Carrageenan -- Manufactured Dog & Cat Foods: Is There Poison In The Can?

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. These include Wysong, Nature’s Variety, Verus Foods (for dogs) and Mulligan Stew. Susan Thixton (personal communication) writes, “ Also there are non-canned but moist foods like Honest Kitchen, Just Food for Dogs, FreshFetch (not to be confused with FreshPet), Frenchy’s Kitchen, Buddy’s Kitchen (Canada), Evermore and Lucky Dog Cuisine. All of these foods use human quality/grade ingredients as well - and most are manufactured in human food facilities (following every letter of the law of food regulations).” Some companies such as Solid Gold include carrageenan in some but not all of their canned pet foods.

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
  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

Michael W. Fox BVetMed, PhD, DSc, MRCVS Veterinarian, bioethicist, syndicated newspaper columnist.