Dr. Michael W. Fox

Manufactured Dog & Cat Foods: Is There Poison in the Can?

Guest post from friend and fellow pet food safety advocate Dr. Michael W. Fox

There is increasing concern over the inclusion of an additive called carrageenan, a seaweed-derived natural product that acts as  a binder, thickening agent, and as a stabilizer in many processed human foods and beverages and canned cat and dog foods. While manufacturers and government agencies who have approved this additive still insist that it should be generally regarded as safe, there is increasing research evidence from controlled studies on laboratory-tested animals that it is not: and affirming evidence in support of these findings from the clinical improvement in cats and dogs suffering from various digestive and intestinal problems when given diets that do not contain carrageenan.

An article in a pet food industry publication by Greg Aldrich, PhD (1) noted that“ The soluble fiber in canned foods from sources such as carrageenan may account for part of the reason that cats need more taurine in canned foods. The theory is that increased taurine degradation by intestinal flora occurs due to greater fermentation as more soluble fiber (of which carrageenan would qualify) reaches the colon (Anantharaman-Barr et al, 1994).” (2)

Carrageenan contains chemicals that may decrease stomach and intestinal secretions. Large amounts of carrageenan seem to pull water into the intestine, and this may explain why it has been used as a laxative. J.K.Tobacman MD (3) in her review of 45 publicly funded studies concludes that “the potential role of carrageenan in the development of gastrointestinal malignancy and inflammatory bowel disease requires careful reconsideration of the advisability of its continued use as a food additive.”

Kanneganti et al (4) note that “the role of both CGN [carrageenan] and dCGN [degraded carrageenan] as carcinogens still remains controversial”. Jean Hofve DVM  (5 ) in her review of this issue highlights this  research that has shown that carrageenan induces the body to produce a cytokine (messenger molecule) called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-⍺). This molecule stimulates inflammation and promotes apoptosis (cell death). She emphasizes that “These counterbalancing functions help maintain the equilibrium of the immune system, and play an important role in defending an organism’s system from invading pathogenic organisms such as bacteria. However, TNF-⍺ is thought to be a causal factor in many chronic inflammatory diseases, such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), autoimmune diseases, and—despite its hopeful-sounding name—cancer”.

She states:” Heat, digestive enzymes, acid, and bacteria can convert high-weight carrageenans to dangerous poligeenans in the human (and presumably animal) gut. The feline stomach environment is extremely acidic; could this make carrageenan especially dangerous for the animals? Could carrageenan be a factor in IBD, food intolerance, and the skyrocketing rates of cancer and diabetes in cats?”

I would say most probably, and to err on the side of caution, all cat (and dog) food manufacturers should immediately stop using this and other questionable gums in their canned pet foods.

The Cornucopia Institute’s detailed review, (6) provides sufficient documentation to convince consumers and government regulatory agencies that for health reasons, carrageenan should be removed from all consumables.
More and more pet food manufacturers do not use carrageenan in their formulas.

The relatively low concentration of carrageenan in canned pet foods does not mean that it should be regarded as generally safe for most animals. As I advise avoiding GMO-containing pet foods, (corn, soy, beet, canola ) as a precautionary measure, I would apply this same principle to all cat and dog foods containing carrageenan. This additive does not improve palatability, the inclusion being to make the processed ingredients more palatable-looking (nice and juicy with gooey gravy) to the pet owner/caregiver. Until it is phased out by manufacturers, and while acknowledging that many dogs and cats adapt to such additives, I am concerned that it may cause impaired nutrient uptake harmful especially to young and old animals and be a significant factor in the rising incidence of inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, dysbiosis and various digestive and other related health problems, including allergies and skin disorders in the cat and dog populations across the U.S., and in other countries where the multinational pet food industry markets its carrageenan-infused canned cat and dog foods.

1.    Greg Adlrich  Release Date: ‎12‎/‎8‎/‎2008  PETFOODINDUSTRY.COM Carrageenan: for appearance’s sake only? What is this quiet, unassuming ingredient, and should it be there?

