Carrageenan: Should It Be In Your Cat’s Food?

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Carrageenan is a common food addivitve both in pet food and human food. It is extracted from seaweed through the use of a chemical solvent. It is used as thickener and binder in canned pet food, as well as in many human foods such as ice cream, yogurt, and soy milk. You would think something that comes from seaweed is natural and healthy, right? Think again.

Two kinds of carrageenan

There are two kinds of carrageenan – degraded and undegraded. According to the Cornucopia Institute, the International Agency for Research on Cancer recognizes degraded carrageenan as a “possible human carcinogen,” based on research showing that it leads to higher rates of colon cancer in lab animals. Carrageenan processors claim that food-grade carrageenan falls entirely in the undegraded category; however, one study showed that not a single sample of food-grade carrageenan could confidently claim to be entirely free of the potential cancer-causing material.

Food-grade or “undegraded” carrageenan is on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) list of items that are “Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)” and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) defines it as an acceptable emulsifier, stablizer, and thickener.

Degraded carrageenan, which occurs at high temperatures and acidity, has been associated with ulcerations in the gastro-intestinal tract and gastro-intestinal cancer in animals.

Should you err on the side of caution?

All of this has me increasingly concerned about feeding food that contains carrageenan. Even though foods without this ingredient may be a little harder to find, I think it’s well worth reading your labels and finding alternatives if your cat’s current food contains it.

Take the time to scan your cat’s food for this ingredient. Unless your cat absolutely refuses to eat the brands that do not contain carrageenan, I would make the switch.

Photo ©Robin Olson, used with permission. See more of Robin’s adorable foster kittens on her blog, Covered in Cat Hair.

Dr. Goodpet

35 Comments on Carrageenan: Should It Be In Your Cat’s Food?

  1. eldee (ld boynton)
    February 7, 2015 at 10:57 am (2 months ago)

    i just read on my computer of the Guinness record for oldest living cat: 26 yr old Tiffany (U-T San Diego newspaper article of 2/5/2016). can we find out what her owner feeds her?! that would be very interesting.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 7, 2015 at 11:07 am (2 months ago)

      I had the same thought, Eldee! I’ll see if I can find out.

      Reply
  2. Paula
    January 20, 2015 at 4:54 pm (3 months ago)

    My 15-yr old Calico girl will only eat the old formula I and Love and You, Oh My Cod. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Her appetite has remained good and so far, she’s maintaining her weight. I restocked with two cases of Oh My Cod – I knew it was different the minute I opened the can. It was a dingy, dark grey color and had no aroma at all. I contacted the manufacturer and was told it was reformulated to remove Carrageenan and to meet AFCCO requirements. I am searching everywhere to find the old formula Oh My Cod just so my sweet senior will continue eating. I’ve tried everything available – from low end to high – and she will have nothing to do with any of it. I am heartsick about her illness, and want to be sure she has the best quality of life possible, and for her, that means eating the old formula Oh My Cod. Does anyone have any they’d like to sell?

    Reply
  3. Heather
    July 4, 2014 at 5:05 pm (10 months ago)

    We have no proof that it was the carrageenan in our cat’s canned food, but he developed bloody urine around nine months ago. After multiple trips to the vet and different medications providing no relief and no medical explanation for the blood, we were still at square one trying to figure out what could be causing it. We never suspected it was the food. A few months ago he suddenly developed a dislike for the food we were giving him. We switched to a brand without carrageenan (just by coincidence) and everything cleared up. He hasn’t had any blood in his urine since the transition. When comparing the ingredients, the main difference was that the new food doesn’t have cranberries, carrageenan, and guar gum. Our next trip to the vet will include an update so they can share this with other patients if they see the situation again.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 4, 2014 at 6:35 pm (10 months ago)

      Very interesting! Thanks for sharing this with us, Heather. I’d be very interested to hear what your vet has to say once you share this with them.

      Reply
  4. Cheryl
    June 28, 2014 at 7:12 pm (10 months ago)

    Hi. I am vegan but feed my cats meat. I am concerned about the quality of the poultry and beef used in cat foods…are they from factory farms, which are not a healthy choice? I have been trying to find out. Also, how about Halo canned cat foods (grain free) that have recently hit the market. Thanks for sharing your research.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 29, 2014 at 8:27 am (10 months ago)

      Your best bet to get that information is probably to contact each brand directly, Cheryl.

