Raw Diets & The AAFCO Standard

Raw Diets & The AAFCO Standard (The Association Of American Feed Control Officers)

Author: Jason Raynor

One of the biggest arguments against raw diets that veterinarians and the various animal-related government organizations have is that you cannot maintain nutritional balance feeding a raw diet. They claim that the pet foods that meet the AAFCO standards are “complete and balanced” nutritionally for your pet. This may be true for cats and dogs but unfortunately as of at least 2009, there is NO NUTRITIONAL STANDARD FOR FERRETS. This was confirmed in a response to an email sent to the AAFCO (I just recently requested the same information and will update this article when and if I get a response). Here is the relevant section of the email response (follow the link for the original forum thread):

“You are correct in that AAFCO has approved the nutritional standards for dog food and cat food. AAFCO has established the AAFCO Dog Food (and Cat Food) Nutrient Profiles which is a listing of the recognized nutrients and their levels that must be in dog food and cat food. AAFCO does not determine the essentiality of the nutrients, as the AAFCO Dog Food (and Cat Food) Nutrient Profiles are based on the nutrient recommendations of the National Research Council (NRC) for dogs and cats. The NRC publishes several publications for different species of domesticated animals, but I am unaware of any NRC publication or nutrient recommendation for ferrets. The NRC does issue a Publication Number 10 for the Nutrient Requirements of Laboratory Animals for the Rat, Mouse, Gerbil, Guinea Pig, Hamster, Vole and Fish.”

AAFCO Representative

So what does this mean? How are pet food companies producing pet foods for ferrets and getting them approved as “complete and balanced”? Well, technically they could be doing their own research and then just putting it on the shelves without AAFCO approval but that is unlikely (and 100% biased information coming from a company whose primary goal is profit). The more likely option is that they are following the official AAFCO food trial requirements in order to be confirmed as “complete and balanced”. The AAFCO states that pet food must either meet their nutritional standards as stated (remember, there are no stated standards for ferrets) or complete a certified food trial. 

“2. The second option is for the pet food to pass an animal feeding trial using procedures developed by AAFCO in the AAFCO Dog and Cat Food Feeding Protocols. The AAFCO Protocols mandate factors such as the length of the trial, the number of animals, the feeding procedures and the diagnostic tests which determine if the feeding trial was successful. For products that pass an animal feeding trial using the AAFCO Feeding Protocols, the label must bear the following statement:
“Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (product name) provides complete and balanced nutrition for _________.” (Blank is to be completed by using the stage or stages of the pet’s life tested such as gestation, lactation, growth, maintenance or the words “All Life Stages”.)
This method can be used by companies to formulate products that may or may not meet the AAFCO Nutrient Profiles. Examples are those products used by the veterinarian in their treatment of certain conditions where the pet’s diet must be lower in protein, sodium, etc.”


See here for more information regarding AAFCO requirements for a “complete and balanced” pet food. 

So the question becomes…what are the requirements in a AAFCA food trial? Well, surprise, surprise, they are pretty lax and the trial is only for 26 weeks. See below for the official requirements.

Official AAFCO Feeding Trial Requirements

“Products found to be “complete and balanced” by feeding trials bear the label statement “animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition.” 

The protocol requires six of eight animals to complete a 26-week feeding trial without showing clinical or pathological signs of nutritional deficiency or excess. The cats’ or dogs’ general health is evaluated by a veterinarian before and after the test. Four blood values (hemoglobin, packed cell volume, serum alkaline phosphatase and serum albumin) are measured after the trial, and the average values of the test subjects must meet minimum levels. No animal is allowed to lose more than 15% of its starting weight.

 – Wikipedia Link


(anyone notice that they do not require minimum levels of taurine?)

So…what does all this mean for ferrets on a raw diet? Well, to put it bluntly. Vets have NO GROUND TO STAND ON when it comes to claims that a raw diet cannot be nutritionally balanced. If the food trial standards above are all that is required for a ferret food to be considered “complete and balanced”, then I think it is safe to say that raw diets (with a balanced menu plan including bone-in meats, heart, muscle meat and organs) MEET OR EXCEED these requirements considering people have maintained extremely healthy ferrets for YEARS on raw diets. Along with the benefit of NOT exposing the ferret to species inappropriate ingredients which can increase the risk of developing insulinoma (carbs and sugars).

To take it one step further…these are some of the “approved” ingredients for a “complete and balanced” pet food published by the AAFCO:

  • dehydrated garbage (you read that right)
  • polyethylene roughage (plastic)
  • hydrolyzed poultry feathers
  • hydrolyzed hair
  • hydrolyzed leather meal
  • some 36 chemical preservatives
  • peanut skins and hulls
  • corn cob fractions
  • ground corn cob
  • ground clamshells
  • poultry, cow and pig feces and litter
  • hundreds of chemicals
  • a host of antibiotics and chemotherapeutic pharmaceuticals
  • a variety of synthetic flavourings
  • adjuvants
  • sequestrates
  • stabilizers
  • anticaking agents

This list was found in an article on Wysong’s site (producer of one of the better ferret kibbles available). I cannot back this up as the official AAFCO document that they are citing seems to only be available to actual members of the AAFCO (oh, how I would LOVE to get a copy of this document). I have given up on trying to find a copy but I’m sure a company as large as Wysong managed to get their hands on one.