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Is Carrageenan Bad for Dogs and Cats? Why You Should Avoid It

The only time the ingredient carrageenan appears in the National Research Council’s (NRC) Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats Report published in 2006 is in passing – and only once.

The following is a sentence extract from the 2006 Report:

“Carrageenann and other gums (added at <5 percent of diet dry matter) are used as gelling agents in canned dog and cat foods (Brown, 1989) and, therefore, are a source of fermentable carbohydrates.”

Excerpt from NRC Report on Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats (2006)
A snapshot of an NRC Excerpt mentioning carrageenan ingredient.
A snapshot of an NRC Excerpt mentioning carrageenan ingredient.

It is mentioned in Chapter of the NRC’s 2006 Report as part of the fermentable carbs and a source of pure fiber in pet food diets.

NRC is the main reference for AAFCO’s Minimum Requirements for Dog and Cat Foods guidelines that’s now in effect since 2014. Since carrageenan was not addressed in the 2006 NRC Report and, by extension, not in AAFCO’s Minimum Requirements for Dog and Cat Foods.

In fact, in a search on the main AAFCO’s Publication of Required Nutritional Adequacy for Dogs and Cats, carrageenan is not mentioned even once. In our guide on Balanced and complete nutrition for dogs and cats, we have not included carrageenan as an essential ingredient.

So, the NRC mentions that carrageenan is added to pet food as a gelling agent.

What is a gelling agent?

A gelling agent, also known as a thickener or binding agent, is a substance which can increase the viscosity of a liquid without substantially changing its other properties. Edible gelatin is obtained from collagen derived from animal skin or bone. Gelatinous desserts such as jelly, pudding, and pie filling contain gelatin.

To understand this further, let’s define what carrageenan is.

What is carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a natural, plant-based ingredient that is commonly used as a thickener or emulsifier in food products. It is derived from red seaweed and has been used for centuries in traditional cooking.

Below is an image of seaweed;

Some forms of seaweed look like long strands and branches.

Carrageenan is safe to consume and does not have any known side effects.

It comes from irish moss or red algae and is a type of carbohydrate. Carrageenan is used as a thickener and emulsifier in many food products, as well as in some cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Below is an image of Irish moss;

According to this research by Sarah et al., (2022), the word “carrageenan is derived from “carrigan” or “carrageen” which is Irish for Chondrus crispus or Irish Moss as it is commonly known and was coined in the 1820s in Ireland.”

In Sarah et et.,’s research, they presented the different uses of Carrageenan using the sales by the major end-use categories;

A chart showing the uses of carrageenan by sales volume in the US
A chart showing the uses of carrageenan by sales volume in the US

As shown in the chart above, carrageenan is used for;

  1. Meat products
  2. Dairy products
  3. Jellies/confectioneries
  4. Toothpaste
  5. Beer
  6. Pet food
  7. Others.

As a hydrocolloid, carrageenan is typically used in food products to improve its appearance and its organoleptic qualities give it juiciness or mouthfeel feeling that makes it a great additive in pet food.

It is derived from Hydrocolloids and is a polysaccharide. Carrageenan is commercially available in three distinct forms, i.e., Kappa, Iota, and Lambda.

Types of carrageenan:

Kappa Carrageenan: brief about Kappa Carrageenan;

It is obtained from the red seaweed species Gigartina stellata and Eucheuma denticulatum. It requires a heat–cool cycle (e.g. 80 °C for 15 min) for full solubility.

Kappa-carrageenan is used in food as a gelling agent, thickener, and stabilizer.

Kappa-carrageenan has a water-soluble, anionic polysaccharide

A high gelling capacity. It has excellent thermal and chemical stability.

Below is an image showing kappa-carrageenan in powder form;

Kappa-carrageenan powder.

Iota Carrageenan: brief about Iota Carrageenan;

It is a sulfated polysaccharide obtained from red seaweeds species and Eucheuma spinosum.

