The Truth About Carrageenan in Cat Food

Sun Dried Carrageenan

If you’re unsure whether carrageenan is a safe ingredient for your cat’s food, it’s essential to grasp its advantages and risks before making a decision. Let’s delve into the details and explore the truth about carrageenan in cat food.

What Exactly is Carrageenan?

Carrageenan is derived from a type of edible red seaweed and is extracted using a chemical solvent. It is commonly used as a thickening and binding agent in both human and pet food. In cat food, carrageenan is primarily found in wet food varieties.

There are two distinct types of carrageenan:

  1. Undegraded Carrageenan: This type is considered safe for both humans and animals.
  2. Degraded Carrageenan (Poligeenan): This occurs when carrageenan is exposed to high acidity and temperature, breaking down the molecules into smaller chains. Degraded carrageenan is unsafe for consumption by humans or animals.

Carrageenan might also be listed on ingredient labels under different names, as various manufacturers aim to address concerns around this ingredient and alter its presentation.

Fresh Carrageenan
Image Credit: Glenda-Esperida, Shutterstock

Understanding the Risks

Several risks are associated with carrageenan that warrant careful consideration before including it in your cat’s diet.

In 1982, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified degraded carrageenan as a “possible human carcinogen.” However, it’s important to note that food manufacturers firmly deny the usage of degraded carrageenan in pet food production.

In 2012, The Cornucopia Institute published a report suggesting that even food-grade undegraded carrageenan has the potential to cause ulcerations, gastrointestinal inflammation, intestinal lesions, and potentially tumors.

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It is believed that undegraded carrageenan may start to degrade and produce negative effects similar to degraded carrageenan when exposed to stomach acid during digestion. Extended exposure to carrageenan in cats may result in prolonged inflammation of the digestive system, which could lead to the development of more serious illnesses over time. In humans, these can include inflammatory bowel disease, arteriosclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. The same risks may apply to cats as well.

In 2016, the National Organic Standards Board recommended removing carrageenan from the list of approved ingredients. However, this decision was overturned by the USDA due to the absence of a natural substitute for carrageenan.

Cat Eating Granulated Cat Food from a Bowl
Image Credit: Lumi Studio, Shutterstock

Uncovering the Benefits

Food-grade carrageenan, or undegraded carrageenan, is categorized as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which oversees pet food production in the United States, also deems it safe for use as a stabilizer, thickener, and emulsifier.

From a nutritional standpoint, carrageenan doesn’t provide any direct benefits to cats. Its primary function is to enhance palatability by adding thickness to gravies and maintaining the proper blend and consistency of food.

Should You Avoid Carrageenan in Cat Food?

Considering the potential risks associated with carrageenan in cat food, it is understandable if you prefer to avoid feeding it to your feline companion. However, it’s important to note that carrageenan remains an acceptable ingredient and is present in many brands of wet cat food.

For those looking for carrageenan-free alternatives, several wet cat foods fit the criteria.

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If your cat has been experiencing inflammatory issues in their digestive system, it may be worthwhile to exclude carrageenan from their diet for at least a month and observe whether their symptoms improve.

Ultimately, carrageenan doesn’t provide any nutritional benefits for your cat, so eliminating it from their diet poses no concerns for their overall health and well-being.

More Cat Reads:

  • Can Dry Food Cause Diabetes in Cats? Everything You Need to Know!
  • 10 Best Cat Food Bowls – Reviews & Top Picks
  • How Long Do Cats Live? Average and Maximum Life Expectancy

Featured Image Credit: Glenda Esperida, Shutterstock

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