Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: October 31, 2022 by Crystal Uys
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.
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.