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):
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.
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.”
(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
- 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.