Harmful Substances Uncovered in Dry Food for Pets - CHOICE # 450
(April 15, 2014)
A Consumer Council test on dry pet food has detected harmful
substances in some of these products.
Although they are unlikely to pose immediate health concern because
of the relatively low amount detected, pet owners tasked with the
choice of food for their pets are rightly worrisome.
The test, on 39 dry pet foods comprising 20 dog foods and 19 cat
foods, revealed the presence of the carcinogen aflatoxin B1, and
the contaminants, melamine and cyanuric acid, in some of the
Trace amount of aflatoxin B1, ranging from 1.0 to 2.0 µg/kg dry pet
food, was found in 7 models - 4 dog foods and 3 cat foods.
Aflatoxins are produced by various species of a group of
toxin-producing fungus found on crops. Among the aflatoxins (B1,
B2, G1 and G2), aflatoxin B1 is most commonly found in crops, and
is the most toxic and carcinogenic. Exposure to aflatoxin B1 may
cause liver damage and cirrhosis in animals.
The consolation (if any) is: the levels of aflatoxin B1 found in
the samples are all within the safety limits established by the
European Union Commission Regulation (EU) No. 574/2011.
The EU sets the maximum amount of aflatoxin B1 in animal feeds
(with a moisture content of 12%) at 0.01 ppm (10 µg/kg) in
complementary and complete feed, and at 0.02 ppm (20 µg/kg) in feed
materials (when animals are given a diet consisting of various feed
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also sets action level
for the regulation of aflatoxins content in animal feeds and
Veterinarians are generally of the opinion that the low amounts of
aflatoxin B1 detected in the test samples are unlikely to cause a
health risk to pets for short-term consumption.
However, they caution that since aflatoxin B1 is a known
carcinogen, it should best be avoided; long-term exposure to
aflatoxin B1 could increase the risk of liver impairment, tumors in
liver, and suppressed immune system.
The level of risk depends on the species, age of animal, health
condition, doses and duration of aflatoxin exposure. Young animals,
and pets in pregnancy, are usually more sensitive to
Pets with symptoms such as lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite,
vomiting, bloody diarrhea should be brought to the vet for medical
Besides the detection of aflatoxin B1, 2 models were found with the
contaminant melamine and 2 others with cyanuric acid, both in only
Melamine and melamine-related compounds such as cyanuric acid were
at the centre of a widespread outbreak of renal failure and deaths
of cats and dogs in 2007 when some pet food products were found
with the contaminants. It was suspected that such harmful
substances were added to pet food ingredients to increase the
apparent protein levels of the products.
The Codex Alimentarius Commission, the USFDA and the EU Regulation
all adopted the maximum melamine level to be limited at 2.5 mg/kg
for animal feeds. All samples in the test were found to be in
compliance with the requirement.
In the opinion of veterinarians, the detected amounts of melamine
and cyanuric acid are of a very low level and since the two
contaminants exist individually in the samples, and are not in
co-existence, there is no cause for undue concern over the health
risk they pose to pets.
The danger arises when both contaminants, though individually of a
low acute toxicity, are taken in combination which is far more
toxic than either compound alone.
Exposure to both substances may lead to formation of crystals,
resulting in blockage of tubules in kidneys that may cause acute
renal failure in animals.
Care should be taken if mixing different brands of dry food in
order to avoid the hazard of feeding both contaminants to your
Unbeknown to probably many pet owners is the availability of
information regarding daily feeding instruction on all pet-food
labels. Owing to the varied nutritional contents per gram of
different products, the daily feed amount differs also from brand
As such, when changing brand, consumers are advised to read the
daily feeding instruction so as not to over-or under-feed your
All samples were found to be free of Salmonella and E. Coli O157.
These are pathogens harmful also to humans.
Some useful tips for pet lovers:
- Read the ingredient list and "used by" date before purchase. Buy
the right amount, do not buy in big bulk. Store pet food properly
in its original package inside an air-tight container - not in
humid environment and in the event the food deteriorates and
smells, it should be discarded.
- And always clean the food tray to keep the food clean.
- Feed your pets with reference to the daily feed instructions.
Consume pet food as soon as possible after opening the package.
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