Iota-carrageenan high gelling capacity. Like Kappa, Ioata-carrageenan requires a heat–cool cycle (e.g. 80 °C for 15 min) for full solubility.

In a recent study, sprays containing iota carrageenan are safe for use in controlling upper respiratory infections caused by SARS-Cov-2

Lambda Carrageenan: brief about Lambda Carrageenan;

It is obtained from the red seaweed species Gigartina pistillata

Lambda-carrageenan is soluble in cold water, unlike ioata and kappa-carrageenan. Lamba has a water-soluble, anionic polysaccharide

A high gelling capacity. It has excellent thermal and chemical stability.

Kappa vs Iota vs lambda carrageenan:

Its scientific name is Chondrus crispus and it is also known as Irish moss or carrageen.

Naturally-derived Carrageenan vs Synthetically-produced carrageenan:

As the name suggests, naturally-derived carrageenan is extracted from red algae or seaweed. On the other hand, synthetic carrageenan is created in laboratories by replicating the structure of carrageenan found in nature.

Synthetic carrageenan is made using strong alkaline solvents, like lye or caustic soda, which can leave residue in the final product. This has led to concerns that synthetic carrageenan may be contaminated with carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds.

The criticism of carrageenan is directed at the synthetic form.

Researchers discovered that carrageenan activates the body to create a cytokine (an intercellular messenger molecule), in addition to being highly processed. It’s known as Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-⍺).

The following are key criticism;

Inflammation:

Carrageenan has been shown to trigger inflammation in the body. In a study on animals, researchers found that carrageenan exposure led to an increase in levels of TNF-⍺. TNF-⍺ is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that has been linked with conditions like arthritis, psoriasis, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Cancer:

There is some concern that carrageenan exposure may increase the risk of cancer. One study found that carrageenan exposure led to an increase in levels of a protein called cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2).

COX-2 is an enzyme that promotes inflammation and is linked with a higher risk of cancer. Another study found that carrageenan exposure may cause colon cancer in rats.

Causes apoptosis (cell death):

Carrageenan has been shown to cause cell death in a process known as apoptosis. In one study, researchers found that carrageenan exposure led to an increase in levels of a protein called caspase-3.

Caspase-3 is an enzyme that plays a role in apoptosis.

This suggests that carrageenan exposure may cause cell death.

Is Carrageenan Bad for Dogs and Cats?

Synthetic or industrially-produced carrageenan added to pet food diets carrageenan is bad for dogs and cats as it stimulates the production of TNF-⍺. Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha or TNF-⍺ has been linked to a number of chronic diseases such as cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Carrageenan in its degraded form called Poligeenan carrageenan, is also not safe for pets as it is a known carcinogen as described by Dr. Angie here.

How about food-grade carrageenan?

The FDA has classified carrageenan as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) food additive for humans. However, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified it as a possible human carcinogen.

Additionally, the European Union has banned its use in infant formula. The reason for this is that carrageenan can break down into poligeenan, a known carcinogen, in the acidic environment of the stomach.

Some pet nutritionists including vets and pet food manufacturers describe carrageenan in some pet food diets as ‘food-grade’ and that they are safe for dogs or cats to have. However, researchers question the safety of carrageenan in food, even when it is labeled as “food grade.” A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that food-grade carrageenan caused intestinal inflammation and higher rates of colon cancer in rats.

I read the 1984 and 2021 research on food-grade carrageenan’s safety. As shown in the images below, it is very clear that food-grade carrageenan caused inflammation after 2 weeks when the large and small intestines of control-group rats and test group rates were compared.

An image showing inflammation in  rats fed carrageenan vs those that were not fed
An image showing inflammation in rats fed carrageenan vs those that were not fed

Below is another image for the 2021 research showing the immunostaining score. The immunostaining score for the dogs that were fed food-grade carrageenan was higher. The immunostaining score is important to measure because it means the body is attacking itself.

