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Dietary Requirements in Dogs

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Most of us were taught the importance of a balanced and nutritionally complete diet. But when it comes to knowing what nutrients our pets need to grow properly and stay healthy, we often come up short.

Many years ago, little thought or research was put into the manufacture of pet food, or the proper way to feed our pets. Eventually, in response to consumer demand, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) was formed. Their primary function was to publish feed regulations and ingredient definitions. After much research, committee investigations and feeding trials, nutrient profiles for pets were developed, and guidelines established.

This is still a work in progress. Despite significant advances, the importance and proper levels of some nutrients are still under investigation. The recommendations of AAFCO, for instance, may change when additional information about nutritional health in dogs becomes available. For now, the minimum levels of nutrients that should be included in pet foods are listed. In a few cases, excess amounts of certain nutrients can be damaging so maximum levels are also listed in AAFCO guidelines.

When buying pet food, choose only those products that carry the statement "Formulated to meet the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profile for..." because they follow these guidelines. It is not a requirement to meet AAFCO standards in order to sell pet food, so buyers beware. Check the labels and compare products.

The nutrient list is divided into two separate profiles. One profile is for growing, pregnant or lactating dogs and one is for adult maintenance. The nutrients are listed on a dry matter basis. What this means is that if you are comparing products, the moisture content of the food must be taken into consideration. If the food has 75 percent moisture, then the remaining nutrients make up 25 percent of the food.

Take each nutrient amount and divide by 0.25 to obtain an accurate dry matter amount to compare to the nutrient guidelines or even to compare one food to another. If the moisture content is 10 percent, then 90 percent make up the rest of the nutrients. Divide each nutrient value by 0.9 in order to get an accurate value.

Current AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles

For Adult Maintenance

Unless otherwise listed, all values are minimum requirements:

Protein.........18%
Fat..............5%
Calcium......0.6% (maximum 2.5%)
Phosphorus...0.5% (maximum 1.6%)
Potassium.....0.6%
Sodium........0.06%
Chloride.......0.09%
Magnesium.....0.04% (maximum 0.3%)
Iron............80 mg/kg (maximum 3,000 mg/kg)
Copper.........7.3 mg/kg (maximum 250 mg/kg)
Manganese........5 mg/kg
Zinc...........120 mg/kg (maximum 1000 mg/kg)
Iodine.........1.5 mg/kg (maximum 50 mg/kg)
Selenium......0.11 mg/kg (maximum 2 mg/kg)
Vitamin A.....5000 IU/kg (maximum 250,000 IU/kg)
Vitamin D......500 IU/kg (maximum 5000 IU/kg)
Vitamin E.......50 IU/kg (maximum 1000 IU/kg)
Thiamine.........1 mg/kg
Riboflavin.....2.2 mg/kg
Pantothenic Acid..10 mg/kg
Niacin..........11.4 mg/kg
Pyridoxine.........1 mg/kg
Folic Acid......0.18 mg/kg
Vitamin B12.....0.022 mg/kg
Choline.........1200 mg/kg

For growing puppies, pregnant and lactating bitches

The majority of nutrient minimums are the same except for the items listed. The maximum for those listed does not change.

Protein...........22%
Fat................8%
Calcium............1%
Phosphorus.......0.8%
Sodium...........0.3%
Chloride........0.45%
Vitamin B12....0.022 mg/kg

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