Thinking about moldy corn makes me sneeze. I’m allergic to several types of mold that grow on corn. I wouldn’t eat moldy corn, nor would I serve it to my family. None of us would, at least not knowingly. When we buy sweet corn from the roadside stand in the summer, we can examine each ear to ensure it’s free of mold. But what happens when we purchase prepared food that contains corn? What happens when we feed our dog or cat commercial pet food containing corn?
Corn and other cereal crops are at risk for mold growth under prolonged high humidity conditions or when under stress due to drought. Molds, including Aspergillus, Fusarium, and Penicillium species, produce chemicals called mycotoxins [aflatoxin, ochratoxin, fumonisin, zearalenone, and others]. These potent toxins produce disease and can cause death in humans and animals. The liver takes the biggest hit from mycotoxin exposure, and in humans liver cancer has been linked to chronic aflatoxin exposure.
Efforts are made to reduce the amount of mycotoxin entering our food supply. In some cases, whole fields of corn are destroyed due to widespread contamination. Sometimes, though, only pockets of mold growth exist, and this corn gets mixed in with healthy corn. Other times, contaminated corn deemed unfit for human consumption makes its way into animal feed. This is the likely scenario that led to a pet food recall in 2005, when Diamond Pet Food pulled 19 lines of pet food off the market due to aflatoxin in corn. Hundreds of dogs experienced liver damage due to eating aflatoxin-contaminated food, and some of these dogs died. In 2008, Diamond Pet Food paid $3.1 million to settle a class action lawsuit resulting from the 2005-2006 aflatoxin debacle. There have been multiple pet food recalls due to mycotoxin contamination, including a few in 2013.
Stay in the loop on pet food recalls here.
Knowing this information about corn and its frequent mycotoxin contamination, I’m left shaking my head when I peruse Purina’s website. The title of the page is “Why is corn good for my dog? The article goes on to discuss how corn is nutritious and that only 1% of dogs have an allergic sensitivity to corn. The site states, “Our careful research has indicated to us that corn is not only acceptable in a dog’s diet, but benefits their health. Until our scientists can find evidence that removing corn would benefit dogs, we won’t do it.” Huh. I’ll have to focus on the nutritional aspects of corn for dogs and cats another day. I do want to point out that this page doesn’t address the health concerns related to mycotoxin contamination at all. Purina has put on blinders and ear plugs and resolutely refuses to acknowledge using corn in pet foods is playing Russian roulette. Why is this? Bet it has less to do with high quality nutrition and much more to do with the almighty dollar.
What Can You Do?
Start reading labels! Don’t purchase food for your dog or cat that contains corn or other grains. Consider feeding high quality canned food, or even feeding a raw or cooked balanced diet. My favorite cookbook can be found here. Dr. Karen Becker’s list of 13 great-to-worst pet foods is also worth a look.
If your pet is experiencing vomiting and diarrhea, sluggishness, loss of appetite, discolored urine, or jaundice (yellow skin and white of eyes), please make an appointment with your vet. These are all signs of mycotoxin exposure. Your vet will need to perform blood tests and will want to see the bag of food your pet has been eating. Treatment will include IV fluids, anti-nausea and diarrhea drugs, and liver detoxification.
I sincerely hope this is not the case, but if any of your pets has been caught up in mycotoxin exposure due to contaminated pet food, I’d like to hear from you!