GAPFA Guidance/Recommendation on Nutrition Guidelines
The goal of this guidance document is to provide general nutritional principles for use by pet
(dog and cat) food manufacturer associations in various regions around the world in
selecting/developing a set of nutrition guidelines. This document is not intended to be a stepby-step complete nutritional education or product development process. Nor is this document
intended to be used as formal regulation.
For the health and wellbeing of dogs and cats around the world, all pet food should be
nutritionally adequate as appropriate for its described, intended use/purpose, as well as meet
the appropriate local regulatory/legislative requirements. Extensive work and research has
already been done by several groups in developing entire systems for making nutritionally
adequate, complete and balanced pet foods. These existing systems can be used as a basis for
associations to develop regionally appropriate systems in leading to their recommended set of
nutrition guidelines. We recognize that some regions may have differing availability of
ingredients and differing conditions that might require adaptation from existing systems. If an
existing system is used, then it should be considered in its entirety and used as a whole,
because each system has its own set of internal assumptions.
Much of the foundational research for nutritional adequacy of pet foods can be found in the
National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006) (NRC-NRDC), from
The National Academies Press (copy can be ordered from This document
discusses various aspects related to nutrient requirements and needs of pets: comparative
digestion of dogs and cats; pet feeding behavior; energy requirements of pets; energy content
of food; specific nutrient requirements; water needs; needs of laboratory animals; effect of
physical activity and some diet formulation plus processing information. Finally, it contains
tables of individual nutrient levels for both dogs and cats at different life stages. These tables
(and all tables of nutrient levels) always need to be considered as only one part of developing
nutritionally adequate diets. It is strongly suggested that anyone developing pet foods have an
understanding of the basics of pet nutrition and the NRC-NRDC is a very helpful resource.
From this foundational work in the NRC-NRDC, two fully developed and periodically reviewed,
practical nutritional guidelines are established and widely recognized. First, the Association of
American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO, found at annually publishes its Official
Publication (AAFCO OP), which contains a complete set of methods for nutritional adequacy
substantiation along with a recommended set of nutrient profiles for products at various life
stages. Second, the European Pet Food Federation (FEDIAF, found at has
developed FEDIAF Nutritional Guidelines for Cats and Dogs (FEDIAF NG). This is also a complete
set of guidelines, available online and reviewed on a regular basis based on existing and new
research. The AAFCO OP and FEDIAF NG are complete and available to be utilized by
regions/associations looking to establish nutritional guidelines for cat and dog food products.
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Again, when either the AAFCO OP or FEDIAF NG is used, then it should be considered in its
entirety and used as a whole, because each system has its own set of internal assumptions.
Within each of these two systems, there are common nutritional factors/principles considered
in developing complete pet foods. These principles include: intended purpose; energy; nutrient
content; digestibility; nutritional adequacy substantiation; and other considerations for
targeted species (e.g., processing and ingredients).
It may be that a company/region/association could want to develop a freestanding new set of
nutritional guidelines. There may be regional circumstances that require such an approach. It
would be hoped that newly developed guidelines are built from the foundational work already
completed by the NRC-NRDC, FEDIAF and AAFCO and this document. The recommendation is
that any newly developed guidelines encompass general nutritional principles and newer
scientifically rigorous research findings where applicable. The existing references have, and
continue to have, input from experts in cat and dog nutrition. Additionally, it is hoped that such
newly developed guidelines would not become trade barriers.
A possible Table of Contents for such guidelines documents could be:
Intended Purpose of Products
Energy Requirements and Content
Nutrient Content and Digestibility
Nutritional Adequacy Substantiation and Verification
Additional Nutritional Considerations
Intended Purpose
Pet food must be nutritionally adequate for its intended use. The intended use/purpose of the
pet food should be clearly stated on the package label. This document is intended to address
products for healthy pets and does not include additional recommendations for other types of
products such as lower or higher energy products.
The following questions may be helpful in considering the intended use:
What species is going to eat the product? Dog or cat?
Is the product to be complete and balanced or complementary/incomplete?
For what life stage of the animal is the product nutritionally adequate? All life stages or growth
or adult maintenance?
Is there some other purpose claimed on the product and if so what?
Directions for use / feeding instructions
The manufacturer should provide directions for the proper use of a pet food indicating the purpose for
which it is intended. The feeding instructions should be clear and complete, and give an indication of
GAPFA Nutrition Guidelines, November 7, 2012 Draft
the daily amounts to be fed. Feeding instructions could also provide information about the frequency of
feeding, the need to have water available, and possible need to adapt the amount according to activity.
There are two considerations regarding energy: the energy need of the intended target animals
and the energy content of the product itself. These two factors can be then used to develop
feeding directions for complete products. Complete products should have feeding directions
because they are intended as the sole source of nutrition for the target animal. The specifics on
the labeling requirements are usually described in labeling guidelines/regulations.
Determining the energy needs of the target animals (known as the metabolic energy
requirement or MER) should be done using a scientifically valid method by the individual
manufacturer based on the intended use of the product. The NRC-NRDC contains information
pertinent to this determination.
Methods of determining the energy of the product itself can be found in both the AAFCO OP
and the FEDIAF NG, as well as in the NRC-NRDC. Two basic methods are used to determine the
caloric content. First, and most commonly used, is the use of an equation (several options exist)
to calculate the energy content from the nutrient composition of the product. This is often
referred to as a ‘calculated’ method. The second methodological approach is actual feeding of
the product (feeding trial or feeding protocol) and running analyses plus calculations.