Chart showing immunostaining score for rats fed carrageenan vs those that were not fed
Chart showing immunostaining score for rats fed carrageenan vs those that were not fed

Other studies on carrageenana safety are;

  1. USDA.Gove Report on Carrageenan Handling
  2. Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments(2001)
  3. Safety and efficacy of a feed additive consisting of carrageenan for pets and other non‐food‐producing animals (Marinalg International)

Is Carrageenan regulated?

Yes, FDA has approved carrageenan under Code of Federal Regulations # 21CFR172.620 as a safe food additive in human food. It is classified as ‘Generally Recognized as Safe(GRAS)’ by the FDA as per this posting on its website.

Carrageenan has been used in food for more than 50 years, and its safety has been well documented in numerous scientific studies.

Below is a snapshot from FDA’s website approving carrageenan as a food additive in human food;

Snapshot from FDA Website showing Carrageenan approval as additive in human diets
Snapshot from FDA Website showing Carrageenan approval as additive in human diets

Under Code of Federal Regulations # 21CFR172.626, FDA also approved salts of carragenan as safe to be added in human food. Salts of carrageenan are made by combining carrageenan with naturally-occuring salts such as sodium and potassium.

Snapshot from FDA Website showing Carrageenan salts approval as additive in human diets

Is carrageenan bad for cats?

Yes, several studies have shown that carrageenan is bad for cats and dogs as it causes extensive inflammation and has the possibility to cause “ulcerative colitis-like disease.” While research used to make this conclusion that carregeenan is bad for cats was conducted on rats, the researchers believe that the results could be applied to cats as well.

Some studies found cats to be more susceptible than dogs to the development of carrageenan-induced ulcerative colitis. The study found that carrageenan caused “significant and persistent ulcerations” in the cats that were tested, while the dogs in the study did not develop ulcerative colitis.

Is carrageenan safe for dogs?

No, studies have shown similar extensive inflammation of gastrointestinal tract in dogs fed carrageenan diets. Studies have found “severe and persistent” ulcerations in their gastrointestinal tracts with other chronic illness such as cancer in the large intestines of dogs.

Studies published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, described carrageenan as “potent inflammatory adjuvant” and even the administration of low-dose or food-grade carrageenan leads to gastrointestinal ulceration. Other studies linked carrageenan in dog food to colitis, gastritis, enteritis, and even intestinal neoplasia.”

Can dogs or cats have carrageenan?

According to the studies mentioned above, it is clear that carrageenan is bad for both cats and dogs. It causes extensive inflammation of their gastrointestinal tracts and has been linked to ulcerative colitis, gastritis, enteritis, and even intestinal neoplasia. We advise against feeding your pets food that contains carrageenan.

What does this mean to you as a pet owner?

Unfortunately, carrageenan is still being used by over 10 major pet food manufacturers and as described further below, over 400 dog food brands that are retailing on chewy contain this ingredient.

Check the labels of your pet’s food and avoid products that contain carrageenan. If you are unsure if a product contains carrageenan, contact the manufacturer.

Additionally, consider making your own pet food at home. This way, you will know exactly what ingredients are going into your pet’s food and can avoid harmful ingredients like carrageenan.

If you can’t make your own homemade pet food, you need to be vigilant with the

Which dog and cat food contain carrageenan?

As of August 2022, there are a total of 411 dog food and 345 cat food brands being sold on chewy containing carrageenan. That’s a total of 756 pet food brands!

The offenders include big brands such as Royal Canin, IAMs, Blue Buffalo, Eukanuba, Nutro, Purina, Cesar, Pedigree, American Journey, Wellness Complete, and Natural Balance, among others.

In the lists below, I have used the exact names of the brands as appearing on Chewy when we crawled and scraped the data.

