Revising the Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats

Although the National Research Council (NRC) series on nutrient requirements of domestic animals has been in existence for almost a century and it is familiar to many throughout the world today, the way in which reports are developed, prepared, and disseminated might not be as familiar. The NRC’s new study on nutrient requirements of dogs and cats is anticipated to be a significant endeavor with far- reaching effects. As a result, it is important to be cognizant of the opportunities to provide input and to understand the mechanisms in place to assure the objectivity, quality and value of the final product.

The Committee on Animal Nutrition convened a subcommittee to revise the 1985 and 1986 publications on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Nutrient Requirements of Cats. Recognizing the value of convening dog and cat nutrition experts to deliberate simultaneously, these publications, originally published as two separate documents, are being revised into a single report. This new report will provide updated estimates of requirements for all nutrients and will contain discussions of nutrient metabolism, toxicity, deficiency, and nutritionally related diseases of both dogs and cats. Information on the impact of physiological status, temperature, breed, age and environment on nutrient requirements also will be included.


Pet food is currently an $8.5 billion annual market in the United States. Presently, there are over 58 million dogs and 62 million cats maintained as pets and approximately 150,000 dogs and cats are used in scientific research throughout the United States. Providing adequate and appropriate nutrients and ensuring proper feeding of these animals has become increasingly important. The number of pets continues to climb, the range of pet foods continues to expand, and the understanding of the relationship between health and disease in pets and research animals continues to grow.

Historically, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the advisory body responsible for establishing and governing pet food label requirement policies, has relied on the publications of the NRC as its recognized authority on animal nutrition with respect to concentrations of nutrients that constitute a complete and balanced dog or cat food. In addition, the NRC documents are used as the regulatory standard in the US for all animal care and use in research, teaching, and captive propagation.

The 1985 and 1986 NRC dog and cat revisions also are used internationally; however, some risk is associated with their use as a result of outdated information and recommendations that are not applicable to practical feeding of dogs and cats. In some countries such as Japan, the risk is less, because most pet food sold is imported. European countries address the absence of recommendations from a currently recognized authority on animal nutrition by using the NRC publications, AAFCO profiles, and published literature. Currently, there is not an updated comprehensive review of the literature with practical recommendations on nutrient requirements for feeding of cats and dogs. Expert review of recent research and practical recommendations are needed for use throughout the world, and within the United States, as a scientific basis for development of AAFCO nutrient profiles and use in the laboratory animal research community and the pet food industry.

A substantial amount of new research on nutrient requirements of cats and dogs has been conducted and reported in the last decade. Much new data are available on energy, protein and fat requirements of dogs and cats. In addition, new information on carbohydrates, amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals is available. Information is now available on nutrient requirements of specific life stages and for different breeds of animals – considerations that could not be adequately addressed from a scientific basis 15 years ago. The most significant new finding of the past 15 years may have been the cat’s requirement for taurine; over 54 journal articles and abstracts have been published on this nutrient alone.

Scientific issues to be addressed in this revision include specific nutrient requirements, health implications of nutrient deficiencies and toxicities, feed ingredients and composition, diet formulation and feeding considerations. Information will be reviewed and analyzed with respect to practical feeding of dogs and cats. Recommendations and information provided in the report will be useful for (1) AAFCO and relevant federal agencies in establishing dietary nutrient labeling requirements, (2) the pet food industry, public agencies and the laboratory animal research community in developing diets for cats and dogs for which they are responsible, and (3) owners of animals in considering feeding and nutritional management options. Recommendations will be supported by references to scientific reports and reviews.

The academy complex

By an act of Congress in 1863, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was created as a private, nonprofit national institution of distinguished scholars with a mandate to serve as official advisers to the government on matters of science and technology. NAS is dedicated to promoting the effective utilization of scientific and technological resources of the country and to advancing the general interests of science. The NRC, established in 1916 by NAS, provides the organizational structure to undertake studies on the various technological and scientific questions presented for consideration by federal agencies and other nongovernmental institutions, or by mandates of Congress.

The NRC has become the principal operating agency of NAS and is presently composed of about 700 working committees, panels and boards on which about 9,000 highly qualified scientists, engineers, and other professionals serve without compensation. Those who serve on various committees, panels, and boards are responsible for carrying out most of the substantive tasks of the NRC and devote considerable time and expertise to the preparation and review of reports. Membership appointments are made by the NRC after a well-defined search and selection process in an effort to assemble committees of the highest competence that represent the necessary expertise for the task.

