The Vet and Rehab Center of Cape Elizabeth

207 Ocean House Road
Cape Elizabeth, ME 04107



The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies charged by law to regulate the sale and distribution of animal feeds and animal drug remedies.

Purpose and Function of AAFCO:

Although AAFCO has no regulatory authority, the Association provides a forum for the membership and industry representation to achieve three main goals:

  • Ensure consumer protection
  • Safeguarding the health of animals and humans
  • Providing a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry.

These goals are achieved by developing and implementing uniform and equitable laws, regulations, standards, definitions and enforcement policies for regulating the manufacture, distribution and sale of animal feeds - resulting in safe, effective and useful feeds by promoting uniformity amongst member agencies.

Overview of Label Requirements for Pet Foods, including Pet Treats

The primary regulations for pet food focus on product labeling and the ingredients which may be used. There are certain items which must be included on product labels, and specific requirements for each of these items. There are also rules for non-required, or descriptive information included on labels. In particular, this information must not be false or misleading in any way.

A pet food label has eight required items. If the label is placed only on the front of the package, all items must appear there. If a front and back label are used, there are three items which must be included on the PDP (Principal Display Panel) on the front of the package. These are: brand and product name, species for which the food is intended, and the quantity statement. The other five items may be included on the front label or elsewhere on the package, such as on a back or side label (called the "information panel").

The eight required label items are listed below. There is an excellent explanation of each label item on the Pet Food website of the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) website.

 Deciphering Pet Food Label-ese

  • Pet food labels contain a lot of information, if you know how to read them.
  • The Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO) has its own set of regulations regarding pet food labels, which many states use. AAFCO labeling guidelines cover aspects such as product naming standards, guaranteed analysis (minimum percentages of protein and fat, and maximum percentages of fiber and moisture), and nutritional adequacy.
  • Always look for an AAFCO statement on your pet food that says either: 
     "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that ABC Dog/Cat Food provides complete and balanced nutrition."

In this way, you’ll know that the product is guaranteed to be a complete and balanced food for your pet. 

AAFCO Feeding Trials

One of the ways for a pet food manufacturer to establish that its diet is "complete and balanced" or "for all life stages" is by conducting a feeding trial. The trial must follow guidelines established by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials).  This information is available in the annual "Official Publication" published by AAFCO, and may be ordered by visiting

Eight Required Label Items

1.     Brand and Product Name:

These rules address the use of ingredient names in the product name. How ingredients may be included in the product name depends on the percentage of that ingredient in the product, and the use of certain descriptors. For example, there are different rules for "Beef Dog Food", "Beef Recipe Dog Food", "Dog Food with Beef" and "Beef Flavor Dog Food".

2.     Name of Species for which the pet food is intended:

This must be conspicuously designated in words on the principal display panel, but may be included in the product name, such as "Beef Dog Food" or "Salmon Treats for Cats".

3.     Quantity Statement:

This is the net weight or net volume, and it must be expressed in the correct units and placed on the lower third of the principal display panel. For net weight or volume, both avoirdupois ("pound/ounce") and metric units must be used.

4.     Guaranteed Analysis:

This lists the percentage of each of the nutrients in the food. The minimum percent of crude protein and crude fat, and the maximum percent of crude fiber and moisture are always required. Note that "crude" refers to the analysis method, rather than the quality of the nutrient. Guarantees for other nutrients may be required to support claims made in labeling (such as "High in calcium and vitamin A"), and you may include voluntary guarantees for other nutrients. The guarantees must be given in a particular order, in specified units and as a minimum or maximum, depending on the nutrient. 

5.     Ingredient Statement:

Ingredients must be listed in order of predominance by weight, on an "as formulated basis". The ingredient that makes up the highest percentage of the total weight as it goes into the product is listed first. The ingredients used must be GRAS ("Generally Recognized As Safe), approved food additives, or otherwise sanctioned for use in animal feeds (for example, defined by AAFCO).  Ingredients must be declared by the correct AAFCO-defined name, where one exists, or the "common or usual" name.

6.     Nutritional Adequacy Statement:

This is a statement that indicates the food is complete and balanced for a particular life stage, such as growth, reproduction, adult maintenance or a combination of these, or intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only. Products conspicuously identified on the principal display panel as a snack, treat, or supplement are exempt.


7.     Feeding Directions:

All pet foods labeled as complete and balanced for any or all life stages must include feeding directions that, at a minimum, state "Feed (amount of product) per (weight) of dog/cat". Feeding frequency must also be stated. Feeding directions are optional for treats, as long as they are not complete and balanced and labeled as snacks or treats.

8.     Name and address of manufacturer or distributor:

This names you or your company as guarantor of the product, and gives you or your company's location. The street address may be omitted the named entity is listed in the local telephone directory, but the city, state and zip code must be shown. If someone else makes the product for you, you must show that relationship by using the words "manufactured for:" or "distributed by:" in front of your address.


In addition to the required items, other aspects of the label may be conditionally required. For example, a "lite" or "low calorie" claim requires a calorie content statement following specified methods and format. The product must not exceed maximum calorie limits depending on the moisture content of the food and intended species.

One thing you should never see on your pet food’s label:

  • If you see the words "veterinarian approved" on your pet food label, look out. That claim is always untrue.
  • Veterinarians do not approve labels or products. Only state regulatory agencies can do that, according to the The Business of Pet Food, a new website launched by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
  • That’s just a taste of the information you’ll find on the site:
  • For example, did you know "veterinarian recommended" means that the company making the food actually surveyed veterinarians to find out if they would recommend the food?

Copyright © 2014 American Animal Hospital Association