      Halo is higher in carbs than the brands I recommend.

      Reply
  5. Vinny Andrade
    June 23, 2014 at 10:24 pm (10 months ago)

    Hello , me too , I was giving dry food Science Diet for 13 years , but always with can food 3 times a week . I’ve seen my cat drinking water all the time . Still , he got hard stool and was vomiting 3 times a day and stopped eating for 2-3 days . I paid $ 700 to the vet for x rays , blood exam and medication , but it didn’t include anything for constipation even though she noticed it . I did myself the cat enema syringe I got from Amazon . He got very weak , it took almost 3 days to cleanse . But now finally he’s eating again . But not his own food , not sure what he likes anymore . Definetly I will give him now only wet food and I’m switching to Wellness or real meat food . Science diet still has by-product . He’s now 13 and requires to eat more healthy food , at least without grains and by-product . Their body can’t absorb all the junk anymore . I don’t think the carrageenan they use in this products are dangerous. They will not use the amount to do harm to the pets . That’s what I prefer to think . We can be more selective of the quality of the food . .

    Reply
  6. Michele
    March 14, 2014 at 5:24 pm (1 year ago)

    Ingrid, the foods you listed that dont have carageenan contain montmorillanite clay. Have you done any research on that? I have and it doesnt look good.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 15, 2014 at 5:36 am (1 year ago)

      Montmorillanite clay is a source of minerals, so it can actually add beneficial ingredients to a food. It’s used as a binding agent in canned foods. Some holistic vets actually recommend it as a detoxifying supplement. The concern with this ingredient can be dioxin contamination, so sourcing is important.

      Reply
  7. Gale
    February 24, 2014 at 9:33 pm (1 year ago)

    I can attest to this. I’m late to the game. Gale is now 10yrs old and has had vomiting issues 1 or 2x per DAY. I was feeding mainly dry food- Eukanuba, IAMS, Science Diet and I thought I was doing the right thing, but I was proved wrong. Because she was not drinking enough water and only got dry food, I had to take her to the Emergency Vet to remove a piece of hard stool stuck half way in her anus. The vet also removed several more pieces of hard stool from her tract. She was meowing and looked to be in awful pain. I couldn’t imagine going through that.

    I’m not excited to spend $1 can or more per day, but I am fortunate enough to afford it and I’ve had my cat since she was 8 wks old. She has been my companion for 10 years and she deserves it. Like Ingrid said, feed the best food you can afford.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      February 25, 2014 at 6:45 am (1 year ago)

      I’m so glad your cat is doing better on higher quality food, Gale.

      Reply
  8. Fluffy Frank
    January 25, 2014 at 11:31 pm (1 year ago)

    Each one of the 3 brands you listed are expensive. Not just mid-range, but high end. To be feeding that daily to a cat is a ridiculous expenditure.

    There are some Fancy Feast – Classics that do not have carrageenan, not to mention, no grains, glutens or other fillers. Unlike many other brands.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 26, 2014 at 5:49 am (1 year ago)

      Fancy Feast may not contain carrageenan, buy it contains by-products and filers. High end premium foods may be more expensive, but since they’re better for your cat, they may save you veterinary expenses down the line. I encourage cat guardians to feed the best food they’re able to afford.

      Reply
  9. Lisa
    November 27, 2013 at 9:27 pm (1 year ago)

    Just a quick note to say how customer inquiry and pressure can influence a manufacturer – ZiwiPeak will be removing the carrageenan from their canned foods in the new year (not sure specifically which month). The VP of the company just confirmed this (to me via email) and will announce on ZP’s site and other ZP mediums (Facebook, etc.) when the carrageenan-free food will hit the markets.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 28, 2013 at 7:01 am (1 year ago)

      I’m very happy to hear this, Lisa! Once they’ve changed their formula, I will be adding them to my list of recommended brands.

      Reply
  10. Liz
    November 18, 2013 at 5:24 pm (1 year ago)

    Whoops, following up again – just noticed the Tiki Cat flavors ‘with rice’ list “Vegetable Gums” on the website, which if you look at the actual can label says (Locust Bean, Carrageenan, Guar) after it.

