Pet food recall: what is aflatoxin and how can it kill your dog or cat?

Aflatoxin Poisoning

A pet food with high levels of aflatoxin recently led to the death of over 70 dogs. Learn more about this fatal substance and how to keep your pet safe.

Aflatoxin is back in the news after dangerously high levels of the substance found in pet food has killed more than 70 dogs, and left 80 more very ill. The FDA initially announced a recall warning for Sportmix pet food products manufactured by Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc, on December 30, 2020. It has now expanded the recall to include additional products that contain corn, and were made in the company’s Oklahoma manufacturing plant, as well as products having an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022. You can find a full list here, but let’s take a closer look at the toxin responsible for this tragedy.

What is aflatoxin?

According to the World Health Organization, aflatoxins are poisonous substances produced by certain kinds of fungi (molds) that can contaminate food crops. There are two main species of fungi responsible for invading crops and producing these dangerous aflatoxins — Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus. These fungi can grow on pet food ingredients such as corn, peanuts, and other grains and can contaminate food crops both before and after harvesting. They thrive in warm, humid locations of the world.

The scary thing is that, while your pet’s food may appear free of mold, aflatoxins may still be present.

What are the symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning in dogs and cats?

As potent carcinogens, aflatoxins may affect all organ systems, especially the liver and kidneys. Symptoms may include:

  • Sluggishness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums, or skin due to liver damage)
  • Diarrhea

If your dog or cat has eaten any of the recalled products, the FDA urges you to contact your veterinarian, especially if your animal is showing symptoms of illness.

Treatment for aflatoxin poisoning

Treatment varies by a veterinarian’s assessment of each case. There is no antidote for aflatoxins, so the goal is to provide supportive care management for the imbalances in the animal’s system.

Unfortunately, severe or rapid-onset cases of aflatoxin poisoning may progress so quickly that the dog or cat dies before receiving any treatment. Those who have been exposed to non-lethal doses of aflatoxin may survive, but can suffer from long-term health issues, including liver damage.

Tips on how to avoid aflatoxin poisoning

The biggest tip on how to prevent aflatoxin poisoning is simple – avoid pet foods with low quality grain ingredients such as mill waste or grain by-products. Instead, try to source human grade grains. If you’re unsure about the quality of the contents of your pet’s food, contact the manufacturer directly and find out. Tightly reseal the bag of dog food after using and store in a dry area. If you use a container to store food, make sure you keep the bag’s batch numbers in case the company issues a recall.

Additional tips to keep your pet’s food safe:

  • Clean your pet’s food and water bowls daily with dish soap and hot water.
  • Use stainless steel bowls.
  • Keep opened canned food covered and refrigerated.
  • Keep dry food in an enclosed container to prevent exposure to rodents and pests.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before, and especially after, handling pet food.

For more information on pet food recalls, check out


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