You’ve heard plenty of dog food brands claim that their food is “complete and balanced.” But what does that even mean? How is it backed up? Is it a worthwhile standard? And when it comes to our dogs' nutrition, how do we go about balancing it?

You’re already well-versed in the human food pyramid. But did you know that your dog gets his own version of a food pyramid—and it looks very different from the one we’re used to seeing?

Using the dog food pyramid can help you decide for yourself whether that dog food on the shelf lives up to its claims. 

Dog Food Pyramid

What Does It Mean to Be Complete and Balanced?

If a dog food is labeled “complete and balanced,” it means that it provides your dog every single nutrient his body needs in the right proportions. If a food earns this label, it is designed to be fed as your dog’s sole diet as determined by the Association of American Feed Control Official’s (AAFCO) Dog Food Nutrient Profile. Treats, snacks, or supplements may not be nutritionally balanced in this way, so you won’t see this designation.

Your next question is probably “what is AAFCO and why should I trust it?” We get that. Here’s how the organization works. AAFCO itself does not regulate or test dog food. They create an ever-evolving Nutrient Profile based on the latest animal science research. Each state has its own feed control officials that regulate and test dog food—and most of them have adopted AAFCO recommendations.

What Does “Complete and Balanced” Actually Look Like?

In general, complete and balanced foods will contain the following components:

  • Carbohydrates, an efficient energy source.
  • Proteins, the building blocks for your dog’s body.
  • Fat, a slow-burning source of energy.
  • Minerals, important for healthy bones, teeth, metabolism, etc.
  • Palatants, make your dog’s food delicious.
  • Vitamins, assist many bodily processes.

Of course, “complete and balanced” can mean something different to every dog—Your six pound Pomeranian puppy should eat differently than your senior Siberian Husky. The proportions of these components will shift with your dog’s size, health, and life stage so it’s always important to check in with your vet to assess the specific needs of your dog.

The infographic below lays out the general proportions for an adult dog, what each component does, and what sorts of high-quality ingredients are used to fulfill each dietary requirement. 

Complete Balanced Dog Food Pyramid Just Right Purina

Smart owners want the best for their dog, but it isn’t always easy to know exactly what the “best” thing is. Understanding the dog food pyramid makes it simpler to choose your dog’s food with confidence.