    Reply
  11. Liz
    November 18, 2013 at 4:47 pm (1 year ago)

    Following up: Tiki Cat’s all seem to be carrageenan-free (as well as xanthan gum) but they’re almost all fish or fish combinations – they only have two flavors that don’t include fish.

    Reply
  12. Liz
    November 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm (1 year ago)

    All but three of the Weruva fish flavors contain carrageenan (Meow Luau, Mideast Feast, and Mediterranean Harvest don’t). I wish they said what kind of Mackerel they use, some species are listed in the high/highest group and others are very low. Am avoiding them and the tuna (same problem) just to be safe, which just leaves the tilapia one as an occasional treat.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      November 18, 2013 at 7:15 pm (1 year ago)

      The only two Tiki Cat favors I recommend are the two chicken based ones. I don’t recommend feeding any fish except as an occasional treat.

      Reply
  13. Bethany
    December 2, 2012 at 2:54 pm (2 years ago)

    But Nature’s Variety contains Montmorillonite Clay, another source of concern regarding dioxin.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      December 2, 2012 at 4:12 pm (2 years ago)

      Montmorillonite clay is a caking agent. Nature’s Variety has told me that theirs is Hydrated Sodium Calcium Aluminosilicate and is sourced from deposits in southern Utah.

      Reply
  14. Save Samoa (Laurie)
    June 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm (3 years ago)

    I checked the ingredients in Nature’s Logic. It contains kelp. The amount is probably small enough that it’s not an issue, but kelp contains carageenan.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm (3 years ago)

      Good find, Laurie. I’ll try to find out from Nature’s Logic how that kelp is processed.

      Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 12, 2012 at 11:50 am (3 years ago)

      Laurie, I heard back from Nature’s Logic. According to their quality assurance person, the kelp (seaweed) is solar dried and minimally processed through grinding, milling and screening, ensuring it remains natural through to the finished product.

      Reply
  15. Pam
    June 8, 2012 at 5:15 pm (3 years ago)

    Great post, Ingrid.

    Watch out, and read the label on EACH FLAVOR of a canned food you’re interested in purchasing. I routinely find carageenan in one flavor of a single brand’s food, but then it’s not in some other flavor of the same brand.

    Unfortunately, you have to read every single label on every single can if you’re serious about avoiding carageenan, which I am!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 8, 2012 at 5:50 pm (3 years ago)

      Thanks, Pam. I did not realize that even different flavors within the same brand may or may not contain carrageenan. I just scanned the Nature’s Variety and Nature’s Logic canned foods I recommend, and all flavors are without carrageenan. I’ll have to go through all of the Weruva flavors to be sure, but the ones I feed (the poultry based ones) are all carrageenan-free.

      Reply
  16. Julia Williams
    June 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm (3 years ago)

    I’ve been hearing a lot about this lately. I didn’t even know what it was.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 8, 2012 at 5:46 pm (3 years ago)

      There has been a lot more information about this lately, Julia. I think it’s because pet parents are asking more questions, which is a good thing.

      Reply
  17. Teri and the cats of Curlz and Swirlz
    June 8, 2012 at 11:45 am (3 years ago)

    My cats were on Nulo (has carageenan) and Life’s Abundance Instinctive (doesn’t have carageenan) and am just letting the Nulo run out and stay with the LA. I subscribe to truthaboutpetfood.com and it’s a big help in finding good food choices, too. I always remember when I used to say to my husband ‘I’m running out to get cat food’ and he’d say ‘See you in 3 hours’ because I spent so much time reviewing labels, hahameow!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 8, 2012 at 5:45 pm (3 years ago)

      I can totally relate to the 3 hours of cat food shopping, Teri. I think I spend more time reading cat food labels than worrying about what’s in the food I eat!

      Reply
    • Ellen
      July 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm (3 years ago)

      Hi Teri,
      My little kitty won’t eat Life’s Abundance wet cat food. Could I sell you a case? I’ve been trying to get rid of it because I can’t return. Let me know!
      Ellen

      Reply
  18. Jenny | Floppycats
    June 8, 2012 at 9:45 am (3 years ago)

    Thanks, Ingrid. Been wondering about it. Ugh, another thing to worry about! Wish that all companies would just look out for the kitties!!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      June 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm (3 years ago)

      Wouldn’t it be nice if companies did that, Jenny!

      Reply

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