2.    G.Anantharaman-Barr et al (1994) Excretion and taurine Status in Cats fed Canned and Dry Diets. Journal of Nutrition Suppl. 25468

3.    Tobacman JK (2001) Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments.Environ Health Perspect 109(10):983-9

4.    Kanneganti, M., Mino-Kenudson, M., & Mizoguchi, E. (2011). Animal models of colitis-associated carcinogenesis. BioMed Research International, 2011

5.    Jean Hofve (2013) Is This Sneaky Ingredient Sickening Your Pet? | Rodale News www.rodalenews.com/carrageenan-pet-food

6.    Cornucopia Institute (2013) How a Natural Food Additive is Making Us Sick (March )
A list of carrageenan-free cat foods is also available, see  Carrageenan-free cat food list – Parenting-Furkids


About: Michael W. Fox BVetMed, PhD, DSc, MRCVS Veterinarian, bioethicist, syndicated columnist.  Website: www.DrFoxVet.com  www.Facebook.com/drfoxvet


Many thanks to Dr. Fox!!!

August 8, 2014

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24 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Manufactured Dog & Cat Foods: Is There Poison in the Can?”

  1. LT says:

    The link to the list of carrageenan-free foods isn’t working; can you take another look at it? Thanks!

  2. Jennifer says:

    I was hoping you had a list of carrageenan free food. Then saw the above comment. Where is the link? I do not see it. Thank you!

  3. Susan Thixton says:

    Moist Foods that have provided consumers their Pledge (http://associationfortruthinpetfood.com/the-pledge/) that do not contain carrageenan…
    Answers Pet Food

    Beau’s To Go Pet Food

    BioEthics Pet Food

    Caru Pet Food (not all products are carrageenan free)

    Darwin’s Pet Food

    Evermore Pet Food

    Frenchie’s Kitchen Pet Food

    Fresh Fetch Pet Foods

    The Honest Kitchen Pet Foods

    K9 Natural Pet Food

    Lucky Dog Cuisine

    Mulligan Stew Pet Food

    Nature’s Logic Pet Food

    Primal Pet Food

    Rudy Greens Pet Foods

    Steve’s Pet Food


  4. sheila b says:

    Nature’s variety instinct also does not contain carrageenan.

  5. sheila b says:

    This is a very timely article as I just sent back all my wellness core canned cat food because it contained carrageenan.

  6. Diane says:

    Innova canned food does not contain carrageenan.

  7. Pat P. says:

    Even though my cats will not eat Nature’s Logic, I did try to incorporate it in their diets. Both of them have problem eating anything due to illnesses.
    I was glad to know that there was no carrageenan in their food, but I had a few other concerns.
    I read on another website (Dr. Becker’s), today, but from an old post, that a member called the company to know if their food was human grade, which they said it was, but I am not so certain. Don’t they have to be certified to make that claim, legally?
    They told the caller that their food was made by Menu foods, which shocked me. If that is, indeed, the case, shouldn’t that be a major concern, due to the 2007 recall and other negative comments regarding Menu?!
    I also called them (over a month, ago) regarding the very grainy texture in the case that I ordered, almost like ground-up bones (which they don’t have). Since my cat was disturbed by them and tried spitting them out, I tried to crush them, futilely, and to pick out the pieces, but gave up. Someone was supposed to return my call, after the weekend, but never did. I don’t know how to proceed now, esp. since I had considered trying, again, to see if they would eat it.
    Please respond to this inquiry. Despite the fact that they have responded to your Pledge, I am not so sure I really trust them.
    Thanks for your reply.

    • Susan Thixton says:

      Nature’s Logic has always responded to my questions very promptly and given me no reason to not trust them. But that’s me – not you. Trusting a pet food is a very personal decision – what fits for one, does not for another. I suggest you trust your gut feelings – whatever that might be.

    • Reader says:

      As a backup kibble food, I liked the idea of Nature’s Logic. They returned the Pledge and use no synthetics. I trusted them. So, therefore, I used it with my older and younger dog and recently also with a guest dog. All the same breed, but not the same breeding. The food ran through them like pudding. I think I tried it 3 separate occasions from one year to the next. Then I thought well maybe my dogs are deficient in digestive enzymes. So I spent a whole bunch of time (like more than a 1 yr.) whole food home cooking for them. They ate pure meat protein, lightly steamed veggies, antioxidants, and the whole deal.

