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Starting a Pet Food Business

Is pet food regulated?

The manufacture and sale of pet food is highly regulated by both the federal government and the 50 states.

So you want to make and sell pet food or pet treats?

Pet food is defined as any commercial (i.e., you offer for sale, sell exchange or barter) feed prepared and distributed for consumption by dogs or cats.

Pet food is a subset of animal feed.

  • Complete and balanced foods are pet foods.
  • Treats/snacks are pet food.
  • Nutrient supplements (vitamins, minerals, fatty acids) are pet food.
  • Nutrient-added waters are pet food.
  • Edible chews (rawhide, hooves, pizzles) are also pet food under the law, but may be exempt from state registration and labeling requirements under specified conditions.
  • Non-nutritional supplements (herbs and botanicals, metabolites) are not pet food, but rather may be subject to regulation as drugs. The law that allows these types of ingredients in “dietary supplements” for human consumption does not apply to animal products.

- AND -

  • Pet food sold - in a local farmers market is considered commercial feed.
  • Pet food sold - over the Internet is considered commercial feed.
  • Pet food sold - at a veterinarian’s office is considered commercial feed.
  • Pet food sold - in a local store is considered commercial feed.

What should I do first?

Visit the AAFCO website at Go to the Publications Page, and download the Invoice for the most recent edition of the Official Publication. The AAFCO Labeling Guide for Pet Food and Specialty Pet Food is also a good resource, but should be used in conjunction with the Official Publication.

Do I only need to follow the rules in the AAFCO Official Publication?

No, you must comply with all state and federal regulations, including the Code of Federal Regulations.

AAFCO has no regulatory authority to regulate feeds (and pet foods). AAFCO also does not authorize, certify, test or otherwise approve animal feed. Only the individual states have the authority to approve animal feed to be distributed in their state under the authority of their state feed laws. All states with the exception of Alaska and Nevada have established commercial feed laws. While most states have their own feed laws and regulations, their labeling requirements are similar and closely resemble those of the AAFCO Model Regulations. Since state feed laws vary so much, for this reason, many companies find it easier to label their products according to the AAFCO models than to try to comply with all of the different versions of the feed laws and regulations adopted by each state. Following AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations will help you meet or exceed state requirements.

Most state laws require registration of feed or pet food, other states may require that your company be licensed to sell in that state. You can find your state feed control officials contact information on the AAFCO website. Your state feed control official will be able to give you the information you need to sell pet food products in your state. Please also know that you will need to meet the requirements of any other state where you plan to sell your products. Animal feed and pet food are regulated at the state level, and each state has their own requirements, forms and fees.

The United States Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine also has regulations for animal feed and pet food. At this time, these regulations cover basic labeling requirements (ingredient list, net content, name and address, statement of identity) in detail but do not address all aspects covered by the AAFCO Model Regulations (e.g., guarantees, nutritional adequacy, calorie content).  Complying with state laws and the AAFCO requirements will help you to meet most of the federal labeling laws. There are no product registration or licensing requirements with the federal government.  Except for products manufactured in a private residence, all manufacturing facilities must be registered with FDA under the Bioterrorism Act (see below), but unlike most state registration  or licensing processes, this does not require submission of product labels. Also if you are manufacturing a canned pet food.  You must register your processing method with the federal government to ensure that you are producing a safe product.

Do I have to be licensed or registered in other states to sell over the internet?

When selling your products on the internet, this would legally be considered as distributing your products in every state. The laws in most states require that you register your products and/or license your company BEFORE you offer your products for sale in that state. Review the "Internet/Farmer's Market" page for more information.

In which state(s) do you plan to sell your products and what are state requirements?

You must comply with the regulations in each state where you sell your products. This includes internet sales.

Almost all of the states have some sort of registration or licensing requirements that you must meet before your product can be offered for sale in the United States. Some states may exempt pet foods, but most do not.

 There is no single agency/group that will give you approval to sell your product in all states.

