AAFCO statement is just ensuring that the minimum standard is met in foods that have been given its stamp of approval. You should consult your veterinarian to determine which cat food is best for your pet.

How are Feeding Tests Conducted?

The AAFCO has outlined very specific protocols, or guidelines, for conducting feeding tests. The protocols specify test criteria including such things as:

  • minimum number of animals
  • duration of test
  • physical examinations by a veterinarian
  • clinical observations and measurements including body weights, blood tests, and blood taurine testing for cats


Each life stage has its own protocol. Life stages are the same for both dogs and cats and are defined as:

  • Adult Maintenance
  • Growth
  • Gestation/Lactation
  • All Life Stages

What does "All Life Stages" Mean?

A pet food with an "All Life Stages" claim can be used from weaning through adulthood. If substantiated through feeding trials, the protocol for gestation/lactation and growth must be performed sequentially, using the same group of animals.

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