Q: What is the difference between puppy food and adult dog food?

A.  Pet foods that are marketed in the United States as being “complete and balanced” must meet nutritional standards set by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials.  AAFCO has defined only two nutrient profiles for dogs: “adult maintenance” (for adult dogs with normal activity levels), and “growth and reproduction” (for puppies and pregnant or lactating females).

The nutrient profile for “growth and reproduction” is more stringent and requires higher minimum levels of protein, fat, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and chloride.  Foods that have only met the minimum nutrient requirements for “adult maintenance” will be labeled as such.  Foods that have met the minimum nutrient requirements for “growth and reproduction” are considered suitable for all life stages of dogs, and may be labeled either as a “puppy food” suitable for “growth and reproduction,” or as a dog food which is suitable for “all life stages.”

Please note that while a statement of AAFCO compliance indicates a particular food meets the minimum industry standards for nutritional content, it in no way indicates the quality of the ingredients used to make that food.  Carefully review the ingredient panel of any food before you purchase it!

[NOTE:  Jeff Smith & Lisa McKitrick of Boofy’s Best for Pets originally answered this question in the “Ask the Pet Pros” section ofAlbuquerque The Magazine‘s June 2011 issue.]