Understanding Dog Food Nutrients

December 14, 2022
Small dog

Ten amino acids. Twelve basic minerals. Eleven vitamins. And two kinds of fatty acids. Whew! No question about it… there certainly are plenty of canine nutrients to think about. What’s more… each and every one of them is considered absolutely essential… and must be present in the correct amounts… and the right proportions… in every dog food… to help keep your pet free of disease. So, how can you be sure a particular product meets some kind of minimum dog food nutrition standards?


Think about it. Are you really prepared to check every product label to confirm the presence and quantity of each one of these vital nutrients? Even dog food “obsessives” like me lack the time (not to mention… the patience) to perform that kind of detailed analysis. But there’s an easier way. And dog food insiders know this label reading secret as the Nutritional Adequacy Statement. Now, once you know what it is… and where to find it… you can use this simple shortcut to instantly screen any dog food for proper vitamin and mineral content.


The dog food industry defines a nutritionally complete product as one that can be fed to a dog as its sole ration. In other words, it is capable of maintaining life without adding any other substance… except water. Guidelines go on by defining a balanced dog food as one that has “all known required nutrients in proper amount and proportion”. Now, think about how unsafe it would be for any dog food to be sold as complete and balanced… when, in fact, that product was deficient in one or more essential nutrients. That’s what makes a Nutritional Adequacy Statement so valuable. No, it’s not perfect. But it’s the industry’s most important means for ensuring your dog food meets certain minimum standards.


According to the Association of American Fed Control Officials, in order for any dog food company to print the words “complete and balanced” on a package… that claim must first have been validated in one of two ways. The first uses a product’s recipe (or the laboratory analysis of a sample) to assume it meets AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile. Dog food’s meeting this standard usually include words like…

“(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”

The second method not only meets the AAFCO profile… but also verifies nutritional adequacy by conducting actual feeding trials with real dogs. This type of adequacy statement will probably look something like this…

“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition”

Now, obviously, products tested using this more rigorous method should be given extra consideration.


Is your dog a growing puppy? An adult? A senior? AAFCO also requires all Nutritional Adequacy Statements to clearly identify for which life stage a product is most suitable. Current standards4 include two specific dog food nutrient profiles…

  • Adult maintenance
  • Growth and reproduction

An adult maintenance food is only suitable for non-reproducing adult dogs with normal activity levels. This same dog food may not be appropriate for growing, reproducing or working animals. On the other hand, any product described as acceptable for “all life stages” must meet the more stringent growth and reproduction profile. Sometimes, a product may be labeled for a particular use… or life stage… such as “for senior dogs”. Even though there are no clear-cut rules governing these various statements, one thing is certain… these special purpose dog foods can have important limitations. Any product that cannot meet either the adult maintenance or growth and reproduction standards must state…

“This product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding”

In other words… it’s a product not intended for long-term use.


Nutritional Adequacy Statements can save you lots of time. And they can go a long way toward providing you some level of assurance your dog’s food might actually come close to meeting important dietary standards. Unfortunately, though, the statements themselves are not always easy to find. They can be located virtually anywhere on the package. Yet rest assured… they’re supposed to be there… somewhere. If you can’t find the statement… or if the statement itself does not declare the product complete, balanced and appropriate for your dog’s life stage… take a pass.