What are Nutrient Requirements?
An essential nutrient is a dietary substance that is required to maintain health or prevent disease in ‘healthy’ animals. More than 40 essential nutrients have been identified in both dogs and cats. Although energy is not a nutrient per se, it is essential, and requirements are defined for dogs and cats.
The term ‘conditionally’ essential nutrient has been used to describe a small number of substances such as glutamine that are not normally considered essential. However in certain specific diseases or in other stressful conditions biosynthesis of these substances becomes inadequate and a dietary supply is required.
The requirement for an essential nutrient is the amounts or concentration that is needed to maintain health or prevent disease. For many nutrients there is range of acceptable intakes which is defined by the minimum amount required to prevent adverse effects resulting from too little intake (deficiency) or the maximum intake above which, also results in adverse effects (i.e. toxicity).
The range of acceptable intakes for any nutrient varies according to the specific nutrient in question, and the species (i.e. dog or cat) and life-stage (ie growth, adult maintenance, pregnancy and lactation) it is intended for.
Why are they Important?
Nutrient requirements define the specific nutrients and amounts that must be included in complete and balanced diets for healthy animals. Recommendations for the nutrient requirements of cats and dogs were first published in the 1970’s, and these have been updated and added to over recent years . The vast majority of commercial manufactured pet foods (canine and feline) are designed to meet the nutrient requirements outlined in guidelines published by one or more of three organisations:
- the National Research Council (NRC) (a division of the National Academies of Science, USA),
- the Association of American Feed Control Officials USA (AAFCO), and
- the Federation Europeenne de l’Industrie des Aliments Pour Animaux Familiers (FEDIAF), the umbrella organisation for European National Pet Food Manufacturers Trade Associations.
The objective of the nutrient guidelines published by NRC, AAFCO and FEDIAF is to provide information that can be used by pet manufacturers and others to formulate complete and balanced diets. The guidelines provide nutrient profiles covering the minimum and maximum amounts for each essential nutrient. Separate nutrient profiles are defined for dogs and cats, and for specific life-stages i.e. growth, adult maintenance, and gestation and lactation.
The nutrient profiles take into account the natural variation in the bioavailability of nutrients in ‘typical’ raw materials used in the manufacture of commercial pet foods; the NRC uses the specific term the ‘recommended allowance’ to reflect adjustments in the amount of nutrient that is needed in commercial manufactured pet foods. There are some differences between the NRC, FEDIAF and AAFCO nutrient profiles. In part this may be a reflection of differences in the frequency of updates, but also differing interpretations of the literature, and judgments of what constitutes a ‘practical’ guideline for any given nutrient.
- National Research Council. (2006) Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats. Washington, DC: National Academy Press
- Chipponi, J. X. et al (1982) Am J Clin Nutr 35: 1112-1116.
- National Research Council. (1974) Nutrient Requirements of Dogs Washington, DC: National Academy of Scieneces.
- National Research Council. (1978) Nutrient Requirements of Cats. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
- National Research Council. (1985) Nutrient Requirements of Dogs. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- National Research Council. (1986) Nutrient Requirements of Cats. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- AAFCO. (2014) Official Publication. Atlanta, GA: Association of American Feed Control Officials, Inc.
- F.E.D.I.A.F. (2014) Nutritional Guidelines for Completet and Complementary Pet Food for Cats and Dogs. 
- Butterwick, R. F. et al (2011). Challenges in developing nutrient guidelines for companion animals. Br. J.Nutr. 106: S24-S31
Date reviewed: 22 May 2015
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