FAQs – Frequently Asked Questions
Some questions are of such general consumer interest, such as how to file a pet food complaint or how to read a label, they have been given their own tabs under the main menu. If a question isn’t answered here, look there.
What should be done about a sick pet?
Pet owners should immediately seek veterinary care and advice for sick pets before doing anything else.
AAFCO and its members as feed control officials are not practicing veterinarians. AAFCO does not provide veterinary medical advice or recommendations of any type.
What pet foods are AAFCO-approved?
In short, AAFCO does not approve, certify or otherwise endorse pet foods. There is no AAFCO-approved pet food.
Most state feed laws and regulations reference to the AAFCO Official Publication as part of the nutritional adequacy labeling for pet foods. This reference is to an AAFCO-established, science-based, nutritional standard.
To understand this standard and how to use it, please check out the short version here or here for a more detailed version.
What’s the best pet food?
To determine the most appropriate food for a pet, a number of factors should be considered, including the pet’s nutritional needs, product availability, price,
the pet’s preferences and special needs, and the consumer’s preference or trust in the manufacturer or retailer.
But the most important are the pet’s species, life stage and condition.
For more detail, click here.
Where is a list of pet foods that meet AAFCO standards?
As previously mentioned, AAFCO does not approve any feed products.
But what about a list of pet food products meeting the AAFCO standards? The number of products on the market precludes AAFCO from maintaining such a list. The consumer should refer to the nutritional adequacy statement located on the pet food label to see if a product conforms to one of the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles or to an AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Feeding Protocol.
Having said that, individual states may have lists of pet food products legal for distribution available through their state feed program websites or by request.
Please click on the following link to find your state’s feed program contact information.
What are meat byproducts really?
AAFCO defines these ingredients as:
“The non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves. It shall be suitable for animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
o To put it another way, meat byproducts are most parts of an animal other than its muscle tissue—including the internal organs and bones.
o Byproducts include some animal parts that some Americans eat (such as livers, kidneys and tripe), but also parts that they typically do not eat. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not deem certain byproducts, such as udders and lungs, edible for human consumption, they can be perfectly safe and nutritious for other animals.
o As with meat, unless the byproducts are derived from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats, the species must be identified.
AAFCO defines byproducts as:
“Secondary products produced in addition to the principal product.”
So, as it pertains to animal-sourced ingredients, items such as “meat and bone meal” and other rendered ingredients are also byproducts.
What can consumers do if they believe they or their pets have health issues related to a pet food product?
In this case, a consumer might consider filing a complaint.
Do meat byproducts ever contain matter from diseased or disabled animals?
Under the precise definition above, the byproducts must be from “slaughtered mammals.”
The USDA, which oversees the slaughtering of animals for human consumption, would not allow diseased or disabled animals into the plant for processing in the first place.
However, under the broader definition for byproducts, which includes ingredients like meat and bone meal, yes, certain carcasses or parts may be rejected from use for humans and processed into animal feed.
Meat and meat byproducts not directly suitable for animal food that are designated as 4-D (dead, dying, diseased or disabled). These are considered adulterated—unless processed in a manner that rids them of disease-causing microorganisms prior to becoming animal feed. This is most often done by rendering, which subjects the materials to heat and pressure to eliminate harmful bacteria. (Most commercial pet food is heat-treated during ingredient processing or manufacturing to kill any potential disease-causing organisms.)
Raw materials that may have come from diseased or disabled animals are prohibited from use as raw animal feed or raw pet food. Cooking, high-temperature treatment or rendering can kill potential microbial agents and make such products safe for animal consumption. Read more about raw pet foods here.
To avoid mad cow disease, certain “specified risk material” is prohibited from use in any animal feed, rendered or not. Read more detailed information about byproducts and what’s in them.
Are meat byproducts less healthy for pets than regular meat ingredients?
The applicable state and federal laws and regulations require any ingredient used in a pet food or animal feed be safe for animal consumption.
Meat, poultry, fish and their related byproducts are all held to the same safety standards, including freedom from disease-causing organisms and freedom from adulteration.
Ingredients are components in a nutritionally complete and balanced pet food. Animal-sourced ingredients generally contain required protein, amino acids and minerals. But the ratios and amounts may vary between animal-sourced ingredients. A complete and balanced pet food formulation accounts for this variation to meet all of the nutritional requirements of a cat or dog for its particular life stage.
For example, meat and bone meal, a rendered byproduct, contains substantial quantities of natural calcium and phosphorus due to the bones included as part of the ingredient. Meat used as a pet food ingredient would have far less calcium than meat and bone meal. In this case, incorporating other calcium-rich ingredients would balance the nutritional content to make the finished pet food nutritionally adequate.
For more detail about what’s in particular ingredients, click here.
Does AAFCO have any warnings or recommendations for pet foods that are labeled organic?
No. Read more about organic pet food here.
Does AAFCO have any warnings or recommendations regarding products labeled natural, all-natural or 100% natural?
Other than concerns for potential misbranding and misunderstanding amongst consumers, no.
Natural and like terms are not expressions of safety, but simply fit a loose definition. Pet food products claiming to be all-natural and 100% natural must meet certain guidelines.
Read more about the guidelines for natural pet food products here.
Am I better off cooking up a homemade pet food for my dog or cat?
