AAFCO vs. A Raw Food Diet

Have you been interested in what you are feeding your carnivore for very long? Then you have probably heard of AAFCO. But what is AAFCO? If you have decided to feed raw or are feeding raw, does AAFCO matter? Let’s get educated on AAFCO together!

What Is AAFCO?

First of all, AAFCO stands for the American Association of Feed Control Officials. Basically, they set standards for the pet & livestock feed industry in the USA. If a kibble or canned cat or dog food says “complete & balanced” on it, then it meets AAFCO’s standards. Most people, sources, &  vets that advise feeding kibble will stress that you need a kibble that meets AAFCO standards & is “complete & balanced.”

Where Did AAFCO Come From?

During World War II, food was scarce, hard to transport, & variety was severely lacking. So, the scientists came up with Recommended Daily Allowances. These allowances identified the minimum nutrients that the soldiers would need to survive. The scientists created meal plans &  foods from this information so they could easily send it to the soldiers to keep them alive. However, the food was made to sustain life–not keep people healthy. It was a short-term solution.

After Recommended Daily Allowances were set, the National Research Committee (NRC) did more research. They looked at whole foods & started to set minimums, maximums, & even recommended values for an assortment of nutrients.

Later, AAFCO came along. They originally used the guidelines from the NRC but quickly realized that the processed foods that they were dealing with were very different from the whole foods of the NRC. In 1990, AAFCO started setting standards for processed animal feeds. Like the Recommended Daily Allowances, AAFCO mostly has only minimums of nutrients listed. They have a few maximums but make no recommendations as far as ideal or optimal levels of nutrients in food.

What Does “Complete & Balanced” Mean?

“Complete” means that a kibble has all the nutrients that AAFCO says are essential for dogs &  cats to live. “Balanced” means that the nutrients of the kibble are in the proportions of which AAFCO approves. Interestingly, the nutrients that AAFCO says are essential as well as what proportions they approved of are constantly changing. (If AAFCO knew what the best diet for your pet was, why would they need to change their standards so frequently?)

AAFCO also has a list of approved ingredients that manufacturers look at to make their food. These approved ingredients are mostly waste products from human food production. They are typically very low in nutritional value & require the addition of synthetic vitamins & minerals to meet AAFCO standards. Also, AAFCO does not care whether the proteins come from meat, soy, peas, feather, or other high-protein sources even though dogs & cats have been designed to get their protein from meat.

AAFCO also does not test or have any standards that relate to the digestibility of the food. Technically, a manufacturer could make a completely indigestible food & sell it as “complete & balanced” as long as it passed the AAFCO chemical analysis.

As an interesting side note, dogs & cats have no need for carbohydrates in their diet. This is why you will not see carbohydrates listed on pet food labels–only protein, fat, fiber, ash, moisture, & possibly a few vitamins or minerals. So, a question. If carbohydrates are not required for your pet to live, why does AAFCO approve the use of carbohydrate sources in the food? Why do they approve food that is 40%+ carbohydrates as “complete &  balanced”? Surely adding an unnecessary nutrient to the diet would leave less space for essential nutrients.

What Must A Manufacturer Do To Get Complete & Balanced On Their Label?

Manufacturers can have their food approved by AAFCO in two ways. First, they can put their food through chemical analysis. If the food has the proper amounts & ratios of vitamins & minerals, & the minimum amounts & proportions of fat, it will pass AAFCOs chemical analysis. If you tossed enough synthetic vitamins & minerals on a peanut butter sandwich, it could pass.

The second way that a manufacturer could get “complete & balanced” on their label is to do a feeding trial. For the feeding trial, there must be eight animals (dogs or cats). Of those eight, two can drop out for any reason, so only six animals are really needed to finish the trial. These dogs & cats must be healthy before the study & then pronounced healthy after the study has stopped. The subjects can lose as much as 15% of their body weight & body condition. The breed & gender of the pet is irrelevant in the study. Additionally, the trial lasts 26 weeks. The animals in the study are fed only the food being tested, but they do have unlimited water access. After the 26-week trial, hemoglobin, PCV, alkaline phosphatase, & albumin are tested & must meet specific minimums. Interestingly, AAFCO is not concerned with how much weight an animal may gain on a feeding trial. In a nutshell, for a food to pass a feeding trial, 6 pets must survive on the food for 26 weeks. That’s a little over half a year. Meanwhile, the marketing will tell you that you should feed this food to your furry one their whole life! Let’s hope your pet’s life is a lot longer than 26 weeks.

If the food passes the chemical analysis, it does not need to actually be tested on pets. If the diet passes a feeding trial, it doesn’t have to pass the chemical analysis. Seems a little weird. . . . I mean, I would want to know that my pet was getting all the nutrients they need–especially if I’m feeding so many synthetic ingredients. But, on the other hand, I think I would want the food to be tested on actual pets too.

Are AAFCO Standards Helpful?

If AAFCO standards are meant to help dogs & cats, then why is it that 90-95% of dogs & cats with cancer, allergies, autoimmune diseases, irritable bowel, kidney failure, & other diseases get these diseases after a lifetime of eating AAFCO-approved kibbles?

AAFCO standards are really only mildly helpful for industrial pet food manufacturers. The standards help these manufacturers make food that can sustain the life of a pet. Remember, a sustained life is not anywhere close to a thriving life!

Are AAFCO Standards Applicable For Raw Feeders?

You may have noticed on many raw pet foods, including My Pet Carnivore’s foods, that the label states that the food is not “complete & balanced” according to AAFCO standards. This is because AAFCO standards are made for highly-processed foods. A raw diet is very unprocessed. Raw diets are so unprocessed that you need not add any synthetic vitamins or minerals because the original prey has everything a dog needs!

Nature Knows Best!

If we assume that a diet is “complete & balanced”, we assume that AAFCO knows everything that there is to know about the diet that a cat, dog, or ferret needs. This, in turn, would mean that AAFCO would never have to change its standards & there would be no need to have a variety of kibbles. Further, this assumption would lead to the thought that cats, dogs, & ferrets are as healthy as they can possibly be–that the rise of cancer, autoimmune disease, & all other diseases is 100% normal & /or not at all caused by diet.

We, as humans, don’t even know 100% what the best diet for humans is. How can we possibly think anyone knows what the best diet for a dog is? You know what I mean? Coffee is good for you–no coffee is so bad for you. Eggs are bad for you–no eggs are a wonder food! Don’t eat fat, eat fat. And on, & on, & on.

So, where do we turn for answers? How can we know what is actually a good & health-promoting diet for our beloved furry family members? Well, we need to look back to nature. Nature provides us with a simple meal plan for our pets. It’s the same meal plan that their ancestors ate & that our pets would have eaten pre-kibble. Nature provided them with whole prey animals.

Diet & nutrition become easy when we look at the diet Nature provides for dogs & cats like those of wild cats & wolves. Simply feeding your pet whole prey, with plenty of variety, is the best way to provide your pet with all the nutrients they need. Variety is key & something that AAFCO does not seem to value. I mean, who & what would ever willingly eat only one thing for 26 weeks? Certainly nothing in Nature!

One could argue that Nature’s feeding style of a variety of whole, raw prey is more scientific than that of AAFCO. I mean, dogs & cats have been eating whole, raw prey far before humans had even domesticated them. Nature’s feeding style has supported the species to this present day. . . .That’s a lot longer than AAFCO’s required 26-week feeding trial.

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