Any claim that a product is "complete," "balanced," "100% nutritious," or claims of a similarly nature that suggests a product is suitable for sole nourishment when it is not, in fact, nutritionally adequate for such purpose is a potentially unsafe product. For this reason, an AAFCO nutritional adequacy statement is one of the most important aspects of a dog or cat food label. A "complete and balanced" pet food must be substantiated for nutritional adequacy by one of two means.
The first method is for the pet food to contain ingredients formulated to provide levels of nutrients that meet an established profile. Presently, the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles are used. Products substantiated by this method should include the words, "(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO (Dog/Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles." This means the product contains the proper amount of all recognized essential nutrients needed to meet the needs of the healthy animal.
The alternative means of substantiating nutritional adequacy is for the product to be tested using the appropriate AAFCO Feeding Trial Protocol(s). This means that the product, or "lead" member of a "family" of products, has been fed to dogs or cats under strict guidelines and found to provide proper nutrition. These products should bear the nutritional adequacy statement "Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition."
Regardless of the method used, the nutritional adequacy statement will also state for which life stage(s) the product is suitable, such as "for maintenance," or "for growth."
A product intended "for all life stages" meets the more stringent nutritional needs for growth and reproduction. A maintenance ration will meet the needs of an adult, non-reproducing dog or cat of normal activity, but may not be sufficient for a growing, reproducing, or hard-working animal. On the other hand, an all life stages ration can be fed for maintenance. Although the higher levels of nutrients would not be harmful to the healthy adult animal, they are not really necessary. Occasionally a product may be labeled for a more specific use or life stage, such as "senior" or for a specific size or breed. However, there is little information as to the true dietary needs of these more specific uses, and no rules governing these types of statements have been established. Thus, a "senior" diet must meet the requirements for adult maintenance, but no more. A product that does not meet either of the methods for substantiation of nutritional adequacy must state that "this product is intended for intermittent or supplemental feeding only," unless the product is conspicuously identified as a “snack,” “treat.” or “supplement.”