Following the widespread melamine adulteration of pet food in 2007, some consumers began making pet food in their home kitchens.
Non-commercial, homemade pet foods are not subject to state or federal regulations. No animal-feed authority covers these activities.
But creating a complete and balanced pet food is a complex endeavor.
AAFCO nutrient profiles have 37 nutritional parameters for dogs and 44 for cats. These nutritional parameters have minimums and sometimes maximums, plus different life stages require different ratios and amounts of nutrients.
The AAFCO nutrient profiles are also based on ratios of nutrients to calories.
The ingredients a person may select for formulating a cat or dog food will have certain amounts of certain nutrients, but the preparer should be careful to include ingredients that provide all of the required nutrients and in in the correct ratios that the animal requires for its particular stage of life.
Certain ingredients common to human foods are toxic to pets.
Micronutrients, such as selenium, are required in extraordinarily small amounts but any more than that level is toxic.
A few commercial base-mix products provide
sufficient vitamins, minerals and trace minerals, while the consumer adds major ingredients such as meat, carbohydrate and fat ingredients.
Are “premium” pet food products better?
Unlike natural and organic, “premium” is a totally unregulated term in feed law. Whereas premium gasoline must meet higher octane standards than regular gasoline, premium pet food doesn’t have special requirements that differ from any other pet food.
If cooking and heating during manufacturing sterilize pet food products, why are some being recalled for salmonella contamination?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published guidance for industry in recent years regarding appropriate action for a firm to take when salmonella is found in products it distributes. Recalls and notices indicate better detection and reporting than was the case in the past.
Often, a recall notice is accompanied with the information that no related cases of human or pet health issues have been detected.
Whether salmonella is a problem on a particular product depends on what kind of salmonella is involved (many different types vary from benign to disease causing) and the scope of the contamination. The greatest concern with salmonella in pet food products is potential exposure to humans, especially children.
When salmonella does contaminate a retail pet food product, the bacteria are usually introduced after the product is manufactured and cooled. This could occur during handling and packaging, with air movement or later during storage, shipment and display.
Certain products, such as treats and chews, are handled in bulk at retailers and may be more susceptible to post-manufacturing contamination than products in sealed bags.
Where do bugs in pet food come from?
Pet food is irresistible to many more creatures than pets: food is food.
Storage insects can and do infest pet food products when stock rotation, housekeeping and handling are deficient. Most often such infestations occur further down the distribution pipeline or even in consumer homes.
Some of the more common storage insects that infest pet food include Indian meal moths and sawtoothed grain beetles.
Webbing along bag seams or in a product usually indicate Indian meal moths. Also, their mature adults appear to be rather small non-descript moths.
Sawtoothed grain beetles are extremely small, rust-colored insects and are found along bag seams or in the bottom of a bag after the product is dumped out.
To avoid such problems, consumers should:
· evaluate the cleanliness of the store where they buy pet food
o look under the bottom shelf on the floor or behind bags to see how carefully a store cleans
· check the best-by or expiration dates on containers
o best-by dates are usually 6 or 12 months beyond the date of manufacture on dry pet food products
· empty reusable food-storage containers completely and wash and dry them completely between batches of pet food
· clean up pet’s little food messes and sanitize their bowl frequently
· not leave open bags of pet food sitting for months
Why are there so few human-grade products available for pets?
Human-grade and human-quality are marketing terms with no legal definition. To learn about the requirements for a pet food product to be considered “human edible,” click here.
Why don’t all pet foods show the calories?
This will change within the next several years.
Prior to 2014, the only cases where calorie labeling was required were products that claimed to be low-calorie, lean, lite, less calorie and so on.
The AAFCO Model Pet food Regulations now require calorie statements on all pet foods. Read more about calorie content and pet food labeling here.
Where did this pet food product come from?
Many complete pet foods sold in the United States were likely made in the United States simply due to common manufacturing practices.
Those manufactured in another country must say “Product of _____” or “Made in _____” on the label near the manufacturer's or distributor's name and address.
Ingredients are another matter. Major pet food ingredients, such as animal products and grains, most likely were sourced from the United States or Canada.
One exception: lamb/sheep meat often comes from New Zealand.
Fish and fish meal are often imported, as are tropical fruits and tapioca.
Vitamins, some mineral ingredients and some food additives are likely from other countries.
Some people may consider the country of origin to be less important than the specific manufacturer and the U.S.-based importer’s diligence in verifying how a foreign manufacturer does its job.
A lot of human food ingredients are also imported.
Who decides what ingredients can be put in a pet food and how is that done?
Read about ingredient standards.
Manufacturers can only use pet food ingredients that meet safety and utility standards. The final product must be free from adulteration.
Manufacturers choose ingredients based on their nutritional contribution to a complete pet food. This is a rather complex balancing act of testing or validating nutritional content then creating a practical formula.
Pet food plants frequently have lists of preferred vendors that deliver a time-tested nutritionally-uniform ingredient.
Manufacturing plants have certain equipment that dictate what kind of ingredients can be safely received, held and processed.
Kibble and canning plants are entirely different operations requiring different equipment. Both products aren’t probably made at the same plant.
Ingredient cost is a component of a manufacturer’s consideration, and $10-per-pound ingredients are less likely to be used in $1-per-pound pet food.
Marketing also plays a role in ingredient selection pricing and advertising to appeal to specific customer bases.