If you’re like most pet owners, you want to make sure that your pet is eating the best food possible. You may have heard about pet food feeding trials and wonder what they are all about.
In this blog post, we will discuss what pet food feeding trials are and why they are important. We will also dispel some of the myths that surround them!
What is an AAFCO Feeding Trial?
The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a non-profit organization that sets standards for the pet food industry. One of these standards is the requirement that all pet foods must undergo feeding trials before they can be labeled as complete and balanced.
Feeding trials are conducted to assess the nutritional adequacy of pet food. They are typically conducted over a period of several months and involve feeding the test food to a group of animals. The animals are closely monitored during the trial for any health problems that may arise.
Why are Feeding Trials Important?
Feeding trials are important because they ensure that pet foods meet the minimum nutritional requirements set by AAFCO. This helps to ensure that pets will receive the nutrients they need from their food.
Feeding trials also help to identify any potential health problems that could be associated with a particular pet food. By conducting feeding trials, manufacturers can make necessary changes to their formulas before the food is made available to the public.
But… Are Feeding Trials Perfect?
According to Dr. Dave Dzanis, a Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist, “Unequivocal proof of a product’s nutritional adequacy for all animals under all conditions can never be achieved.” In other words, Dr. Dzanis acknowledges that feeding trials are not perfect, but also notes there is no perfect way to assess the nutritional adequacy of pet food.
Dr. Dave Dzanis also notes, “nutritional adequacy for all animals under all conditions can never be achieved.”, which on the surface, seems like a strong statement, but…
What he’s saying is that since no two animals are alike (just like humans), what may work for one, may not work for another.
One thought to combat this unknown would be adding fresh food to your dog’s commercial diet. Mary Straus of DogAware.com states, “One of the best ways to improve the quality of whatever diet you feed is to add fresh foods.”
She goes on to note a variety of foods suitable for the task:
- Muscle Meat (including Heart)
- Liver and other Organ Meat
- Canned fish with bones
- Cottage Cheese or Ricotta Cheese
- Canned Pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
While some of these ingredients may not seem very appetizing to us, they can be a great addition to your dog’s diet and provide them with much-needed nutrients.
Back to Feeding Trials: What does the Trial Consist of?
The feeding trial consists of feeding the test food to a group of animals.
The animals are typically fed the test food for a period of several months and are closely monitored during the trial for any health problems that may arise.
During the trial, the animals’ weight, food intake, and health status are carefully monitored. Blood tests may also be conducted to assess the animals’ nutritional status.
After the trial is complete, the data is analyzed to determine if the food meets AAFCO’s standards for nutrition.
Like most research feeding studies, the minimum feeding protocol for approving an adult maintenance claim for dog food has certain criteria which include:
AAFCO Feeding Protocol
Below is the AAFCO Feeding protocol for an adult maintenance claim:
- Minimum of eight healthy dogs at least 1 year of age and of optimal body weight.
- The test diet should be fed throughout the entire trial versus a concurrent control or colony average.
- The test duration is 26 weeks.
- Dogs can be fed ad libitum (free-fed) or based on energy needs.
- Clinical observations and measurements include:
- Individual daily consumption
- Individual body weight at beginning, weekly, and end
- Hemoglobin, packed cell volume, serum alkaline phosphatase, and serum albumin were measured at end of test
- Complete physical examination at the beginning and end of test
- 25 percent of the dogs can be removed during the trial for non-nutritional reasons or poor intake
- Success or failure determination:
- Any nutritional signs of nutritional deficiency or toxicity — results in failure
- All dogs not removed for non-nutritional reasons or poor intake must successfully finish the study (remember, this could be six dogs per 5e above) — resulting in success
- No individual dog loses more than 15 percent body weight and the group average does not lose greater than 10 percent body weight — which results in success
- Hemoglobin greater than 14.0 g/dL, packed cell volume is greater than 42 percent, albumin is greater than 2.8 g/dL and serum alkaline phosphatase is less than 150 U/L — results in success
What does this AAFCO protocol mean in layman’s terms?
The above might seem a little confusing, but in short, it means that in order for a pet food company to claim that their food meets AAFCO standards, they must put their food through a feeding trial.
This trial must last a minimum of 26 weeks and include at least eight healthy dogs.
The dogs must be fed either the test diet or a control diet (a diet that is similar to the average diet of dogs, also known as the colony diet), and their food intake, weight, and various blood measurements must be monitored throughout the trial.
If at the end of the trial, any of the dogs show signs of nutritional deficiency or toxicity, or if any of them lose more than 15% of their body weight, the food fails the trial.
In order for the food to pass, all of the dogs must successfully finish the study without any nutritional deficiencies or weight loss.
So, there you have it. Feeding trials are not perfect, but they are one of the best ways to determine if a food meets AAFCO’s standards for nutrition. And, while no two animals are alike, adding fresh food to your dog’s diet is a great way to improve their overall health.