You must contact each state to determine their requirements. While AAFCO strives for uniformity in how feed and pet food are labeled across the states, there is no uniformity in the registration and licensing requirements. Each state has their own forms, and the registration and/or licensing fees vary from state to state. Many states have their registration and/or licensing requirements and forms listed on their department's website, but some may not. Most feed control officials can be found in the states' department of agriculture, but a few - Indiana, Kentucky, and Texas - are located within the states' university system. In California, pet foods are regulated by the California Department of Health. Again, you will have to contact each state feed control official to determine what their requirements are. You can find the contact information HERE.

Do you need to register or license in the states where you sell your product?

Look up your state on the AAFCO website section showing state registration and inspection fees HERE. Most states have websites with their laws and regulations posted. Each state has its own laws and regulations. While they are generally similar, you need to comply with each state law individually.

Companies who are not familiar with the state registration or licensing requirements sometimes find it easier to contract with an agent who will handle the filing of forms and fees. Many of these companies are familiar with the states' requirements and will work with the states to get your products approved. These agents can be beneficial since the various registration and licensing requirements can be confusing to new companies.

What are the labeling requirements?

See the section of the website with the abbreviated labeling requirements. Also, look in the AAFCO OP for Model Pet Food Regulations and the Pet Food Labeling Checklist for the details.

What do the regulations cover?

Regulations cover the registration of products and/or licensing of your company as required to distribute pet food in individual states, the ingredients used in the food, the manufacture of the food, and the labeling (including the label and other materials such as brochures) of the food.

Does AAFCO certify products?

No.  AAFCO has no regulatory authority to regulate feeds (and pet foods).  AAFCO also does not authorize, certify, test or otherwise approve animal feed. Only the individual states have the authority to approve animal feed to be distributed in their state under the authority of their state feed law. All of the states except Alaska have a commercial feed law. While each state (except for Alaska) has their own feed law and regulations, the labeling requirements of most states are similar and closely resemble AAFCO's model regulations; however, some state laws can be very dated and others may be more up-to-date. For this reason, many companies find it easier to label their products according to the AAFCO models rather than try to comply with all of the different versions of the feed laws and regulations adopted by the states. If you follow the AAFCO Model Pet Food Regulations, you will probably meet all the states' requirements.

Does AAFCO make recommendations of what pet food to purchase?

Refer to the previous question.

What information can the AAFCO Official Publication give me?

It provides you information on regulations about registration/licensing, labeling, ingredients, and good manufacturing practices (processing or making of the food).

Is your product made in a commercial facility rather than your own home?

If you make your product in your own home, then you are exempt. If you do any of the above, you must register your facility with the FDA in compliance with the Bioterrorism Act. For a booklet on facility registration, go HERE.  Manufacturers with facilities registered under the Bioterrorism Act must also report on any contamination that may reasonably result in serious harm to people or animals in a very prompt manner. Information on the Reportable Food Registry may be found HERE.

Do you do any of the following: manufacture, process, pack, transport, distribute, receive, hold or import pet food?

Then you much also keep records in accordance with the Bioterrorism Act. For more information, go HERE.

Do you sell in individual packages or bulk?

The same labeling requirements apply to both individual packages and those sold in bulk. Products sold from bins or similar containers require a placard bearing the mandatory label information.


The information contained in this website is designed to provide advice to small petfood and treat manufacturers on regulatory requirements and to assist them in the development of proper labeling for these products.

AAFCO has no statutory authority to regulate pet products.

Rather, enforcement of violations is the purview of the state feed control officials, so companies must comply with each state's requirements.  While most states follow AAFCO model regulations, exact language and interpretation may differ between states. While these documents offer guidance that are helpful in the vast majority of states, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to ensure compliance with individual state requirements.

Did you know?

AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way.

AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company's responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.

It is the state feed control official's responsibility in regulating pet food to ensure that the laws and rules established for the protection of companion animals and their custodians are complied with so that only unadulterated, correctly and uniformly labeled pet food products are distributed in the marketplace and a structure for orderly commerce.