As a leader in pet nutrition, we wanted to arm you with facts. This information will help you make more informed decisions about what these recalls mean and how to improve your pet's safety when it comes to toxins in dog food.
What Aflatoxin and other Mycotoxins are and how to address them
Recently, the FDA has issued alerts and recalls on dry pet food brands that contain high levels of aflatoxin. This is both a current issue and an ever-present risk for pet owners feeding dry food to pets. It’s also a bigger risk for pets whose owners only feed dry food exclusively, which is referred to as a “mono diet.”
You can review the FDA information here:
Sunshine Mills Recall: Sept 2020
Midwestern Recall: Jan 2021
What are mycotoxins and specifically aflatoxin?
This is the organic structure for Aflatoxin
“Mycotoxins are the toxins produced by fungi that naturally contaminate a wide variety of agricultural crops,” explained NEOGEN’s Spencer Jackson.
The discovery of mycotoxin aflatoxin in the 1960s led to a boom in scientific and regulatory interest in testing and the monitoring of mycotoxins. When it was found that aflatoxins can be carcinogenic in animals, an urgent need was sparked to facilitate a greater regulation of mycotoxins in food and animal feed ingredients.
Fungi are a normal part of the microflora of standing crops and stored feeds, but the production of Mycotoxin depends upon the fungi present, agronomic practices, the composition of the commodity, and the conditions of harvesting, handling, and storage . The amount of toxin produced will depend on physical factors (moisture, relative humidity, temperature, and mechanical damage), chemical factors (carbon dioxide, oxygen, composition of substrate, pesticide, and fungicides), and biological factors (plant variety, stress, insects, spore load).
“So many efforts have been made towards control and reduction of mycotoxin contamination of foods but the ubiquitous nature of toxigenic fungi enables their wide occurrence ” states Dr. Mu in their publication on Mycotoxin Contamination of Foods and Feeds.
How Does Aflatoxin Affect Animals?
Once toxins are ingested, the GI tract is the first site. Aflatoxin is fat-soluble and is how it will ultimately reach the liver once absorbed across the intestinal barrier. Although the liver is regarded as the main site of aflatoxin damage, the condition of the GI tract lining, the immune system status of the animal and metabolic effectiveness can all aid in reducing the exposure of the liver to aflatoxin.
FDA Stated Symptoms include:
“Pets with aflatoxin poisoning may experience symptoms such as sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums or skin due to liver damage), and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues and/or death. Some pets suffer liver damage without showing any symptoms.
Food for thought. Humans and our pets are exposed to toxins, chemicals, mold, bacteria, and fungi daily. It’s worth remembering that human and pet health defenses are built to handle various amounts of these “unhealthy” invaders like this. General health plays a big factor in how much all living species can handle. The limit of tolerance also has an individual component. Just like how some breeders are more susceptible to vaccine complications or heartworm medications, so are they to immune system tolerance levels to foreign material.
Are there other toxins to watch for?
Yes, there are. Toxins produced by molds and fungi never exist in singularity. Major toxins that are regularly tested at many levels in the food supply chain include Ochratoxin, Fumonisin, T2, Zeatalenone, and DON. More are listed in Table 1 below.
These mycotoxins also can cause severe effects, sometimes chronic health issues for both humans and animals if allowed to build up in the body.
Table 1. Diversity and Sources for Major Mycotoxins
What other pet food ingredients are at risk?
Aflatoxin is the primary risk for corn, rice, and other maize ingredients in pet foods. It's especially so for corn grown and associated crops in the southern US. This fungus is also monitored in grains, soybeans, rice, cereals, oats, and select spices that are of high use in pet food products.
Another fungus that can produce the major watched toxins also affects the same food at the farm level and can grow alongside each other. Some only affect certain grown fruits or vegetables because of the climate and regional location.
For even more information see link
How long can toxins in dog food stay active?
