We all grew up looking at the food pyramid in our elementary school classes. Carbohydrates such as pasta and bread were on the bottom while other food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, proteins, and fats made up the rest of the food pyramid to create a model of a balanced diet.
While most of us will have some version of the human food pyramid forever ingrained in our minds, we don’t often think about what a complete and balanced diet looks like for our dogs – at least not in the same way that we think about our own diets. We hear “complete and balanced” dog food all the time when talking about dog nutrition, but what does it really mean? How is it backed up? Is it a worthwhile standard to keep your dog healthy? And when it comes to our dogs' nutrition, how do we go about balancing it?
Complete & Balanced Dog Food – What It Really Means
If a dog food is labeled “complete and balanced”, it means that it provides your pet the right amounts (in the right proportions) of every single nutrient that his body needs: every day, every meal. A food that earns the complete and balanced label is designed to be fed as your dog’s sole diet, as determined by the Association of American Feed Control Official’s (AAFCO) Dog Food Nutrient Profile, or by passing a feeding trial using AAFCO procedures. Treats, snacks and supplements may not be nutritionally balanced, so they don’t earn this designation.
The Food & Drug Administration stands by the importance of AAFCO’s standards:
"When you see a reference to either an AAFCO nutrient profile or a feeding trial using AAFCO procedures on a pet food label, you’re better assured that the ‘complete and balanced’ claim is valid. Endorsements and seals of approval from other organizations are not assurances of nutritional adequacy and may be misleading.” - FDA
Why Should I Trust AAFCO?
The Nutrient Profile for both cats and dogs is updated as new nutritional information from scientific studies becomes available. While it’s true that AAFCO itself doesn’t regulate or test dog food on the market, each state has feed control officials that do these exhaustive checks – most have adopted AAFCO recommendations – and ensure that each pet food company is compliant for manufacturing safety and nutritional quality. (You can even read the feed inspector’s manual for what to check, how to check, and how to enforce these policies.) It’s because of these inspectors’ rigorous procedures that prevent “just anyone” from putting an AAFCO-compliant dog food on the market.
So What Does a Complete & Balanced Dog Food Look Like?
A quick note before we jump in: Every dog has a different balanced diet unique to them. Anything from changing life stages to different breed sizes can affect your dog's nutritional needs. Senior dogs have different needs than puppies and a blend of dog food that's healthy for your huge Great Dane probably won't be best for your small Pug. For the sake of this infographic, we're talking about the basic nutritional requirements for the maintenance of an adult dog, plus just some of the ingredients Just Right uses to deliver those balanced nutrients. (For a recommendation that’s tailored for your dog’s nutritional needs, create a blend and see.)
In short, to ensure a dog has a healthy diet, there are a variety of nutrients they should consume. The summary of essential nutrients based off AAFCO’s recommendations below is also illustrated in the infographic below.Vitamins (<1% of a dog’s diet)
Vitamins are responsible for a vast range of functions within your dog’s body, including aiding in DNA synthesis, energy release from nutrients, bone development, eye function, maintenance of cell structure, blood clotting, nerve signal transmission, and everything in between.
Palatants (~2% of a dog’s diet)
Palatants play an important role in your dog’s diet, but not in the way everything else in the pyramid does. While high-quality ingredients are hard at work making your dog’s food nutritious, palatants make his food delicious too.
Minerals (2-4% of a dog’s diet)
Fat (5-20% of a dog’s diet)
Fat is a source of energy and enhances the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. These essential nutrients help your dog maintain healthy skin and coat, promote a healthy immune system, and aid in the development of healthy joins, brain, and vision.
Protein (17-30% of a dog’s diet)
Protein and amino acids are the building blocks of your dog’s body that are responsible for building organs and tissues like tendons, muscles, skin, hair, and blood. Protein also functions as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies.
Carbohydrate (28-55% of a dog’s diet, including >5% fiber)
Carbohydrate is an efficient source of glucose for energy, a source of heat for the body, and can be stored as glycogen. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that aids in maintaining colon health, managing weight, and obesity.
Visit our Ingredients page to get more information about any of our ingredients.
How Do You Make a 100% Balanced Dog Food?
At Just Right, we take balancing the nutrition inside our blends seriously.
When it comes to dogs, our nutritionist, Chris Wildman, and his colleagues need to understand anatomy, physiology and biochemistry. They need to understand nutrient profiles of ingredients, how different nutrients and processes work together, and what biological effects they’ll have within your dog’s body. And they also need to understand how to balance it all to provide 100% complete and balanced dog food nutrition for every meal. Each ingredient is specifically chosen for the nutrients it’ll deliver. It’s a carefully chosen, carefully calculated process.
It’s always good to know the kind of nutrients that your dog needs, but there’s only so much you can deduce by looking at AAFCO recommendation range or even the back of a dog food label. Why not take the guesswork out? Create a personalized blend of food for your unique dog: complete, balanced and tailored for his nutritional needs and preferences.
Association of American Feed Control Officials. 2014. AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles. http://www.aafco.org/Portals/0/SiteContent/Regulatory/Committees/Pet-Food/Reports/Pet_Food_Report_2013_Midyear-Proposed_Revisions_to_AAFCO_Nutrient_Profiles.pdf
Hand MS, Novotny BJ. 2002. Pocket Companion to Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Edition. Topeka (KS): Mark Morris Institute.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 2016. “Complete and Balanced” Pet Food. http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/ResourcesforYou/ucm047120.htm