Pet Owners: Beware of Moldy Foods!

This Newsletter is provided to you by:  Gary Wingate, RPh, FACVP Wingate’s Pharmacy Inc. 129 Main Street, Nashua, NH 03064, Phone: 603-882-9733, Fax: 603-882-9734, Email:, American College of Veterinary Pharmacists


In December, 2005, over 1,000,000 pounds of pet food [dog & cat] manufactured in a South Carolina plant were recalled due to the discovery of mold and mold toxin contamination of the corn-based foods. The potentially affected products had already been distributed in 23 states and overseas prior to the recall.  Sadly, over 100 dogs have died and numerous others became sick after eating the food.  Federal regulators cited improper testing or failure to test corn shipments as the cause, and the company has subsequently changed its testing policy to help prevent future problems with aflatoxin contamination.  Now, many pet owners have questions about pet food safety and proper storage and handling.  This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions from pet owners pertaining to aflatoxin contamination of pet foods.

What are aflatoxins? They are toxic chemicals produced by fungi/molds that are naturally present in the environment.  These molds are capable of growing on crops such as corn, cottonseed, peanuts, rice, wheat, soybeans, almonds, walnuts, and coconuts, among others  – especially during periods of drought or very high temperatures when crops are stressed.  Harvested products may also be contaminated during periods of storage under moist, warm conditions.

How do pet food companies prevent aflatoxin contamination? All corn and corn products are tested for aflatoxin contamination prior to use in the manufacture of commercial pet food.  The products are tested once again by the manufacturer prior to use. In this incident of contamination, the food was improperly tested by the company.

Are commercial pet foods often contaminated with mold? No, this particular incident is viewed as an isolated case, and the company has since changed their testing procedures to prevent future problems.  Since 1975, there have been 11 other documented episodes of aflatoxin contamination in commercial dog foods.

What are the signs of aflatoxicosis in dogs? Dogs that have eaten moldy food usually appear depressed, lethargic or weak.  Loss of appetite and continuing vomiting are common.  The “whites” of their eyes and other mucous membranes will likely develop a yellowish tint.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has consumed moldy food? Seek a veterinarian’s care right away! Early, aggressive treatment increases the chances of survival.  Save a sample of the suspect food along with the packaging information, including the product and date code.

What is the treatment for aflatoxicosis?  There is no antidote for the aflatoxin; therefore, treatment is mainly aimed at decreasing liver stress, and providing supportive care of symptomatic management.  Note: The liver is the main organ affected by aflatoxins.  In addition to other supportive drug therapy and care, there are several drugs, nutraceuticals, and vitamins that the veterinarian can use to help the liver recover from damage.  Some choices include S-adenosylmethionine [ also called SAM-E], milk thistle, melatonin, ursodiol, colchicine, n-acertylcysteine, L-carnitine, and vitamin K.

What are my dog’s chances of survival from aflatoxicosis?  Unfortunately, even with aggressive treatment, dogs with aflatoxicosis have approximately only a 50% chance of survival.  As might be expected, those dogs in better health and physical condition prior to intoxication tend to have better outcomes than those in poorer health.

 Many dogs are relatively indiscriminate in their eating patterns, and spoiled or moldy foods are just fine in their tastes.  Examine all foods prior to feeding.  Do not feed products that look or smell moldy or rotten.  Make sure trash bins are secure, since they may contain moldy bread or other contaminated foods.  Store dog food in a cool dry place.  If the food is transferred into a seperate container for storage, be sure to keep the date code and product code from the original package.

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