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There’s been an uptick of conversations around NRC, AAFCO and FDIAF and one thing that people forget to talk about is that these are “minimal” tests.

The intention of these standards was because back then (and actually, still today) dog food companies were just selling food based on their idea of what was nutritionally adequate. 

Standards were developed to say … ok… at a minimum…. this is what it takes to ensure a dog gets what they need. 

They conducted these tests by withholding or overfeeding a nutrient. And then sacrificed the animal to do a necropsy to examine what the consequences were.

There Are Laws Governing Animal Welfare and Lab Work 

One of the reasons why these tests have not been updated is because it would be highly unethical to conduct nutritionally in-adequacy tests when we already have this data. 

….and so… basically… I don’t anticipate they will ever update the minimum levels for food because it would be highly unethical/controversial to do that.

IF there are updates to the standards it might be because of new data as to maximums that need to be implemented. 

For those that look at the standards, only a small handful has SUL (Safe Upper Limits). Vitamin D is one of them. 

Discussion does take place about updates for Copper. It was discussed at the most recent AAFCO Meeting was around copper since some vets have voiced concerns about copper storage disease.

Due to commercial farming, liver can contain a higher level of copper than we think because of how that cow was raised and fed. 

It used to be we would formulate diets at 5% liver and now I’m just meeting that at just around 2% give or take.

At this time, nothing is conclusive as to what that upper limit should be, but there’s enough dialogue about it that we will be watching this in the years to come.

I have seen a few clients come to me with copper storage disease. All raw fed. DIY and Commercial. 

I think based on this, we have to be judicious in how we feed liver. Feed what the dog needs and nothing more.

Be Mindful Not To Go Into Excess 

Go to any pet store and LIVER is an ingredient integrated into a lot of different treats. 

Because we don’t have an upper limit, and because it is cheap, it’s used by a lot of dog food, dog treat companies. 

Many years ago….I remember being witness to a conversation at a dog food company whom I will not name – say … well our vitamin supplier told us they could spray the vitamin premix with liver, to make it more palatable. This is why I get leary of commercial food: I don’t want my dogs getting extra copper in their diets or anything extra they don’t need.

I also remember touring a dog facility in LA, where I saw buckets of liver treats the trainer had. In a short training session, that dog got 15+ treats.

Again… that dog could end up going home getting umpteen times the amount of liver (which has copper) and multiply that over many days and weeks…. we end up overfeeding our dogs. Once upon a time, I used to think liver, was their “multi-vitamin” until I learned…. so now I do better.

Standards exist for a reason, and just because they are old doesn’t mean they need updating unless it’s to ensure the safety of our animals.

What It Means When You See “Complete and Balanced” on Pet Food?

Pet food manufacturers can call their food “complete and balanced” when they meet the requirements set by AAFCO.

Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th Edition

Nutritional Adequacy Claims

For all practical purposes, nutritional adequacy claims are primarily regulated in the United States using the procedures and protocols established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

To make a “complete and balanced” nutritional adequacy claim, pet food manufacturers must either conduct a feeding test (AAFCO protocol) or meet the minimum AAFCO nutrient profile . Lifestage claims are included as a subset of the nutritional adequacy claim.

You will see it for

  • Kibble
  • Home cooked food
  • Raw food

Food for Adults Will Also Say:

Exceeds AAFCO canine nutritional standards as a complete meal for adults.

Food For Puppies, Adults and Senior Dogs Will Also Say:

Exceeds AAFCO canine nutritional standards as a complete meal for all life stages.

Feed As Is. You Don’t Have To Add Anything To Complete And Balanced Food

You don’t have to add anything when it says “Complete and Balanced”.

That said, fresh food and longevity nutrition coaches such as myself believe that adding real food can improve that bowl.

  • Hydrate: Water, bone broth, kefir, goat’s milk
  • Protein: Eggs, meat
  • Seafood: Fish
  • Organs: Liver, spleen, kidney
  • Fiber: Vegetable, fruit and fur

A Little History: Who Is The NRC? Didn’t They Set The Standards?

Yes. They did. In the 80’s the NRC established standards to keep dogs alive. That said, the standards set by the NRC were:

Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 5th Edition, page 8

The requirements published in 1985 and 1986 were determined by feeding dogs and cats purified diets rather than commercially available foods. These NRC values, therefore, were minimum nutrient requirements that had to be extrapolated to the types of foods normally fed to dogs and cats.

One important thing to point out is that the ingredients used were not the same ingredients you would use for home-cooked or raw diets. These nutritional requirements were developed to regulate kibble.

