When shopping for your dog’s food, always choose a brand and formula that is endorsed by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This stamp of approval reflects that the product meets the minimum nutrition requirements that your dog needs for a complete and balanced diet.

Dog foods are generally marked with one of two AAFCO labels: “all life stages” or “adult maintenance.” All life stages are formulated to meet requirements for a growing puppy (or a lactating dog). These formulas are generally higher in calories, calcium, and phosphorus. Whereas, healthy adult dogs should eat adult maintenance formulas.

The following AAFCO rules identify the percentages of named ingredients in the total product:

95% Rule: This rule applies to products consisting of one main ingredient, such as “Chicken for Dogs.” Here, 95% of the product must be the named ingredient (chicken). If water is added for processing, the named ingredient must comprise 70% of the product.

Dinner Rule: This rule applies to whole meals, such as “Beef Stew for Dogs.” Here, if the named ingredient “beef” comprises 25% of the product (not including water for processing), the name must include a qualifying descriptive term, such as “stew” or “dinner.” If more than one ingredient is included in a “dinner” name, the combination of the named ingredients must total 25% of the product and be listed in the same order as found on the ingredient list. In addition, each named ingredient must be at least 3% of the total. Therefore, “Salmon & Brown Rice Dinner” must have 25% salmon and brown rice combined, and at least 3% being brown rice. Note that if chicken meal (dehydrated chicken) is the first ingredient, there will be more protein than with fresh chicken (which is 80 percent water). The same goes for beef, fish and lamb.

With Rule: This rule was initially intended to apply to ingredients highlighted on the principal display panel, but now may be included in the product name. For example, “Chicken and Quinoa Dinner with Cheese,” means that 3% cheese is added.

Flavor Rule: Under this rule, while a specific percentage is not required, a product must contain an amount sufficient to be able to be detected. But be aware that if it reads “beef flavor,” this may be from a mystery “beef-by-product” giving the characterizing flavor.

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