What Does "Complete and Balanced" on Pet Food Mean? -  Part 1

What Does "Complete and Balanced" on Pet Food Mean? - Part 1

What Does "Complete and Balanced" on Pet Food Mean? - Part 1

Part 1: Who Decides what “Complete and Balanced” Means?

Dr Mark Roberts PhD

Who decides what is complete and balanced?

What is “complete and balanced” nutritionally for a dog is a hot topic of discussion. Before we jump into this, a logical first step must be to have a look into how this term came about and how it was (or not) adopted. The dog food industry developed in the seventies due to dog owners looking for a more commercially available option to feed their pet, as opposed to the standard table scraps commonly used at the time. Hence, the need for nutritional guidelines became evident, with more owners wanting assurance they were providing their pets with a nutritionally balanced diet. In 1974 the National Research Council (NRC)1 produced the first of a series of nutrition profiles for dogs, based on scientific research gathered from prominent universities worldwide (Pet Food Institute, n.d.-a)2.


Deciding the nutrients to feed a dog is a complicated process, with several organisations having their input.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)3, which has key roles encompassing animal feed regulations and ingredient definitions in the United States, viewed the NRC and its complete and balanced nutrient profiles as being scientifically robust and reliable and adopted them for its usage4. However, this initial confidence was challenged, as further NRC publications made nutritional recommendations in a format deemed “unpractical”, either for use by AAFCO or the broader pet industry. The consequences of this, was the formation of the AAFCO Canine Nutrition Expert (CNE) Subcommittee in 1990, with the first publication of the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles in 1991 and 1992 respectively (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2014).


The three main nutritional entities which provide guidance on what is “complete and balanced. Left to right: The American Association of Feed Control Officials, The European Pet Food Federation and the National Research Council.

In 2006 the NRC published a revised Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats report. Indeed, it is improbable that this publication will supersede existing AAFCO profiles, with the NRC and its recommendations used by industry professionals, academia, and government officials (National Research Council, 2006). Hence, the NRC's recommendations will likely only have an influencing role in the construction of future AAFCO dog and cat nutrient profiles4. However, AAFCO uses more commercially applicable data, such as nutrient losses during processing, which are lacking in the NRC publications, with the ultimate objective of determining nutrient standards to substantiate claims5.

A third organisation which plays an influential role in the formulation of pet food is the European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF). The federation has a Scientific Advisory Board, which consists of independent scientists from several European countries. The group is tasked with ensuring that nutrient levels for both dogs and cats are based on up-to-date scientific findings and will recommend FEDIAF amend its nutrient guidelines if required6.

In summary, although there are several authorities involved in the formulation of the definition for “Complete and Balanced” with regards to dog food, the current internationally recognized standard is that published by AAFCO.