Not-So “Complete and Balanced”

Most likely you’ve been told before to buy only “complete and balanced” dog food that has been AAFCO approved.

In a past article, I shared how manufacturing processes, artificial supplements, and combining macronutrients don’t allow dogs to get “100% complete and balanced nutrition” from commercial foods. You can find that article here: The “Complete and Balanced” Myth


Recently, I discovered another reason commercial dog foods cannot be complete and balanced.


“Complete and Balanced” only works when feeding the right amount.

Complete and Balanced means the food contains every nutrient your dog needs in the amounts he needs. The catch? The nutrients are balanced per 1,000 kcal.

However, if your dog doesn’t need a thousand calories, say he’s a little lazy and only needs 750 kcals, then he isn’t going to get 100% of that complete and balanced nutrition.

Pet food consumer advocate, Susan Thixton, explained this dilemma well in her article “Complete and Balanced. Maybe… Maybe Not”. 


This is Rover. He is a lovable 30 pound couch potato. Walking ten foot out into the back yard several times a day to ‘go potty’ is the most exercise Rover gets.

Rover’s family pays close attention to his weight. They have found that feeding Rover 25% less pet food is the perfect serving size to maintain Rover’s waistline.

What Rover’s family doesn’t realize however, is the result of feeding 25% less pet food could result in Rover getting only 75% of the nutrients he needs. Overtime, Rover could get sick from nutrient deficiencies.


Feeding Recommendations Don’t Make A “Complete and Balanced” Diet

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires manufacturers to make their formulas “complete and balanced” per every one thousand kcals. However, this doesn’t mean they are balanced per the serving suggestions though.

While dogs have varying energy (calorie) requirements, the dog’s demand for micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, is not based on his energy needs but his weight.

Serving recommendations on pet food packages often include recommendations for “active” and “inactive” dogs. However, despite the activity level of your dog, he still needs a certain amount of micronutrients.

If two dogs both weigh twenty pounds, but one is active and one is lazy, their calorie needs will be different. However, their vitamin and mineral requirements will be the same, because of their body size.

If your dog’s food does not supply the right calorie and micronutrient amounts for his weight, then his diet is not “Complete and Balanced.”


Ignoring calorie requirements of active or inactive pets causes some pets to consume higher levels of vitamins and minerals for their body size, and causes some pets to consume insufficient levels of vitamins and minerals for their body size.


Your Dog’s Needs

You probably buy dog food that is AAFCO approved as “complete and balanced.” There are two problems with this concept though.

First, this bit of advice is rather useless considering that most commercial pet foods now are AAFCO approved. Pet food manufacturers know that pet owners look for this standard, so more are complying with the requirements. It doesn’t help narrow your search.

Second, AAFCO approved doesn’t mean it will be “complete and balanced” for your dog. Because your dog’s needs are not cookie-cutter perfect, they are unique.

Almost no dog eats precisely 1000 kcals, equaling 100% complete and balanced nutrition, every day. Pet owners are feeding their dogs more for a healthy weight. Thus they feed less than the recommendations on the package.

Say you reduce your dog’s meals to just two-thirds the serving-size to maintain his healthy weight. Feeding more will probably make your dog fat, which is unhealthy, and giving less makes the micronutrient imbalance wider. So how can you make your dog’s diet more complete?


Supplement With A Variety of Whole Foods

If you’re worried about giving your dog real whole, fresh foods (people food) check out this article first: Table Scraps: What’s the Truth? There are some pretty awesome benefits to feeding your dog real food.

In an interview, dog food formulator, Steve Brown, told pet owners what they could add to commercial and homemade raw diets to make them more complete.

For those feeding their dogs a homemade raw (or cooked) diet he suggests adding mussels. Mussels contain a host of nutrients and are well known for supporting healthy joints.

For those feeding commercial diets (kibble or canned), Brown suggests replacing one-fourth of the dog’s meal with one-fourth of a can of sardines (in water or olive oil, not soy oil he says).
Sardines provide many micronutrients not available in commercial foods due to cooking procedures and are a healthy source of fats, vitamins, and minerals.
These amounts are suggested for a forty pound dog and should be adjusted according to your dog’s weight and calorie needs. Sardines contain lots of healthy fats which boost calories, thus commercial food reduction is necessary to feed a healthy amount of calories.

Along the same lines, some pet owners find that replacing a portion of their dog’s food with fresh lean meat, or canned green beans will reduce enough calories to encourage healthy weight while adding extra nutrients to help balance out the diet and enough fiber to help the dog feel full and satisfied.

Other options might be making your dog’s food yourself, and supplementing his diet with some Healthy Additions for variety.

Your efforts to balance your dog’s diet yourself could give him/her a longer, healthier life.


– Cassy Kay




dogs, dog food, completed and balanced dog food, processing, macronutrient combination, AAFCO








Habib, Rodney. Video. Accessed April 3, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “Complete and Balanced. Maybe… maybe not.” Feb. 5, 2018. Web. Accessed April 3, 2018.

Thixton, Susan. “Is 100% Complete and Balanced Pet Food really Complete?” Truth About Pet Dec. 15, 2010. Web. Aug. 8, 2017. <>

Thixton, Susan. “Complete and Balanced and Misleading.” Truth About Pet Mar. 31, 2014. Web. Aug. 8, 2017. <> 


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