The NRC is unique with regard to its operation and policies. The core of the NRC’s work consists of studies conducted by experts selected by the NRC expressly for their expertise in the relevant scientific issues at hand. During the span of a year, about 700 studies involving approximately 9,000 individuals seek solutions to a profusion of problems embracing virtually every aspect of society. All of these experts volunteer their time to serve on studies, plan and participate in seminars, review documents and assist the work of the institution in other ways. They represent many fields of endeavor and a wide range of perspectives.

The NRC expert selection process is initiated by staff with input and oversight from the relevant boards and commissions within NRC. The search for specific candidates to serve on studies begins when adequate funding commitments for a study have been received. To accomplish its work, the institution draws from the expertise of the 4,000 members of its Academies and Institute. Membership is a highly prestigious honor, as these professionals represent the best in their fields. Because the many issues and sheer volume of work exceed the capacity of the Academy membership organizations, thousands of other experts from a wide range of disciplines are called upon to volunteer their time to serve on studies.

In defining areas of expertise that should be represented and identifying individuals qualified to serve, the staff reviews scholarly literature and consults widely with members of the Academies and the Institute of Medicine, volunteers within the institution, knowledgeable authorities, and professional associations. Sponsors also may offer suggestions but do not select the experts. Experts are chosen on the basis of their knowledge and experience in the various aspects of the topic to be investigated and after careful review are appointed by the chair of the NRC, who also is the president of the NAS. Formal Academy procedures assure that each study is supported by experts with the appropriate expertise, balance and objectivity, and who are free from conflict of interest.


The Committee on Animal Nutrition (CAN) was formally organized in 1928 under the auspices of the NAS and NRC to provide advice on the nutritional management of economically important domestic animals. It is a standing committee functioning under the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources and consists of 10 eminent animal nutritionists who serve three-year terms of appointment. Current CAN membership is available on the National Academies Internet website ( Under the guidance of CAN, the long standing series of reports on the nutrient requirements of domestic animals are updated continually as new information becomes available. These reports have been accepted widely by the biomedical community and the animal industry here and abroad as a group of unbiased and comprehensive reports that form the basis of nutrient recommendations for animals in the United States and many parts of the world. Reports from the Nutrient Requirement series have been translated into at least five other languages (Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, and Turkish).

CAN is concerned with all aspects of animal nutrition and with the relationship of animal nutrition to human health and to the health and welfare of animals used in biomedical research. While the primary focus of CAN is the preparation of the nutrient requirement series, CAN also identifies and addresses emerging concepts and problems in the field of animal nutrition. By stating the nutrient requirements as accurately as possible, CAN is able to work toward its goal of minimizing the impact of animals on the environment.

The quantitative information in these reports provides scientists, medical professionals, teachers, students, feed industry personnel, government regulatory agencies and policy makers with a comprehensive source of data on the requirements for essential nutrients and guidelines for feeding management of several animal species. Specifically, the objectives of CAN are as follows: 1) to direct revisions of the nutrient requirement reports by determining the need for such revisions, recommending appointment of individual scientific experts, overseeing all phases of report preparation and reviewing all reports produced by appointed experts, 2) to monitor ongoing developments in animal nutrition and identify new concepts or problems that emerge and to address these issues through workshops, symposia, or full reports, and 3) to respond to requests from government agencies for assistance.

Taking advantage of rapidly changing technology in the mid 1900s, CAN began its service to the nation; and by 1953 the first edition of Nutrient Requirements of Dogs was published. Since that time, several revisions of the dog and cat reports have been published. Each revision has included more and more information based on an ever- increasing knowledge base. Identifying the need for revisions of specific reports by CAN is driven by the demand for current information. The need for information on nutrient requirements of cats and dogs arises from the lack of an updated review of scientific information and the significant number of cats and dogs that are fed in the US and throughout the world and the importance of feeding these animals appropriately. These issues have prompted the need for a comprehensive, science-based, up- to-date report on nutrient requirements of cats and dogs.

Housed in the nonprofit, private organization of the NRC, CAN depends on primary users, federal and private organizations and others to provide the funds required to carry out its program. The principal portions of its annual budget are provided by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine of the Department of Health and Human Services, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Feed Industry Association.  Specific project support is also provided by various public and private sources. Public support for the current study on dog and cat nutrition has been provided in part by the National Institutes of Health through its National Center for Research Resources. Supplemental support is provided by the Pet Food Institute.

