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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.

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

  1. I FEED MY CAT BACKWOODS POUCH BY MERRICK IN THE MORNING . WELLNESS OR NUTRO CANNED IN THE AFTERNOON AND A SMALL TRAY OF WILD FRONTIER NY NUTRO AT NIGHT. DEFINITELY NO DRY. AS A MATTER OF FACT THEY SHOULD PULL DRY OFF THE SHELVES. UNFORTUNATELY SOME CATS WILL EAT ONLY DRY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I actually dealt with the people who make Acana and Orijen. Not a nice guy but we had a frank conversation. Even he admitted that dry food for cats and dogs…cats especially….is terrible. He just wanted to make the best he could. At the end of the day dry pet food is so processed that much nutrition is destroyed. Humans would get sick on food processed to the same degree. Cats and dogs aren’t designed to live on the same amount of processing. Ever notice how cats and dogs commonly get kidney failure??? It’s through dehydration. When anybody lives on a diet of something so dry (once again, way worse for cats than dogs) one rarely drinks enough water to compensate for the missing water. Cats don’t have a trigger in their brains to tell them to drink water because they are desert animals. They are used to getting their water from their food. People…please give your pets wet food. You know you’d get sick on dry…god didn’t design them to live off highly processed dry food.

  3. I currently have a domestic shorthair female cat named Winnie, she loves to talk. Recently, saw blood in her urine and became very concerned on how it started. I was feeding her Purina Cat Chow dry nibbles and Nature’s Variety Chicken wet food for dinner. So, I took her off Purina and she stopped talking so much in the bathroom volume high. The blood stopped thereafter purchased a bigger litter box. Now I feed her Acana dry food, Nature’s Variety wet chicken, and Orijen treats with no problem. After researching Purina ( not just them either) noticed all the salt with different names and realized too much salt sucks up moisture results in urine crystals or urinary problems. I noticed words like sodium selenite, hydro choloride, carbon cholide and as a result being canned there is no juice content also smells. On a previous occasion, feed my cat wet food from major cat website wet food and was vomiting. Soon as i stopped that brand it ended because couldn’t take the sounds she made. So now I am a firm believer in purchasing cat food with only meat ingredients and nothing else. Why? Because problems arise when you add to it. Animals in the wild don’t seek out fruits and vegetables, if they do it could be desperation or depends on what type of animal. Overall from reading all reviews decided to participate in the discussion and share my experiences to show my appreciation for all that you do. I may be wrong on some things so am open to suggestions and advice given. Thank you for letting me share.

    • I think you’re on top of things. I feed Orijen to my cats but canned is critical for indoor cats. I lost a cat to CKD which led me to the Conscious Cat and many others that I now get info from. Outside the cat will get water from the mice they eat, indoors it’s not the case, the water in canned is critical to keep the kidneys flushed and avoid CKD, urinary tract issues, etc. As I close you must watch Pet Fooled on Netflix, it’ll shock you when you find out what’s really in most of the pet food out there,
      Thnx

  4. Thank-you for the info on carrageenan. I see it on a lot of foods that are labeled as grain free. Seems the manufacturers either use Xanthum gum (which is corn derived and therefore not grain free) or carrageenan. It becomes frustrating when as a pet owner, you want to feed them the best quality food and then you end up with decisions like this – choose your poison.

    So I found some brands that are including brewer’s yeast. Is this considered a grain? Is it healthy for my cats? I’m trying to find appropriate foods for my IBD cat, who has a terrible reaction to carrageenan and perhaps to chicken but I’m not absolutely positive about the chicken yet, more experimentation is needed. So just would like to get your thoughts on the brewer’s yeast.
    Thanks very much!

    • Brewers yeast contains many vital nutrients, which is probably why it’s added to some foods. It’s not a binder. It has a slightly bitter taste, but some cats seem to like it. If you’re going to add brewer’s yeast, make sure to read labels: some manufacturers will add garlic, which is toxic to cats.

      You may want to consider a raw food or home cooked diet for your IBD kitty.

  5. Ingrid, I forgot to mention that besides feeding my 4 cats Fromm & Nulo dry food, I also fed them canned food twice a day. I have been giving them ProPlan canned food, mostly the classes, as that is what they prefer the most. I have tried practically all the canned foods on the market and this is what they like. However, I am not really a fan of Purina.

  6. I feed my 4 cats Fromm and Nulo dry food. However, I read where any fruits or vegetables are bad for the cats and digestion. I also give them Orijen on occasion. I did have 5 cats and one of them, my 10 year old Russian Blue passed away from Lymphoma and I am wondering if it was from the cat food. He also used to chew on plastic every chance he could get if I forgot to put it away. Like Seran wrap or gifts that come in a plastic package.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

    • 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.

    • Were you feeding wet or dry food? And when you switched did you keep to the same, wet or dry? I’ve read that cranberries are good for urinary tract health, so this is confusing. But like you stated it could have been the carrageenan. I’ll keep that in mind for future. Yes, one of my males has urinary tract problems and I’m slowly trying to get him off of the addictive dry food. I’ll have to watch out for the carrageenan now as well. Thanks for your post.

    • Yes. My George started vomiting his food last year, wellness core, occasionally. We now have ckd at 9. I cut any carrageenan foods. The damage is bad. On fluids now. I knew it was the food even though vets dnot think so because 2 year old cat refused to eat it too. So, I had some royal Cain ckd food that I bought in a pinch and grudgingly because it had carrageenan. At that time I has been convinced I needed ckd food by vet. We have a new vet now. She didn’t know what carrageenan was, so I thought maybe I was wrong and used them this week. He started vomiting after second meal. Feels thinner and less muscular and unwell coarse coat. I will never doubt myself again.

  10. 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.

    • 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.

  11. 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 . .

  12. 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.

    • 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  19. 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!

    • 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.

      • I also recently found out that some flavors of BFF by Weruva have carrageenan right under the word Ingredients. I just bought a pack of 8 cans with 4 different flavors and 4 out of 8 have carrageenan in the ingredient list. As a senior with poor eyesight i have difficulty reading the labels. My Siamese boy has had 2 or 3 bouts of pancreatitis and since being careful not to feed carrageenan he has been healthy.

    • 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.

  20. 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!

    • 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!

    • 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

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