Join Club

Healthy Paws: Pet Food Part I, The Most Important Part of the Label

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

One of the most common questions we’re faced with is “What’s the best food for my pet?”  Though a full discussion of what makes up the ideal diet is well beyond the scope of our space here (and also hugely open to debate), we’d like to take the next few installments to address some of the more basic pet-food basics as well as answer specific questions you may have. Please submit specific questions via email, and we will address in subsequent posts.

Pet food companies deserve an A+ in the marketing department, but with all the great marketing, it takes a bit of work to sift through what really is the best nutrition for our pets.  When looking at a bag of dog food, how do you know if it’s a “good” food or not?  Our goal over the next few posts is to help you become more comfortable when evaluating a pet food label.

Perhaps the most important information on a bag of pet food is the AAFCO Statement.  The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is a voluntary membership association of local, state and federal agencies responsible for regulating the sale and distribution of animal feeds.  They regulate not only the sale of pet food, but also livestock feeds (though they are responsible for regulation, they actually have no regulatory authority — this falls upon the FDA).

The AAFCO Statement is a declaration of nutritional adequacy which indicates 1) whether the food is complete and balanced, 2) what type of pet the food is for, and 3) for what life stages the food is suited for.  This statement is typically found in rather small print on the back of a bag of pet food (and if it is not found, this warrants further investigation before purchasing the food, in our opinion).

“Complete and balanced” means that all necessary nutrients for the particular life stage are included, and in appropriate ratios.  Different life stages have different requirements for quantities and ratios of key nutrients.

When addressing life stages, the different categories for both dogs and cats are:

  • gestation
  • growth
  • maintenance
  • all life stages

While an “all life stages” food is tempting, we typically recommend feeding for the more appropriate life stage – you wouldn’t necessarily want a six-month-old infant eating the same diet as a 75-year-old adult.

The AAFCO Statement will appear one of two ways:

  1. “[Name]  is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog (or Cat) Food Nutrient Profiles for [life stage(s)],” indicating that laboratory analysis have verified the nutrient profiles.
  1. “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate [Name] provides complete and balanced nutrition for [life stage(s)]” indicating that actual feeding trials have been completed and shown to provide appropriate nutrition for test animals.

For more information on interpreting pet food labels, visit AAFCO’s website at

Have a question about animal nutrition? Clarendon Animal Care wants to help! Submit your question to [email protected]com and use “ARLnow” in the subject line. Look out for the answer in an upcoming column.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Recent Stories

The Old Bike Shop in Lyon Park is closing next month after a decade in business. Owner Lawrence Behery told ARLnow that he’s shuttering the used bike repair and sales…

Ballston is about to get spicier with Hangry Joe’s Hot Chicken Pub & Wings opening next week. The Nashville-style hot chicken chain plans to open its newest location on Monday…

Local Boy Scouts of America and Girls Scouts troops in Virginia may get some tax relief — if a local lawmakers succeeds in modifying the state constitution. Inspired by the…

Morning Notes

Limits to Ranked Choice Voting — “The field may be as many as a half-dozen by the time the dust settles, but for voters in June’s Arlington County Board Democratic…

St. Charles offers a play-based curriculum in a welcoming, Christ-centered environment.

Our program focuses on socio-emotional development and kindergarten readiness through hands-on and engaging activities. Our programs offer different schedules ranging from 7:30 am-5:30 pm for students, ages 2-5. We feature a full-day Jr. kindergarten class for older 4’s/5’s. Our facility includes a full-sized gymnasium, school chapel, and library. All of our students enjoy music and physical education weekly. Children have an opportunity to participate in enrichment classes such as soccer, basketball, ballet, and science.

We offer Summer Camp with weekly themes and twice a week water play, including Fun Friday moon bounce. Please join us for our Open House Feb. 3 at 9:30 am and 11:00 am. Click here to sign-up.

For more information or to schedule a tour, visit us at or call (703) 527-0608.

Submit your own Announcement here.

If you are a lifelong learner over 50+ who wants to make new friends, power up your brain, and enjoy a wide-variety college-level courses, Encore Learning is for you. An Arlington based nonprofit, Encore Learning offers courses in the arts, theater, literature, history, technology and more. This semester we offer our most popular course, Global Hot Spots as well as 25 new courses. Courses are presented either online or in-person at George Mason University at Virginia Square and other Arlington locations.

Join the free presentation to learn about courses and meet the instructors. This is Encore Learning’s signature event to highlight the upcoming semester with brief presentations by each instructor.

The Spring Course Preview event is Thursday, February 2nd at 9:30 AM via Zoom:

Read More

Submit your own Announcement here.

First-time Moms Meet & Greet

The truth, your first pregnancy and new mom months are full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and lots of questions! None of us really know the best way to do it – we just figure it out, together…


Subscribe to our mailing list