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The impact of mycotoxins on pets

Author: Kami Grandeen, Alltech

Pets have become our family members, and mycotoxin contamination in pet food not only affects their health and safety but can create an emotional and economic impact on the human family members.

Pet food manufacturers have stringent quality and safety practices in place for choosing ingredients. Even with strict testing procedures for mycotoxins in incoming materials and finished pet food, there can be challenges in knowing exactly what might be hiding in seemingly safe ingredients. Grain processing, sampling error, analytical methods, synergistic interactions and storage conditions can all present challenges to the pet food manufacturer when trying to detect mycotoxins.

Processed cereals byproducts like bran, often used in pet food, may have a concentrated level of mycotoxins compared to the raw whole grains. Sampling errors can also occur, as mycotoxins are not evenly distributed in grains, and the most rigid sampling procedure can still accidentally miss a mycotoxin threat. Multiple mycotoxins are often present in a single ingredient and can work synergistically to present a bigger risk to the pet than a single mycotoxin. Analytical tests may not be sensitive enough to detect mycotoxins at low levels, detect a wide variety of mycotoxins or detect masked mycotoxins in an ingredient.

Mycotoxins that occur most often in pet food and pet food ingredients include aflatoxins, ochratoxins and Fusarium mycotoxins. Aflatoxins are found in corn, peanuts, cottonseed and tree nuts. The primary effect of aflatoxins is liver damage, whether through acute or chronic exposure. Death can also occur when a pet consumes aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are carcinogenic and, long-term, very low exposure can be devastating for pets and their families.

Corn, wheat, oats and dried beans can be sources of ochratoxins. Food refusal, weight loss, dehydration and diarrhea can be signs of ochratoxin contamination and, in high enough quantities, they can result in kidney damage.

Fusarium mycotoxins are a diverse group of mycotoxins found in corn, wheat, oats and barley and have various modes of action. This family of mycotoxins can cause vomiting, gastrointestinal irritation, immunosuppression and reproductive problems in pets.

While grains are the most commonly associated with mycotoxins, grain-free diets can also contain mycotoxins. Nuts, fruits, legumes, sweet potatoes, rice and other common pet food ingredients can contain mycotoxins. Mycotoxin contamination risk is dependent on weather conditions, harvest, storage and transport. The only way to know the risk is to test and evaluate each ingredient.

When choosing a food or treat for your pet, ask the manufacturer questions about their mycotoxin testing program and mitigation plan. There are many programs available for testing pet food ingredients to limit the mycotoxins in pet food and ensure our pets’ safety. Alltech RAPIREAD is a tool available for pet food manufacturers to quickly test ingredients for the most common mycotoxins affecting pets. For a more in-depth analysis of an ingredient, Alltech 37+® mycotoxin analysis tests for 50 mycotoxins. Because testing is not foolproof, including a broad-spectrum adsorbent in the food also adds another level of protection to keep our pet family member safe and healthy.