What's Up Doc?

...About Complete and Balanced

By Maury Docton, DVM

It is often said that “balance” is an important consideration in almost all aspects of life; nowhere is this more critical than in nutrition. An early nutritionist made the observation “Nutriment is both food and poison. The dosage makes it either poison or remedy.”1

Since 1984, pet food sold commercially, in the US, must be “complete and balanced” for age, purpose, or all life stages as determined by an AAFCO, (Association of American Feed Control Officials) recognized nutrient profiles or through completion of the appropriate AAFCO recognized feeding protocols.2 Only two separate nutrient profiles exist for dogs and two for cats – growth or reproduction and adult maintenance.3 AAFCO feeding trials are minimum protocols that involve 8 animals fed the food for 6 months; this type of test will usually detect deficiencies, but will not detect nutrient excesses that may be harmful when fed over a long time period.4

This highlights the importance of nutritional research; the benefits of a diet can only be determined by analyzing how a group of nutrients behaves in the animals’ body. While boosting the presence of one ingredient in the food may benefit one part of the pet, that does not reflect the impact of the ingredient on the total nutrition of the dog or cat.

Whatever one puts in a diet affects the entire diet – it can influence the energy available to the animal, the minerals, or the levels of protein, fat, and fiber. An example of this would be the addition of higher levels of vegetables to a diet. Since there are only three sources of energy in the diet (protein, fat, and carbohydrate starch), the addition of vegetables would increase the amount of starch sources in the food and either protein and/or fat would have to be reduced to maintain the proper energy density of the food. This concept of a balanced approach to nutrition is critically important in extreme situations, such as diets for miniature breed dogs, where the stomach may be the size of a walnut but, the nutritional needs still involve the same body systems and processes as a much larger animal – diet design and formulation is a science.

Consider This

There is only so much room in a kibble of food, all the nutritional needs of the animal must be met in that food or deficiencies will show themselves. Often those deficiencies will first become evident in the skin and hair coat of the pet. This is primarily because the body will draw nutrients from the parts least essential for survival to meet the needs of parts that are essential; for example, if the amount and type of protein in the food is not sufficient, the hair and skin will not receive the protein they normally need because the heart will take what it needs to function first. This may not be immediately evident since the body has an amazing way of adjusting its internal processes to survive.

I examined a dog once that had only eaten turkey necks for the first six years of its life; I was examining it because it was now suffering from tremendous mineral imbalances that were creating breaks in its bones. The heart and kidneys needed some important nutrients to function, and that was more important for survival than the strength of the bones. Even commercially marketed raw food diets can have dangers, as expressed in this quote, ...“there are clearly nutritional and health risks associated with feeding raw food diets. All the diets tested had nutrient deficiencies or excesses that could cause serious health problems when used in a long term feeding program.”5 The question becomes “What do I feed my pet?” especially when the main guidelines come from regulatory agency recommendations that are based on short-term feeding protocols that look at minimum requirements. The options are (1) to trust fad diets based on human food trends, or (2) to trust companies that do long-term nutritional research and whose mission statement says “...to enhance the well-being of dogs and cats ...” – at Iams, and now P&G Pet Care, that has been our method and goal for over 60 years.


1 T.B. von Hohenheim.
2 Hand et al., Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th Ed, p.155.
3 Ibid., p.149.
4 Ibid., p155.
5 Freeman, L. JAVMA, vol 218 No. 5, 2001.