Many large pet food companies use grains, particularly corn, in their formulations. While I do not believe our dogs and cats should be fed corn-based diets, the large pet food companies believe corn is a perfectly acceptable, highly digestible, protein, fiber, and carbohydrate source for pets. Unfortunately, feeding diets high in corn can bring added risk to the health of our pets. Most importantly, liver damage secondary to exposure to molds found on grain, has a significant impact on overall health. These mycotoxins can also be found in wheat, barley, and peanuts, along with other food products.

According to the Neogen mycotoxin report, which is published weekly, corn from many states has been affected by high levels of mold toxins, including vomitoxin, aflatoxin, and fumonisin. Risks for mycotoxin development include aflatoxin in drought areas, fumonisin from excessive rains, and vomitoxin development when early frost affects immature corn. States reporting double-digit levels of corn in poor to very poor condition include Colorado, Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota, Indiana, Kansas, Illinois, North Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Mycotoxins occur, and exert their toxic effects, in extremely small quantities in foodstuffs. Large truckloads of grains are presented to pet food processing plants; only small samples of the grain are tested, often giving a false reading as to the level of molds in the entire shipment. While mold may be killed by cooking or pasteurization, the mycotoxins are not destroyed, and remain a health hazard in the finished food.

Symptoms of mycotoxin toxicity may include elevated liver enzymes, vomiting, muscle tremors, seizures, weakness, increased heart rate, anorexia, increased thirst and urination, liver failure, hemorrhage, and death. When the mother animal eats food contaminated with mycotoxins, the toxins are passed through the milk to the offspring. Mycotoxins are considered class 1 carcinogens, which means they do cause cancer. Mycotoxins have a cumulative effect on the body; chronic ingestion leads to higher levels in tissue samples.

If you are feeding a grain based food and your pet develops high liver enzymes or any of the symptoms listed above, he may be suffering from mycotoxin toxicity. Detoxification using herbs and whole foods may help repair some of the tissue damage. Diet changes should be instituted to eliminate mycotoxin exposure. By avoiding grains and legumes, the levels of contamination can be minimized.