      Next try with NL and they still couldn’t handle it. I gave it away and that dog couldn’t handle it. It’s pricey so all that was very disappointing. When I would call the company in the beginning I could talk to owner (or founder, who knows who really owns these companies). But lately it’s been a customer service agent who doesn’t sound so confident. The only real explanation I got was that maybe I was feeding too much because the food is rich and nutritionally intense. (I NEVER over feed my dogs).

      So then I tried Mulligan’s Stew kibble (both fish and lamb). Absolutely NO problems, they loved it. Perfect clean-up in the yard. I also use Fromms once in a while and they do okay on that food too. I don’t think a manufacturer should make any PF that doesn’t digest well with a pet. These companies are either adding a magic element to make stools easy clean up (and don’t want to admit it) or something else is going on because they’re NOT using that magic ingredient and the dogs digest it poorly.

      Same thing had happened with Orijen when they changed formula and it took me forever to figure out that they stopped using Psyllium Husk (a natural fiber) because they probably wanted to claim their foods were carbohydrate free. News Tip: dogs in the wild do not NOT eat carbohydrates and I wish these companies would stop creating these ARTIFICIAL TRENDS because they have been using poor quality grain and using it in the wrong way in their formulas (to increase profitability). I am soooooo tired of having to 2nd guess all these companies that really should know exactly what’s going on – and then own up to it.

      I will bad mouth any food until I get a straight story.

  8. bill thompson says:

    Moist Foods that are carageenan free- in addition to the ones mentioned earlier that I know instantly-

    Pet Kind
    Great Life
    Wild Calling

    Ziwi Peak is changing it’s formulas to remove both carageenan and sodium tripolyphosphate

    • Peter says:

      Certain Wild Calling foods are manufactured and canned through a co-packing relationship with Evangers. I regard that as a huge problem. I would be interested to see this brand independently tested, since all of the cat formulas I have tried have been so high in water content, I do not believe they are legally compliant with AAFCO stipulations and may be mis-labeled. The price varies, according to the “content” (the meat), but there simply isn’t enough solids in the can(s) to justify the cost, even if it were halved.

  9. Monica says:

    FirstMate canned food do not contain carrageenan.

  10. Sherrie says:

    Is this article, the food with carageenan cat food, dog food or both? I feed my dogs Orijen, and I feed my one dog Ziwi Peak Venison because he has such bad allergies. My vet recommended Ziwi Peak, but so far it’s not helping much. He is suffering with crusty ears and a pink chewed up belly

    • Sherrie Ashenbremer says:

      Anyone, my little Shih Tzu has suffered with allergies so bad. He has been on and off steroids, and Calvamox (antibiotic) now he is on a pill made by the pharmacy, CD/Tracconazole 25mg. He has had ZiwiPeak, Lamb Blue Buffalo, Honest Kitchen, Natual Balance Venison (not a good one I know) Orijen, I don’t know what to feed him anymore, I am currently using “Artisan Venison”, his belly and legs are red, he seems to scratch it mostly at night. His ears are crusty, does anyone have any ideas on a food to try. A food that is made in the USA, a food with no GMO’s, or carageenan. It’s so hard to find a good food anymore. Please I am looking for help.

      • Jean B. says:

        please try raw food diet. Educate yourself and find a ready made one or learn how to make it yourself….but with all necessary vitamins, etc. Take him off steroids/antibiotics and concentrate on his food…..their diet is the single biggest influence on our pets health. My cat had loose stools, dry skin for 5 years….after lots of vet bills, med’s , I finally switched her diet to Felines Pride Raw chicken….not cheap food, but it cleared up everything so worth every penny. When I retire, I will take the time to make the raw food myself. Research a good raw food for dogs and do it! Good Luck…..I hope your little guy gets relief soon!

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Susan Thixton
TruthaboutPetFood.com's author is a founding partner of the international pet food consumer association - Association for Truth in Pet Food. Through our consumer association, Susan has advisory position to AAFCO's Pet Food Committee and Ingredient Definitions Committee.