Pet owners are becoming more aware of the importance of good nutrition for the health of their dog or cat.  People feel better when they eat better, and the same is true for pets.  There are some ingredients in both human food and pet food that are not just unhealthful - they can actually be harmful.  One such ingredient is carrageenan.  It is an additive commonly found in canned or refrigerated pet food - in fact, is it difficult to find a canned / moist pet food that does not contain carrageenan. Carrageenan is sourced from seaweed and is used as a thickener and stabilizer in both human and pet foods. In human foods, it is most commonly found in ice cream and yogurt. Carrageenan has been scientifically linked to many serious illnesses including cancer. It is known to cause inflammation, which leads to other health issues.   

The FDA claims that it is safe, but science is proving otherwise.  The Cornucopia Institute, a non-profit food/farm policy research group, published a very detailed report of carrageenan that provides some concerning evidence regarding this common canned/moist pet food ingredient.  Following is from the Cornucopia Institute report “Carrageenan – How a ‘Natural’ Food Additive is Making Us Sick”.

“Animal studies have repeatedly shown that food-grade carrageenan causes gastrointestinal inflammation and higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumors.”

“The chemical structure of carrageenan – unique chemical bonds not found in other seaweeds or gums – affects the body in several ways. Most notably, it triggers an immune reaction, which leads to inflammation in the gastrointestinal system. Prolonged inflammation is a precursor to more serious diseases, including cancer.”

“Carrageenan is derived from specific seaweeds, which are processed with alkali into a widely used ‘natural’ food ingredient. When processed with acid instead of alkali, carrageenan is degraded to a low molecular weight, and is called “degraded carrageenan” or poligeenan. Degraded carrageenan is such a potent inflammatory agent that scientists routinely use it to induce inflammation and other disease in laboratory animals, to test anti-inflammation drugs and other pharmaceuticals.”

“Degraded carrageenan is not allowed in human food, but scientists have raised concerns for decades that the use of food-grade (undegraded) carrageenan also causes harm. A convincing body of scientific literature shows negative effects caused by food-grade carrageenan. Moreover, scientists are concerned that the acid environment of the stomach may “degrade” food-grade carrageenan once it enters the digestive system, thus exposing the intestines to this potent and widely recognized carcinogen.”

“The unique chemical structure of carrageenan triggers an innate immune response in the body, which recognizes it as a dangerous invader. This immune response leads to inflammation. For individuals who consume carrageenan on a regular or daily basis, the inflammation will be prolonged and constant, which is a serious health concern since prolonged inflammation is a precursor to more serious disease. In fact, the medical community has long recognized that inflammation is association with over 100 human disease, including inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and arteriosclerosis. Inflammation is also linked to cancer.”

It's obvious that carrageenan is an ingredient that can easily cause health problems for pets.  Especially when you consider the fact that dogs and cats usually eat the same food every day while humans might consume carrageenan, but they are also consuming lots of other types of foods. 

Thankfully, there is greater awareness about the importance of good nutrition for dogs and cats. And in general, canned or commercially prepared refrigerated fresh food is better for your pet than dry food, but you still have to read the labels and make sure that the brand you are choosing does not include dangerous ingredients like artificial colors, artificial preservatives, and carrageenan.  The refrigerated “fresh” pet food found in the grocery store almost always contains carrageenan.  So until pet food manufacturers recognize the health risks and stop including carageenan in their foods, it’s up to the pet parents of the world to always read the labels and choose wisely.