  • The NRC is a non-profit organization that evaluates research conducted by others.
  • The NRC is not part of the United States government
  • It is not a basic research organization
  • It is not an enforcement agency
  • Numerous ad hoc committees have assisted in developing the series, Nutrient Requirements of Domestic Animals. As part of that series, a new edition of Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats was published in 2006
  • Before that, the most current NRC recommendations for dogs and cats were published in 1985 and 1986, respectively

Today AAFCO’s Nutrient Profiles Replace those set by the NRC

As stated in the Small Animal Clinical Nutrition; 5th Edition, page 193

Before the development and acceptance of AAFCO’s Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles, the NRC publications on nutrient requirements for normal dogs and cats were the recognized authority for substantiation of label claims on commercial pet foods.

The AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles have replaced the NRC recommendations as the standard to be used by pet food manufacturers in the United States for formulating foods for normal dogs and cats.

Currently, pet food labels in the United States that make reference to NRC nutritional recommendations are considered to be misbranded.

The NRC recommendations are still used by some pet food manufacturers in countries other than the United States and reference to NRC is still found on some pet food labels. With the most recent NRC edition, it is anticipated that AAFCO will reconvene its expert panel to review and update the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles in light of the new NRC recommendations.

AAFCO is not expected to reinstate the NRC recommendations as the authority cited on pet food labels.

So How Do Know If What I Am Feeding Is Complete And Balanced?

If the food your purchased states that it’s “complete and balanced” whether it be kibble, cooked or raw, then it has met the standards set by AAFCO.

Keep in mind:

  • No one checks if that batch actually followed the recipe to meet the standards.
  • AAFCO’s Nutrient Profiles, as well as the NRC utilize ingredients meant for commercial food.
  • Read AAFCO’s requirements here.

What If I Buy Food That Says Meant For Supplemental Feeding?

There are quite a few brands that sell food but do not formulate to AAFCO’s Nutrient Profiles.

This means that they may or may not be lacking in:

  • Bone content
  • Organ content
  • Seafood
  • Fiber

You can learn how to read ingredients so that you can add what is missing. If you know what nutrients to add, adjusting the recipe is easy.

YES NRC Standards are fantastic to follow

I have been asked about AAFCO’s statements on the NRC and why the Small Animal Clinical Nutrition textbook says what’s above because it can be confusing – what standards to follow.

Even though it is declared by AAFCO as outdated, raw feeders follow the NRC model because:

  • The focus is to meet all the nutrient requirements

Where it differs from other feeding styles is that:

  • Supplements are used
  • Raw Meaty Bones ones are not always used
  • Non species appropriate food ingredients like grain and seeds is allowed to meet the nutrient requirements

And if you’re interested in creating recipes to NRC’s standards you can turn to:

  • Formulation software like The Pet Diet Designer formulate to NRC requirements

What If I Want A Meal Formulated? What’s The Difference Between NRC and AAFCO Recipes?

Your dog will do very well on any recipe that is formulated specifically for them.

Typically a certified canine nutritionist will use software to formulate that recipe. Some software formulates to NRC standards while others to AAFCO’s standards.

Because AAFCO replaced NRC, animal hospitals, veterinarians, commercial food companies will use software that formulates to AAFCO’s standards.

I myself license the professional level of the Animal Diet Formulator. I prefer it as it has a more comprehensive database and as such allows me to create more precisely. While others use The Pet Diet Designer to formulate to NRC requirements.

But What If You Want To Be More Precise?

Food is food. Making dog food isn’t rocket science.

I believe that anyone can learn how to prepare a meal cooked or raw.

But if you want to make sure it has all the nutrient profiles you can formulate it by using spreadsheets or in my case I use nutrition software to formulate to AAFCO’s standards.

I’m using tools to allow me to be more precise. This becomes extremely useful to dogs that have a need for precise nutrition due to ailments related to allergies, inflammation, renal problems, etc.

  • Precisely create personalized recipes for your dogs age, activity level, breed, and adjust based on wheter or not they are intact or fixed.
  • Precisely create recipes to AAFCO or FDIAF’s standards.
  • Precisely create recipes using Atwater or revised Atwater’s calculations.
  • Precisely create recipes over the bare minimum nutrient requirements
  • Precisely create recipes that don’t exceed any maximums
  • Precisely create recipes that balance vitamin and mineral ratios

While I recognize that NRC and AAFCO’s requirements were intended for kibble when you hire me my focus is to build recipes from whole food sources.

The goal of nutrition is to feed your dog so that they are thriving and not just surviving.