Don't ignore dog and cat food recalls: The deadly risk explained

The FDA recently noted another round of cat and dog food recalls, this one spurred by the presence of aflatoxin at potentially deadly levels. This isn't the first pet food recall this year caused by this toxin, but it is the most deadly, with more than two dozen dog deaths linked to the recalled pet food. What is aflatoxin and why is it so dangerous?

The toxin

Some pet food is recalled due to Salmonella contamination, which can also spread to humans who touch the food or who are licked by an animal that ate the food. Dry dog food recalls are usually made for a different reason, though: high levels of aflatoxin, a toxin produced by Aspergillus flavus.

This mold naturally occurs on grains used in these foods, such as corn. There's a certain maximum limit of aflatoxin that can be present, after which point the risk of aflatoxin poisoning is present. As with pets, high levels of aflatoxin are also a health risk to humans, though the varied diet consumed by humans minimizes the risk compared to pets.

The consequences

According to the FDA, aflatoxins can result in severe health consequences for pets, including liver damage and aflatoxicosis. These toxins are identified as a carcinogen and the FDA notes that their presence in food should be 'restricted to the lowest practical level.' In the case of livestock, aflatoxin can end up in meat and eggs, putting humans at risk.

Underscoring the seriousness of this recall, the FDA posted a companion advisory on December 30, explaining that pets are at particular risk of aflatoxin poisoning because they eat a monotonous diet and are therefore exposed to the toxin over a long period of time — assuming the food is contaminated, of course.

The agency notes that there's no evidence indicating pet owners may themselves be at risk of poisoning from handling pet food containing high levels of the toxin — despite that, they're still advised to wash their hands after handling the product.

Pets suffering from aflatoxin poisoning can exhibit a variety of symptoms, including jaundice, loss of appetite, vomiting, sluggishness, and diarrhea. Tragically, the toxin may cause long-term damage to the liver and could result in death. Pet owners are advised to contact a vet if their pet has consumed the recalled food because not all animals show symptoms when they suffer liver damage.

Latest recall

This latest recall comes from Midwest Pet Foods and involves its Sportmix brand of dog and cat foods. The FDA advisory provides more details than the recall notice, stating that at least 28 dogs have died in relation to this recall and another eight have fallen ill. There haven't been any reports of illnesses and deaths with cats.

The high levels of aflatoxin were discovered in multiple product samples tested by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. The FDA notes that this toxin could be present in the pet food even if you don't see any visible mold on the kibbles.

The following pet foods have been recalled, including their lot numbers:

50# Sportmix Energy Plus Lots Exp 03/02/22/05/L2, 03/02/22/05/L3, 03/03/22/05/L2

44# Sportmix Energy Plus Lots 03/02/22/05/L3

50# Sportmix Premium High Energy Lots 03/03/22/05/L3

44# Sportmix Premium High Energy Lots 03/03/22/05/L3

31# Sportmix Original Cat Lots 03/03/22/05/L3

15# Sportmix Original Cat Lots 03/03/22/05/L2, 03/03/22/05/L3

The FDA says that it is working with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Midwest Pet Food Inc. on determining whether any other pet food products may also contain the same ingredients with high aflatoxin levels. For this reason, pet owners should keep an eye on the FDA's website for any updates or new recalls.