Below are some of the sampled lists of brands with this ingredient starting with Royal Canin

Royal Canin Brands containing Carrageenan:

In total, there are 32 Royal Canin wet food brands for adult and senior dogs that contain carrageenan. Below are a quarter(8) of them;

  1. Royal Canin Breed Health Nutrition Pomeranian Adult Loaf in Sauce Canned Dog Food
  2. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Selected Protein PW Loaf Canned Dog Food, 13.5-oz, case of 24
  3. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Selected Protein PR Canned Dog Food, 13.5-oz, case of 24
  4. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Vegetarian Canned Dog Food, 13.5-oz, case of 24
  5. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Renal Support T Loaf Canned Dog Food, 13.5-oz, case of 24
  6. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Weight Control Loaf in Sauce Canned Dog Food, 13.5-oz can, case of 24
  7. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Selected Protein PD Loaf Canned Dog Food, 13.5-oz, case of 24
  8. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Adult Selected Protein PV Loaf Canned Dog Food, 13.5-oz, case of 24

Note how some of the Royal Canin’s dog food brands above have Carrageenan at the top of the ingredients list.

Nutro Dog Food Brands containing Carrageenan:

In total Nutro has 18 dog food brands containing carrageenan;

  1. Nutro Limited Ingredient Diet Premium Loaf Fish & Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  2. Nutro Limited Ingredient Diet Premium Loaf Turkey & Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  3. Nutro Grain-Free Tender Beef Recipe Adult Pate Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  4. Nutro Grain-Free Slow Cooked Chicken Recipe Adult Pate Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  5. Nutro Ultra Grain-Free Chicken & Whitefish Entree Pate with Toppers Adult Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  6. Nutro Ultra Variety Pack Adult Grain-Free Chicken, Chicken & Whitefish Entree Pate Dog Food Trays with Toppers, 3.5-oz tray, case of 12
  7. Nutro Premium Loaf Adult Tender Beef, Sweet Potato & Carrot Recipe Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  8. Nutro Premium Loaf Turkey, Sweet Potato & Green Bean Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  9. Nutro Ultra Grain-Free Turkey Entree Pate with Toppers Adult Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  10. Nutro Premium Loaf Savory Lamb, Carrot & Pea Recipe Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  11. Nutro Grain-Free Premium Loaf Slow Cooked Chicken, Potato, Carrot & Pea Recipe Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
  12. Nutro Ultra Trio of Proteins Adult Grain-Free Chicken, Lamb, Whitefish Pate Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz tray, case of 12
  13. Nutro Ultra Grain-Free Chicken Entree Pate with Toppers Adult Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  14. Nutro Ultra Grain-Free Chicken Entree Pate with Tomatoes & Carrots Adult Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  15. Nutro Limited Ingredient Diet Premium Loaf Lamb & Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  16. Nutro Ultra Grain-Free Trio Protein Chicken, Lamb & Whitefish Pate with Superfoods Adult Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  17. Nutro Ultra Grain-Free Trio Protein Chicken, Lamb & Whitefish Pate with Superfoods Senior Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz tray, case of 24
  18. Nutro Ultra Variety Pack Adult Grain-Free Turkey Entree & Chicken Entree Pate Dog Food Trays with Toppers

Purina brands containing Carrageenan:

Purina has a total of 53 dog food brands that contain Carrageenan and all are available on Chewy for sale. Below are 14 of those brands;

  1. Purina Pro Plan Focus Small Breed Turkey Entree Grain-Free Wet Dog Food, 3.5-oz tray, case of 12
  2. Purina Bella Small Breed Chicken & Lamb Variety Pack Grain-Free Wet Dog Food Trays
  3. Natural Balance L.I.D. Limited Ingredient Diets Chicken & Sweet Potato Formula Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
  4. Purina Bella Small Breed Chicken & Smoked Bacon Flavors Dog Food Trays
  5. Purina Bella Small Breed Grilled Chicken & Beef Flavor Variety Pack Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 12
  6. Purina Beyond Alaskan Cod, Salmon & Sweet Potato Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
  7. Purina Beyond Grain-Free Chicken, Lamb & Spinach Recipe Ground Entree Canned Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
  8. Purina Beyond Grain-Free Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe Ground Entree Canned Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
  9. Purina Beyond Natural Pate Grain-Free Beef Potato & Green Bean Recipe Ground Entr?e Wet Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
  10. Purina Bella Morsels in Sauce Variety Pack Wet Dog Food, 3.5-oz tray, case of 24
  11. Purina Bella Small Breed Grilled Chicken Flavor in Savory Juices Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 12
  12. Purina Bella with Beef & Smoked Bacon in Savory Juices Small Breed Wet Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 12
  13. Purina Puppy Chow Classic Ground Variety Pack Beef & Chicken Wet Puppy Food
  14. Purina ONE SmartBlend Classic Ground Turkey & Barley Entree Adult Wet Dog Food

