Understanding Dog Food Ranking

Understanding Dog Food Ranking

There are many factors to consider when buying a new type of food for your dog. You have to look at the amount of each ingredient the food contains, and whether or not the food is suitable for your dog’s age group.

That’s a lot of information to take in, especially if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. As a guide, there are several dog food ranking methods to help you make the right decision. The most popular of these are the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) dog food nutrient profiles. While these don’t provide direct dog food rankings, they do help you to understand how much of each ingredient should go into a food and, more importantly, how much your dog needs to be healthy.

But the AAFCO isn’t the only organization that helps you to understand dog food rankings. The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has its own set of standards you can use to determine the quality of a dog food. Let’s look at the latter before moving onto the former.

The FDA’s Dog Food Ranking

The FDA regulates dog food using the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). Under the FFDCA, a dog food must be safe for the dog to eat and contain no substances that could damage the dog’s health. The act also regulates the conditions in which manufacturers make their foods, as well as dog food labeling.

The FDA judges canned dog foods on even stricter criteria. These also have to meet low-acid regulations to prevent the growth of microorganisms in the can.

As such, you can feel safe in the knowledge that a dog food meets stringent safety standards if it carries the FDA seal of approval. But the FDA doesn’t make it a requirement that all pet foods meet its terms. This means it’s also possible to buy dog foods that are not FDA-regulated.

In that way, you can consider the FDA seal of approval as a basic form of dog food ranking. Any food that carries it will have undergone rigorous testing. It will be safe for your dog to eat, and have a label that tells you exactly what the food contains. Be wary of any dog foods that don’t carry FDA approval, as it may be difficult to verify the quality measures the manufacturer uses to ensure the food is safe for your dog.


Beyond FDA regulation, you also have the AAFCO. This is a non-profit collective of federal and state officials, who work with experts to set standards for pet food in the United States.The FDA often uses the guidelines the AAFCO creates for its own standards of pet food labeling. But, the AAFCO is not a regulatory agency in its own right.

The AAFCO’s form of dog food ranking comes by way of its “complete and balanced” label. This signifies that a dog food meets the nutritional guidelines the AAFCO has outlined, making it one of the most complete foods you can buy for your dog. The organization has also created a pair of nutrient profiles that you can use to pick a food that suits your dog’s current stage in life. These are:

  • Growth and reproduction.
  • Adult maintenance.

As such, a dog food that carries FDA approval, the “complete and balanced” label, and the AAFCO’s adult maintenance profile will provide everything that an adult dog needs to be healthy.

The Difference between the Profiles

Let’s look at the profiles in more detail. Adult maintenance is fairly self-explanatory. This means the dog food contains the combination of ingredients needed to ensure an adult dog stays healthy.

The growth and reproduction profile is slightly more complicated. This signifies that the food works best for puppies and pregnant dogs, as well as lactating females. Each of these types of dogs has different nutritional needs, so you may need to look beyond the growth and reproduction profile to ensure the food contains the right ingredients for your dog.

AAFCO Reviews

You can find the AAFCO review at the end of the dog food recipe.

This letter does not represent a dog food ranking based on quality. Instead, the letter tells you which of the profiles the food fits into. They are:

  • A – All life stages
  • G – Growth and reproduction
  • M – Adult maintenance
  • S – Supplemental feeding

Some foods may also receive a U, which means the food has yet to undergo AAFCO review.

Meeting the Nutrient Profiles

So how does the AAFCO determine which foods fit into which nutritional profiles? The organization carries out extensive laboratory tests before it confers a nutritional profile on a product. These test can take two forms:

  • Laboratory analysis with live feeding trials
  • Laboratory analysis only

You can use the label to determine which of the two trials a food has gone through. A food that has undergone feeding trials will say so on the label, mentioning the AAFCO by name. One that has only completed laboratory analysis will not mention feeding trials, but will still mention the AAFCO.

In both cases, you can feel safe in the knowledge that the food contains everything your dog needs nutritionally. This food will also carry a “G” or “M” rating from the AAFCO and tend to rank highly on most independent dog food ranking lists.

Any food that does not carry a label confirming it has passed these tests will instead have one telling you should only use the food for supplemental feeding. These foods carry the “S” rating.

You then have the “A” rating. This signifies that the food has passed the AAFCO’s laboratory analysis, at least, for both the adult maintenance and growth and reproduction profiles. This means you can feed it to dogs of all ages.

Finally, the “U” rating tells you that the food has not undergone any AAFCO tests. Be wary of any dog foods that carry this rating.

The Final Word

You should now know how the FDA and AAFCO conduct their dog food ranking. Use this information to select foods that will help your dog grow or maintain its health, depending on its age. Avoid any foods that do not meet either organization’s standards, as these will often not provide the nutrients your dog needs.

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