In general, CAN conducts deliberative studies that require anywhere from six months to three years to prepare and complete. Studies can be conducted by CAN or by a subcommittee selected expressly for the purpose. In the case of the new study on dog and cat nutrition, the charge to the Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition was developed during the study initiation process. This charge defines the study’s scope and issues to be examined. It is a formal statement of the questions to be addressed by the subcommittee and was developed before the subcommittee members were selected and appointed.


A broad-reaching search for candidates to serve on the NRC’s Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition took place in 2000. Members of the subcommittee were chosen on the basis of their knowledge and experience in the various aspects of the topics to be investigated and, after careful review, were provisionally appointed by the chair of the NRC. The names, affiliations, and short biographies of subcommittee members were posted for a public comment period on the National Academies internet website (nationalacademies. org). Subcommittee members serve as individuals, not as representatives of organizations, government, industry or interest groups. Each person was selected on the basis of his or her expertise and good judgment. The subcommittee was balanced for perspectives and composition of expertise; and potential sources of bias and conflict of interest were considered. Like the members of all other NRC study committees and boards, all members of the Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition serve pro bono.


As with every NRC study, the current study on nutrient requirements of dogs and cats is subject to extensive oversight from initial approval to public release of a final report. Whether a study is requested by a government agency or a private organization or is initiated within the NRC itself, the study proposal first must be approved by the Executive Committee of the NRC’s Governing Board. This Board carefully examines the proposal and considers such factors as the importance and timeliness of the question, whether there is an adequate base of scientific knowledge to support the study, the intended audience, the likely impact of the report and the competence of the institution to take on the task.

Oversight is provided throughout the duration of the study on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats by the CAN and its oversight body, the Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources. Other supervisory entities within the National Academies, such as the Report Review Committee, will provide oversight at various stages of the study.


Throughout the course of a study, meetings are called at intervals to consider the scope of work, review the relevant scientific evidence and develop and write findings, conclusions and recommendations. The subcommittee must evaluate all information, arguments, and evidence based on scientific standards. The development of the new report on Dog and Cat Nutrient Requirements will be the result of a group process; and subcommittee deliberations will be aided by information received from various sources outside of the NRC study . Many opportunities will be provided to allow for input to the study process.

Experience suggests that reaching consensus and writing a report that clearly presents the subcommittee’s findings, conclusions and recommendations are the most difficult, frustrating, yet rewarding aspects of the study process. Although each subcommittee may go about writing its report differently, every report is the collective product of a group process.

Once the report has been outlined by the subcommittee, sections of it may be written by individual members. The writing process for the new report will be guided by the subcommittee chair and aided by the program director. A subcommittee member often will take responsibility for the development of a chapter or portion of the report, but the author of record is the entire subcommittee; and responsibility for authorship lies with the entire subcommittee and the NRC.

The charge to the subcommittee in developing its report is as follows:

"A subcommittee of the Committee on Animal Nutrition will revise the 1985 and 1986 publications on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Nutrient Requirements of Cats. These two publications, originally published as two separate documents, will be revised in a single report. The new report will provide updated estimates of requirements for all nutrients for which there is information and will contain discussions of nutrient metabolism, toxicity, deficiency, and nutritionally related disease in both dogs and cats. Information on the impacts of physiologic status, temperature, breed, age, and environment on nutrient requirements also will be included. The revised report will address unique biologic characteristics affecting nutrient digestion and utilization. General considerations regarding feed ingredients, diet formulation, feed processing and manufacturing will be presented. Principles of feeding pet and laboratory animals will be addressed."

Like all sound science, the reports of CAN are based on fact and rigorous analysis of published data. The new report on nutrient requirements of dogs and cats will be subjected to review by a group of independent experts who remain anonymous to the subcommittee until the report is released. This process is overseen by the NRC’s Report Review Committee, which ensures that an independent review has been conducted, and that (1) the report addresses the approved study charge and does not go beyond it, (2) the findings are supported by the evidence and arguments presented, (3) the exposition and organization are effective, and (4) the tone of the report is impartial and sensitive issues are treated with appropriate care.


The process by which the NRC nutrient requirement publications are prepared has changed and improved over time. It is straightforward, objective, thorough and rigorous. The NRC provides a public service that is supported by the users of its products. In the case of nutrient requirement publications, the reports are produced by the nonprofit NRC and are published and disseminated throughout the world by the nonprofit National Academy Press. It is through the dedicated work of volunteer experts and the financial support of end-users that the reports are made widely available for use by professionals in industry, government, research and teaching communities as well as the general public.


by Donald C. Beitz - Subcommittee on Dog and Cat Nutrition, National Research Council

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