One More Reason to Ditch Dry Food

Answers: One More Reason to Ditch Dry Food

I'm new to cat ownership. Recently I adopted two orphan kittens from a local shelter. I took them in for a complete check-up. The veterinarian encouraged me to feed my cats a raw meat diet because of the possibility that dry kibble may contain a substance called aflatoxin, which could be harmful to my kitties. Can you explain to me what aflatoxins are?
The information this doctor gave to you is correct and it demonstrates she is very concerned about the health of your kittens. The word "aflatoxin" is never mentioned on TV commercials for kibble nor is it uttered by veterinarians who promote and sell commercial pet foods; maybe because it is a sensitive subject pet food companies don't want you to know about.
Aflatoxins are one of the major groups of mycotoxins that can affect crops. Mycotoxins are the by-products of the metabolism of molds. Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus grow on corn, peanuts, cottonseed and other types of grain used in human and animal consumption. These fungi can infect grain still in the field and they thrive where storage conditions are substandard or when products are stored for extended periods. They can proliferate when grains are stored in humidity greater than 14%, at warm temperatures over 68°F (20°C) and/or if the product is inadequately dried. In order to prevent mycotoxin formation grains must be kept dry, free of damage and free of insects. Just a small amount of growth of fungi in grains can produce sufficient moisture from metabolism to allow further growth and aflatoxin formation.¹
Maybe at this point you are wondering what all of the above has to do with the kibble people feed their cats. The main ingredient in most dry cat and dog foods is corn and other types of grain such as rice, wheat and barley. Stuff that has no business in an obligate carnivore's diet. Stuff that is highly susceptible to mold. These molds can easily grow and produce very potent carcinogens. Aflatoxins are very stable and even the high temperature of kibble production will not destroy or denature them.²
How could aflatoxins affect your kittens? Aflatoxins are primarily hepatotoxic; this means that they can cause liver damage. There are many different types of aflatoxins with different degrees of toxicity. Susceptibility to these toxins varies with an animal's species, breed, age, dose, length of exposure and nutritional status. Young animals are the most susceptible. Aflatoxins are immunosuppressive, teratogenic and mutagenic. After ingestion, they are absorbed into the bloodstream and taken to the liver where they are metabolized by different types of hepatic enzymes. The final toxic product is a reactive aflatoxin which binds irreversibly to the DNA and RNA of liver cells, turning them into carcinogenic cells leading to necrosis and impairment of normal liver function, bile stasis and liver fibrosis.³
The most common clinical signs of affected animals are:
  • Refusal of food, also known as anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Immune suppression
  • Jaundice
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Kidney/liver damage
  • Anemia
  • Poor coat condition
Unfortunately there is no antidote for aflatoxins. The treatment is aimed to decrease the liver stress, provide supportive care and symptom management. Cat owners - and pet owners in general - should avoid any foods containing vegetable cereals and corn or wheat fillers.
The easiest way to achieve this is simply by feeding your cat a species-appropriate raw meat diet, no aflatoxins at all!
Here are some facts:
In December, 2005, over one million pounds of dog and cat food manufactured in a South Carolina plant were recalled due to the discovery of mold toxin contamination of the corn-based foods they were manufactured from. Nineteen different formulation of pet foods were affected and over 100 dogs died.
An article published on Tuesday, 15 April, 2014, showed that The Consumer Council of Hong Kong's recent tests on 39 dry pet products, 20 dog foods and 19 cat foods, indicated the presence of aflatoxin B1 in four dog foods and three cat foods. They included popular US food manufacturers.
The Alltech Mycotoxin Management Team carried out a survey of the 2012 world grain harvest. Testing 965 grain samples from around the world, the result showed 98% contaminated with mycotoxins, 93% contaminated with multiple strains and 40% contaminated with over five different mycotoxin strains.
This is my personal experience: Many years ago Popi, my beloved cat, died from hepatic cancer. He was fed only dry food his entire life. I thought I was doing the best for him. How wrong I was. He was fine until he became very ill, stopped eating and developed jaundice. The level of his hepatic enzymes went over the roof. There wasn't much I could do to save his life. Being myself a vet I couldn't help him and by writing this article I want to honor him and thank him for all I have learned because of him and his disease. After he passed away, I began doing my homework, researching, reading and interviewing people. That's how I made contact with Feline Nutrition and its founder who kindly invited me to contribute to their educational efforts. Cat nutrition is a matter that isn't taught thoroughly at vet schools around the world. The only nutritional education graduate vets receive is sponsored by those mega corporations that produce pet food. They set up fancy seminars with doctors whose recommendations are totally biased in favor of the foods they are paid to represent.
Please do your research. Your cat deserves much more than the flavored kibble corn inside that fancy colored bag.
Note: Feline Nutrition provides feline health and nutrition information as a public service. Diagnosis and treatment of specific conditions should always be in consultation with your own veterinarian. Feline Nutrition disclaims all warranties and liability related to the veterinary advice and information provided on this site.
Dr. Guillermo Díaz and family, including their four dogs (Leroy, Xica, Moza and Pepa) and six cats (Michalina, Tigger, Vladimir, Yellow, Mongo and Chirusa) moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina in July of 2017, where he expects to continue supporting different animal rescue groups, spread the benefits of raw diet for both dogs and cats and write articles about nutrition.
  1. Simone Aquino and Benedito Corrêa, "Aflatoxins in Pet Foods: A Risk to Special Consumers," Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas/USP, São Paulo, Brazil, Oct 21, 2011.
  3. Herman J Boermans and Maxwell CK Leung, "Mycotoxins and the Pet Food Industry: Toxicological Evidence and Risk Assessment," International Journal of Food Microbiology 119, 2007, 95-102.
  4. KA Stenske, JR Smith, SJ Newman, LB Newman and CA Kirk, "Aflatoxicosis in Dogs and Dealing with Suspected Contaminated Commercial Foods," Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 228, 2006, 1686-1691.
  5. "Cancer-causing Toxin Found in Hong Kong Pet Food Sparks Alarm," South China Morning Post, 15 April, 2014.
  6. "Mycotoxins - The Hidden Danger in Feed,", Sept 19, 2013.

Follow the Feline Nutrition Foundation