Blue Buffalo dog food brands that contain carrageenan:

Blue Buffalo has 68 dog food brands selling on Chewy that contain carrageenan ingredients. Below are 11 of Blue Buffalo’s carrageenan-containing dog food products;

  1. Blue Buffalo Homestyle Recipe Lamb Dinner with Garden Vegetables Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  2. Blue Buffalo Natural Veterinary Diet NP Novel Protein Alligator Grain-Free Wet Dog Food
  3. Blue Buffalo Basics Skin & Stomach Care Grain-Free Lamb & Potato Adult Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  4. Blue Buffalo Baby Blue Healthy Growth Formula Natural Lamb & Vegetable Recipe Puppy Wet Food, 3.5-oz cups, case of 12
  5. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Beef & Chicken Grill Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  6. Blue Buffalo Divine Delights Roasted Turkey Flavor Pate Dog Food Trays
  7. Blue Buffalo Freedom Adult Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Dog Food
  8. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Turkey & Chicken Grill Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  9. Blue Buffalo Wilderness Trout & Chicken Grill Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12
  10. Blue Buffalo True Solutions Top Form Active Breed Wholesome Grains Adult Wet Dog Food, 12.5-oz can, case of 12
  11. Blue Buffalo Divine Delights Bacon, Egg & Cheese Pate Dog Food Trays
  • Blue Buffalo Baby Blue Healthy Growth Formula Natural Lamb & Vegetable Recipe Puppy Wet Food, 3.5-oz cups, case of 12
  • Blue Buffalo Wilderness Beef & Chicken Grill Grain-Free Canned Dog Food, 12.5-oz, case of 12

IAMs dog food brands that contain carrageenan:

IAMs only has 3 adults, 1 senior and 1 puppy food brands that contain carrageenan;

  • Iams ProActive Health Senior With Slow Cooked Chicken & Rice Canned Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12
  • Iams ProActive Health Adult With Lamb & Rice Pate Canned Dog Food
  • Iams ProActive Health Adult With Beef & Rice Pate Canned Dog Food
  • Iams ProActive Health Adult With Chicken & Whole Grain Rice Pate Canned Dog Food
  • Iams ProActive Health Puppy With Chicken & Rice Pate Canned Dog Food, 13-oz, case of 12

Eukanuba Adult and Puppy food containing Carrageenan:

  1. Eukanuba Adult Chicken, Rice & Vegetables Dinner Canned Dog Food, 13.2-oz, case of 12
  2. Eukanuba Puppy with Lamb & Rice Canned Dog Food, 13.2-oz, case of 12
  3. Eukanuba Adult with Lamb & Rice Canned Dog Food

Cesar dog food containing Carrageenan:

  • Cesar Loaf & Topper in Sauce Rosemary Chicken Flavor with Spring Vegetables Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  • Cesar Classic Loaf in Sauce Chicken & Beef Recipe Dog Food Trays, 3.5-oz, case of 24
  • Cesar Dry-Aged Ribeye Flavor Classic Loaf in Sauce Wet Dog Food, 3.5-oz tray, case of 24

FAQs

Q: What is carrageenan?

A: Carrageenan is a substance that is extracted from red algae. It is commonly used as a food additive or thickener that has been approved as a safe additive in human food. While FDA does not regulate pet food, no one has really challenged the use of carrageenan in dog and cat food despite several studies linking this ingredient to chronic illnesses including cancer and inflammation-linked gastrointestinal diseases such as IBD.