The “Complete and Balanced” Myth

‘Complete and Balanced’ is the claim that pet foods following the American Association of Feed Control Officials’ guidelines get to print on their bags. Can a processed dog food be “complete and balanced?”

The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has set nutrient requirements as guidelines for pet food manufacturers to follow. These requirements list the minimum percentages of fat and protein, but not maximums.

What are AAFCO’s nutrient requirement minimums?

Adult maintenance dog food:

18% protein, 5% fat. No maximums.

Puppy food:

22% protein, 8% fat. No maximums.

Senior Dog food:

Same as Adult maintenance. No maximums.

Note: These percentages look different on canned wet foods due to their moisture content. They still comply with the requirements above.


What is ‘Complete and Balanced’:

Complete: Containing all the micro and macronutrients necessary for a dog to thrive.

 Balanced: Having all those nutrients in proper proportions.

Most likely you’ve been told before to buy only dog food that has been AAFCO approved as “complete and balanced.” Doing so gives you ease of mind that your dog is receiving 100% of everything he needs. Right?

I’ve had a little question at the back of my mind: Can a processed food be complete and balanced? How do manufacturers know the exact science of balancing every nutrient in one bowl of dog food?

Well, here’s what I found out.

These are the first few problems I found with claiming a processed dog food was “complete and balanced.” (Tired of reading that phrase yet?)


Cooking, Heating, Extrusion, and Drying

Dog food, specifically dry kibble, is repeatedly heated. Each ingredient comes in a powdered form. The ingredients are then combined under heat to form the dough.

Heat and pressure cook the dough; this is called extrusion. It is then pressed through a die-cut into the desired shape before being dried in an oven.

The result is that your dog’s food is cooked four times!

This repetitive heating will destroy the delicate vitamins, minerals, and other micro-nutrients.

Micronutrients must be added back in as synthetic supplements in a spray with fats and flavor enhancers on the kibble. Instead of leaving the balance of nutrients in fresh, raw foods as designed by God, this entrusts the “complete and balanced” science up to pet food manufacturers.


Artificial Supplements

Since when were synthetic vitamins and minerals, produced in laboratories, nutritionally “complete and balanced?”

Isn’t your dog’s body is designed to absorb nutrients, break them down and use them, from whole foods?

Synthetic vitamins, minerals, and amino acids break down poorly, and that means trouble.

Dogs have trouble breaking down and absorbing synthetic supplements, putting them at risk for deficiencies and imbalances. Again, processed dog food doesn’t live up to the “complete and balanced” claim.


Combining Macronutrients

Macronutrients are the more significant nutritional needs, the essentials.

There are four basics – water, protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Three of these are essential to dogs: water, protein, and fat. Dogs have no nutritional requirement for carbohydrates.

When protein, fat, and carbohydrates are all combined in the typical “proportional” amount, dogs have trouble digesting all the concentrated nutrients.

Large amounts of fats and carbohydrates combined are too much for the dog to digest and the excess goes to fat cells. When your dog’s body is busy escorting excess nutrients to the fat cells, it also has a difficult time assembling vital minerals and vitamins from the larger macronutrients.

Some vitamins are fat-soluble, and others are water-soluble and must be digested with the proper accompanying nutrients to be absorbed and utilized by the body.

Certain minerals must be eaten with the proper amounts of other minerals (such as calcium and phosphorous) to be well absorbed and to balance the body’s functions.

These micro-nutrients can’t be “balanced” with synthetic, difficult-to-digest supplements.


Oil in a Boot?

A pet food manufacturer once made a mock product that met the AAFCO nutrition requirements for pet food. It had 10% protein, 6.5% fat, 2.4% fiber and 68% moisture like average canned pet foods.

The ingredients? Leather boots, used motor oil, wood chips and coal.A

AAFCO’s “complete and balanced” claim is based on guidelines, not on consistent nutritional content or the source and quality of that “nutrition.” Their nutrient requirements are not laws, just guidelines that any manufacturer can adhere to so they can add particular claims to their bag.

The nutritional content of your dog’s bag of food can vary dramatically. Protein percentages range from 18% to above 40% yet all still meet the requirement for “complete and balanced” nutrition.