Nutrient Content
Delivery of the proper amount and balance of nutrients to the target animal is the foundation
of good nutrition. Once the intended purpose of the product and the energy are determined,
the nutrient content can be developed. Both general nutrient category levels and specific
nutrient levels can be considered. Some nutrients are considered to be required and essential,
while others are not considered to be essential, but they may be considered as appropriate for
the intended use of the food in the target animal. For the existing systems and for developing
ones, working groups of nutrition experts review new research and consider the impact of
nutrient balance and interactions when deciding upon/developing a set of nutrient
recommendations. Nutrition experts can be from academe or industry, but all should have
knowledge and experience with nutrition in the target animals and be able to critically review
published research.
Lists of recommended nutrient levels, sometimes called nutrient profiles, are available for dogs
and cats in various life stages within each of these systems (AAFCO OP, FEDIAF NG, NRC-NRDC).
Each set of nutrient levels have been developed based on a number of assumptions, nutrient
balances, nutrient/product digestibility and interactions. It is critical to consider all the
assumptions when using one of these lists and to use the appropriate list in its entirety because
of the underlying assumptions for the respective system.
While no minimum requirement is usually set for water, per se, it is an important nutrient.
GAPFA Nutrition Guidelines, November 7, 2012 Draft
Water requirements are greatly affected by life stage, climate and exertion. Products may have
an effect on water intake.
Not only must the animal eat the product (palatability), but the product must be sufficiently
digestible so that the nutrients are available to the pet. Some ingredients may contain
nutrients, but those nutrients may not be adequately available to the animal. One such
example is iron oxide, which certainly contains iron, but not in a form that is available for
absorption. Some nutrient classes, such as various fibers, are not necessarily absorbed, but are
important to be considered in the overall nutritional delivery and functionality of the product.
In general practice, digestibility of every nutrient is not determined. However, methods for
determining dry matter and protein digestibility are provided in the AAFCO OP and FEDIAF NG
(in the energy section). These determinations can result in valuable information on the function
of a product.
Nutritional Adequacy Substantiation
The goal of pet food manufacturers is to make products that deliver on their claimed nutritional
adequacy. How does a manufacturer, or for that matter a consumer, know that a product will
deliver on its promise of complete nutrition? The answer is via nutritional adequacy
Methods of substantiating the nutritional adequacy are available in both the AAFCO OP and the
FEDIAF NG. One method is via comparison of the established nutrient profiles as discussed in
the Nutrient Content section above. For this method, the nutrient levels of the product are
determined in one of two ways, either by calculations from the nutrient levels in the
ingredients in the formula or via actual chemical analysis of all of the nutrients. The nutrient
profile of the product is then compared to the established profile for the target animal in the
life stage as consistent with the intended use of the product.. These comparisons may be made
on a dry matter basis or on a per calorie basis. An additional method of substantiation is via
actual feeding of the product. Several types of feeding trials are available: growth,
reproduction, and adult maintenance with a combination of trials to support adequacy for all
life stages. In these methods, various criteria are measured and evaluated to determine if the
product can be considered nutritionally adequate.
Product validation and verification
Before a product is placed on the market, it should have undergone the necessary procedures to ensure
its adequacy. The following nutrients should be taken into consideration for evaluation of nutritional
adequacy (to be specified) Once a product has been passed and the formula remains essentially
unchanged, it is recommended that regular assessments are conducted to make sure that the product still
meets the appropriate nutritional standards and / or truly satisfies its claim of belonging to a family. The
frequency of testing is the responsibility of the manufacturer. If the manufacturer makes a major change
in the formulation or processing, complete re-analysis is recommended.
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Additionally, it is important that products continue to deliver adequate nutrition throughout the entire shelf
life of a product. Possible environmental factors, nutrient interactions and product stability can impact
nutritional delivery over time.
Additional Considerations
Many other considerations need to be taken into account when developing products that
deliver the proper nutrition to pets. Some of these considerations are given in the NRC-NRDC,
the AAFCO OP and the FEDIAF NG. They can appear in the text or as footnotes to the nutrient
tables. Again, it is quite important to read the text and the footnotes of nutritional guidelines.
Some additional considerations include:
 Palatable: the animal must eat the food in order to get the nutrients;
 Chemical form of the nutrient ingredient: this can influence availability, particularly for
vitamins and minerals;
 Type of processing: some processes might reduce nutrient content or availability more
than others;
 Stability of vitamins: stability should be maintained during storage as a premix, in the
product after processing and during the entire shelf life of the product;
 Nutrient interactions: nutrients can interact and have a negative effect on nutrient
 Oxidative stability of products: the reduction in oxidative protection of a product may
reduce the nutritional delivery;
 Presence in the product of fish containing thiaminases: such ingredients can significantly
reduce thiamin levels.
 Preservatives that might negatively impact thiamine levels, such as sulfur
dioxide/sodium/potassium sulfites.
 The goal of this guidance document is to provide general nutritional principles for use by
pet (dog and cat) food manufacturer associations in selecting a set of recommended
nutrition guidelines
 Two systems, AAFCO OP and FEDIAF NG, are fully developed, established, and functional
in outlining practical nutritional guidelines for dogs and cats.
 When adopting one of these systems, a system should be adopted in its entirety given
the specific assumptions within the respective system.
 Regardless of system, the common nutritional factors/principles in developing complete
pet foods are: intended purpose; energy; nutrient content; digestibility; nutritional
adequacy substantiation; and other considerations for targeted species (e.g., processing
and ingredients).
GAPFA Nutrition Guidelines, November 7, 2012 Draft