While researching cat food, you find an article listing AAFCO approved cat food. What does this label mean? Are the cat foods on this list better for your cat? It is important to underscore that the AAFCO does not endorse, approve, or certify pet food, including those manufactured for cats.
What is AAFCO approved cat food?
Who or what exactly is the AAFCO?
In the United States, pet foods are regulated at two levels: the national and state levels. The two organizations that play a crucial role in regulating animal feeds are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) through its Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
From the national level, the FDA sets guidelines and basic requirements for animal feed manufacturers. These include the minimum requirements for product labels. Furthermore, the FDA has been tasked to validate claims made on product labels.
The AAFCO, on the other hand, is composed of state officials. However, it is not a government agency. The two primary tasks of the organization include:
- Reviewing and updating pet food regulations and policies
- Setting guidelines for animal feed, including pet food.
As mentioned earlier, the AAFCO does not have regulatory powers. Rather, it is up to state feed control officials to enforce the guidelines set forth by the organization in terms of product labels, definition of ingredients, and nutrient level recommendations.
Annually, the AAFCO publishes its manual which lists the definition of ingredient and food terms, as well as guidelines for product labels.
What does the AAFCO statement mean?
You have probably seen the AAFCO statement printed on the label of some cat food. What does the statement mean?
The AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy or purpose or nutrition claim helps pet owners identify the food suitable for their pets based on their life stage. Based on the guidelines set forth by the organization, pet food manufacturers should make sure that the claims printed on their product labels are true and substantiated.
Furthermore, the AAFCO has also listed guidelines regarding the minimum and maximum amounts of nutrients that pet foods should contain based upon established nutritional standards for pets.
For example, before a cat food manufacturer can put the statement that its product provides complete and balanced nutrition for the maintenance of an adult cat, the pet food should contain at least 18 percent protein.
For a pet parent, that means that the product that makes that claim indeed has 18 percent protein. But be aware that an individual cat’s protein requirements will vary depending on numerous factors. That does not necessarily mean that 18 percent protein is enough for your cat’s dietary needs.
To substantiate a nutritional claim, a pet food manufacturer can do one of three things: laboratory analysis, feeding trial, or a nutritional adequacy analysis.
In a laboratory analysis, the content of a pet food is compared to the nutritional values standard set forth by the AAFCO.
For feeding trials, the pet food is given to dogs or cats following the protocols set by the AAFCO.
Finally, in a nutritional adequacy analysis, the pet food is compared to similar pet foods in terms of nutrient content.
To standardize these tests, the AAFCO formulated guidelines, including the minimum number of animals required for feeding trials, the duration of the trials, and required measurements on the test subjects.
Additionally, the AAFCO has a different set of protocols for each life stage of dogs and cats. These include growth, adult maintenance, pregnancy and lactation, and all life stages. Pet food with an all life stages claim means that it can be fed to an animal no matter what its age is.
How to choose a cat food for your pet
Looking at the different cat food available in the grocery and pet stores can be overwhelming for many people. With so many choices available, how do you choose which of these to buy and feed your beloved feline? It does not help that some items on the product labels are difficult to understand.
To help make things easier for you, here are a few helpful tips that you can follow.
Start with your cat’s nutritional needs
Before looking at your options, it is critical to understand that your cat is an obligate carnivore. Unlike people and dogs who can thrive with a wide variety of foods, your cat’s food should be made mostly of protein.
Good cat food should contain ample amounts of proteins, including those sourced from fish, poultry, and meats. Cats also need taurine for a wide variety of bodily functions including vision, digestion, fetal development, and pregnancy. Other vital components include fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and water.
Although some cat foods contain grains, felines do not need carbohydrates. Typically, these ingredients are used as fillers. Coloring, flavoring, and binders are added to make the food appealing to cats and their humans. Preservatives, on the other hand, are needed to allow you to store cat food for some time.
Wet or dry cat food?
Ideally, you should not choose between the two. Instead, you can feed your pet a combination of the two.
There are several reasons why you should feed your pet both wet and dry cat food. For starters, wet food contains a significant amount of moisture. Cats do not drink water regularly and wet food can compensate for that.
Second, providing your cat with both types of cat foods allows you to cover all your bases when it comes to meeting your pet’s nutritional needs. Simply put, no cat food provides all the dietary needs of a cat. Just like people, cats can get more nutrients by eating a variety of foods. Providing your pet with a few choices can also help stave off food boredom.
Feeding your cat with wet and dry foods can also keep food allergies at bay. Eating cat food with the same protein source over and over again can increase your pet’s chances of succumbing to a food allergy.
Comparing cat foods
Reading the fine print on the product labels of cat foods can be difficult if you do not know exactly what to look for.
Pet food manufacturers are required to follow AAFCO’s minimum nutritional requirements for animals. When you are comparing different brands of cat foods, one of the first things that you should look for is AAFCO nutritional guarantee. This will ensure that the cat foods on your shortlist meet the minimum nutritional requirements set forth by the organization.
Next, consider your pet’s nutritional requirements based on his age. Simply put, a kitten’s nutritional needs are different from that of a lactating queen or an adult. Pet food manufacturers have different offerings for each life stage. There are also cat foods that are labeled for all life stages. These are geared more for households with multiple cats at different life stages.
When you look at the ingredient list, check which are the top three listed. Ideally, these should be meats, meat by-products, or other proteins like seafood. It is worthwhile to point out that product labels list ingredients in descending order. This means that the main components are listed above.
Once you have a sizable number of cat foods to choose from, the next step to take is to experiment with your cat’s preference. Again, it is worthwhile to consider giving your cat both wet and dry food.
Use the AAFCO guidelines to choose cat food
With so many cat foods available in the market, making the right choice for your pet can be difficult.
If you do not know where to start, use the AAFCO guidelines as a starting point. This will help you narrow down your choices and avoid overwhelming yourself.
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