Aflatoxins are produced by the mold Aspergillus flavus, which can grow on corn, peanuts, and other grains. Those infected grains can end up in your pet’s food, despite even good manufacturer screening processes.
At high levels, aflatoxins can cause illness, liver damage, and death. You will rarely see evidence of aflatoxins on your pet’s food, but it can accumulate, especially in a pet eating the same food for a long time. If they’re present in large amounts, your pet can become acutely ill.
Initial signs of aflatoxin poisoning include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums, and/or skin due to liver damage), unexplained bruising or bleeding, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, aflatoxins can affect blood clotting (which leads to the bruising and bleeding) and cause long-term liver problems and/or death.
When you bring your cat into the vet clinic, if your veterinarian suspects aflatoxin poisoning, he or she will ask you to bring in a sample of your pet’s food. The sample will be sent off for testing, and symptomatic treatment for your pet will start right away. You should be able to supply your veterinarian with a complete history and listing of all foods and treats your pet has eaten. Obviously, stop feeding any potentially affected foods right away.
Often only certain lots will be affected (this is one of the reasons it is important to keep the information from a bag of dry food that has the lot number on it). Providing this information can lead to a recall of involved products.
There is no antidote for aflatoxin poisoning, but your veterinarian will start your cat on liver-support medications. The FDA warns that extremely severe or rapid-onset cases of aflatoxin poisoning may progress so quickly that the pet dies before receiving any treatment. Pets exposed to non-lethal doses of aflatoxin over time may survive, but can have long-term health problems, such as liver injury.
You can sign up for FDA alerts that affect animal and veterinary health at fda.gov/about-fda/contact-fda/get-email-updates.
Large Recall: Aflatoxins
In late December 2020, Midwestern Pet Foods issued a recall for nine lots of pet foods containing potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins. Since then, the list includes over 1,000 lots.
The affected products have the identifier “05” in the date or lot code an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022. This is an international recall. It is estimated that over 110 pets have died and over 210 have become ill. Brands include Sportmix, Pro Pac, Nunn, and Splash Fat.
This is an evolving story. If you notice any of the symptoms associated with aflatoxin poisoning (see story), contact your veterinarian immediately.