Mycotoxins resist decomposition and are broken down in digestion, so they can remain in the food chain mainly through corn, grains, cereals, and even in meat and dairy products. Even temperature treatments, such as cooking and freezing, do not destroy the mycotoxins.
Just because mycotoxins are present doesn’t mean they will have a negation act or cause severe illness. There are other signs that lead up to hazardous levels.
Related: Nutrition & Gut Health
How do people and animals get sick from mycotoxins, and what can we do about it?
Many outbreaks of sickness due to mycotoxins stem simply from the consumption of contaminated food and feed ingredients. Because of this, guidelines to maintain high-quality products are of paramount importance to all points in the human food and animal industry supply chains. From farm to fork, there are many points that can cause opportunistic issues to arise.
“Testing for mycotoxins has become an important regulatory standard throughout the food and feed production processes; from farmers to grain elevators, to the countless facilities producing processed or finished products,” said Jackson. “The finances—and reputation—of producers depends on product quality.” Safety and reputation are linked priorities for companies.
Is it as simple as testing?
There are plenty of stumbling blocks to overcome when testing for mycotoxins. The testing issues are inherent to ingredients and only amplify as more ingredients are added. Toxin testing is also just one part of ensuring food safety. Quality testing is needed that can have as much negative impact on human and animal health. Mold count testing, peroxide values, as well as other biological tests for things like certain salmonella species. This extra testing is but one of the ways evaluated with Rogue Pet Science products. The sheer variety of products that require testing can be difficult to manage and the methods used to test are yet another point of importance.
“There is a huge variety of products for humans and animals that undergo mycotoxin testing before reaching consumers,” said Jackson. “The list only continues to grow.”
How do these toxins end up in pet food?
Toxins are a byproduct of the fungus and mold species that serve as a type of biological defense system when the environment stresses them enough. So toxins are not being made at an enormous level as you might think. This stress happens on the farm level actually. It’s also an inherent issue with farming food crops.
Storage of the harvested corn can further encourage growth if not dried down below a certain moisture percentage for long term storage. Even then improper storage can happen. Ingredients like corn and other ingredients are then bought by brokers or food manufacturer facilities to be ground and combined with other ingredients.
This is where most pet owners assume the only risk or responsibility lay for toxin issues. The mold or fungus itself is already dead, their associated toxins are not dead given their stability and resistance to manufacturing safety/kill steps.
Related: Dog Food Articles
What does Rogue Pet Science recommend to do about toxins in dry dog food?
There are some tips that can help pet owners minimize the risk factors.
- Reduction of the high potential factors. Choosing a low-grain and low cereal-inclusive formula
- Adding fresh meat, organs and cooked whole food to supplement the diet can reduce toxin build-up
- Good beneficial fiber like Pumpkin Pro, Fermented Turmeric+, and even canned pumpkin purée with dry kibble can aid in blocking/pushing/preventing toxins from staying inside the GI tract
- Better gut health and gut environments will help a pet's natural defenses (lining, mucous members, immune system) ward off low exposure events of toxins and other pathogens
- Use of clay products to possibly help bind toxins that would get trapped in the pores of the clay. Not all clays are created equal.
- Regular periodic use of low-dose activated charcoal would aid in the binding of many toxin types that can accumulate in the gut.
- Trust in the company/brand. Reach out and ask them questions about their safety program.
The use of clay-based solution has more effect than you’d think. Clays are used in other animal feeding models to control exposure to toxins, molds and other biological molecules. Many production animals have diets high in whole grain and plants and as a preventative measure successfully use clay-based products to reduce the effects of toxins. Toxins are there, just how much has to be ingested before issues arise is the question.
- Bryden WL (2009) Mycotoxins and mycotoxicoses: significance, occurrence and mitigation in the food chain. General, Applied and Systems Toxicology.
- Ukwuru MU, Ohaegbu CG, Muritala A (2018) An Overview of Mycotoxin Contamination of Foods and Feeds. J Biochem Microb Toxicol 1: 101.