What is a Guaranteed Analysis on the Dog Food Label?

Guaranteed Analysis — dog food packaging is required to have this designation and print it on packaging before dog food makes its way to stores, but what does it actually mean?

The Guaranteed Analysis (GA) relates to the nutrient profile you find on your dog food package. The nutrient shows pet owners the food’s basic nutrient composition — how much crude protein, fat, vitamins and minerals are in the food, based on a specific serving size. Packages with a Guaranteed Analysis mean the product contains what it says it on the nutritional label and that the food has been tested in a lab. 

A GA is mandatory for all commercial pet food manufactured and distributed in the United States. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets the guideline for what food is eligible for a Guaranteed Analysis. The AAFCO is a private, non-profit corporation made up of local, state and federal agencies and it sets the guideline for what food is eligible for a Guaranteed Analysis, but doesn’t regulate dog food directly.

Dog food is split into two broad categories with two different nutrient profiles:

To qualify for a GA, dog food must meet one of the AAFCO Dog or Cat Food Nutrient Profiles or pass a feeding trial using AAFCO procedures. To pass the nutrient profile, the food has to contain every nutrient the AAFCO requires at the recommended level. The list of nutrients includes everything from protein and fat, to minerals and vitamins. The whole list is available through the AFFCO’s website. The AAFCO nutrient levels have changed over time, and were originally based on National Research Council (NRC) requirements. The NRC hasn’t produced new profiles since 2006, and AAFCO has  been the driving force for setting guidelines. But given AAFCOs connections to the pet food industry, and the fact that it rarely sets maximums on any ingredient levels (which could lead to toxicity for specific ingredients), its recommendations can be taken with a grain of salt. Not all dog food is created equally, even if it all has a GA. Additionally, feeding trials are relatively short and can involve as little as six dogs, which is a very small sample size to determine if a food is safe and nutritious for the tens of millions of pet dogs in the United States and Canada.

A GA is mandatory for any dog food labelled “complete and balanced” by the food manufacturer. Anyone claiming “complete and balanced” is required to have a lab test their product.

“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,” the FDA states. 

Essentially, a Guaranteed Analysis on dog food labeled “complete and balanced” means dogs can eat that food every day and that it contains the right nutrients. 

However, food clearly marked as a treat product, or a supplement, does not require a GA. Any products with language on the package like “intended for intermittent feeding” or “supplementary feeding only” don’t require a GA because these foods don’t meet special nutritional needs.  

Treats are meant to be fed for training or as a reward, not an ongoing meal. Because they are designed to be tasty and fed as an extra, they likely don’t contain everything a dog needs to maintain a healthy body weight. Some treats are single ingredients, like a dried sardine, and some are a combo of ingredients designed to entice a dog into good behavior or listening.

Alternately, if a food is being marketed as low calorie or high protein, this needs to be proved in the nutritional statement. In regards to less or reduced fat, the AAFCO says “A product displaying this claim must name the product of comparison and its fat content, and include the maximum crude fat percentage in its guaranteed analysis.” 

The GA is needed to support the nutritional claims of a dog food using descriptive language like reduced fat.

Other specific claims also need to be supported with a GA via a lab test.

“Guarantees for other nutrients may be required to support claims made in labeling (such as “High in calcium and vitamin A”), and you may include voluntary guarantees for other nutrients,” the AAFCO notes in its labelling requirements.