Fat percentages can vary from 8% to 15% and still meet the requirements. Calories can range from 230 to 445 per cup!

What reassurance does the “complete and balanced” claim give us as pet owners? It can only tell you the minimum amount of protein, fat, and calories in your dog’s food.

It won’t tell you if the protein might be too much for a dog prone to urine crystals or if the fat might be too high for a dog with heart disease.


An Expert Opinion

Dr. Randy Wysong of the Wysong pet food company says this about complete and balanced pet food:

“Every day, people by the millions pour food from a package into their pet’s bowl. Day in and day out, meal after meal, pets get the same fare. This strange phenomenon is widely practiced by loving pet owners who believe they are doing the right thing.”

“Why? Certainly, because it is convenient, but also because the labels state that such foods are “complete and balanced,” “100% complete,” or that they have passed various analytical and feeding test standards. Furthermore, manufacturers, and even veterinarians, counsel pet owners about not feeding other foods, such as table scraps, because of the danger of unbalancing these modern processed nutritional marvels. The power of the message is so great that pet owners en masse do every day to their pets what they would never do to themselves or their children, force-feed the same processed food at every meal.”

Dr. Wysong brings up an excellent point, “In order for nutritionists and manufacturers to produce a ‘100% complete and balanced’ pet food, they must first know 100% about nutrition.”  He says that nutrition is “not a completed science.  It is, in fact, an aggregate science, which is based upon other sciences, such as chemistry, physics, and biology.  But since no scientist would argue that everything is known in chemistry, or physics, or biology, how can nutritionists claim to know everything there is to know about nutrition, which is based upon these sciences? This is the logical absurdity of the “100% complete and balanced” diet claim.” D


A Lesson in History

My grandfather can remember his grandparent’s dogs eating nothing but table scraps. Raw or cooked veggies and meats, and whatever else was part of their meals.

What’s more interesting about this is that none of their dogs had cancer or were overweight.

His grandparents weren’t worried about balancing their dog’s food any more than they would get out a calculator and balance every nutrient in every meal for themselves. Nonsense! No one has time for that.

Balance is why we eat a different meal every day. Three of them to be exact (not to mention snacks). The variation of each meal makes up for the imbalances in the other meals.


Myth or Truth?

So, what do you think?

Are manufactured pet foods complete and balanced? Is your dog’s single food source providing complete and balanced nutrition?

For those of you who are concerned with making every meal complete and balanced another pet nutrition blogger has addressed your concern in this video. Let him show you just how simple making a complete and balanced meal can be.

For those convinced that you are feeding your dog a nutritionally in-complete, processed food, here are two simple solutions.


First, switch to making your dog’s food yourself.

Preparing your dog’s food yourself is one of the best things you can do for your canine companion. It gives you much more control over what goes in your dog’s diet and therefore the safety of every meal.

It’s a chance to get creative and add Healthy Additions to his diet so he can thrive!

If you have a little more money, but less time, consider buying a commercially prepared raw, dehydrated, or freeze-dried food.

You may even be able to find a local fresh dog food company who will deliver the food to your door.


Second, supplement with whole fresh foods.

Like some of us on tight budgets and busy time schedules, you may have to feed a ready-made meal of kibble.

You can upgrade your dog’s meals by adding to his bowl of kibble a variety of fresh vegetables and meats. Whether raw or lightly steamed, adding fresh meats and brightly colored vegetables (bell peppers, squash, kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, carrots, etc.) provides those essential nutrients in their natural form.

Easily digested, undamaged by heated processing, and readily utilized, those essential nutrients will bring his diet closer to the desired “complete and balanced” meal.

So, will your best friend’s single food source remain unvarying? Or will you add just a little color to his life and dare to balance his food yourself?

I encourage you to try it.


– Cassy Kay


dogs, dog food, complete and balanced, myth busted, not-so complete and balanced, kcal,, susan thixton, rover


A Foster and Smith, Dr.’s. “Dog Food Labels.” Pet Web. Aug. 8, 2017. <>

B Habib, Rodney. “Homemade Balanced Dog Food Recipe.” Planet Paws. Web. Aug. 8, 2017. <>

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

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







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