Everything You Need To Know About Cat Food Recalls

Cat food recalls are serious occurrences which have an impact on both cat food manufacturers and cat owners. As a cat parents, failing to understand the issues around cat food recalls can have serious consequences, including the death of your pets.

A cat food recall is a situation where businesses involved in the manufacturing or distribution of cat food remove their products from distribution, either voluntarily or as a directive from the authorities. This removal is always a response to concerns about the health and safety of the cats if they continue eating the food in question.

To help you understand the main issues involved in cat food recalls, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about such recalls.

How Are Most Pet Food Issues Discovered?

There are three main methods through which most pet food issues are discovered.

First, when several complaints or reports of cats getting sick are received from consumers, directed at the manufacturers, distributors, or government entities such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Second, when random tests are carried out by the arms of government responsible for food and drug administration to detect the presence of issues in pet foods. These issues can include excess or inadequate nutrients, drug, and bacterial contamination. Government agencies can also identify issues when labeling information on cat food containers is either inadequate or misleading.

Third, when companies do their own tests and discover issues like contamination, wrong labeling of products or changes in the product when it’s used in certain environments.

What are the Different Reasons That Cat Foods get Recalled?

Cat foods get recalled for a number of reasons including the following:

  1. Too much or inadequate nutrients: For instance, the pet food may contain too much vitamin B1 yet have too little vitamin D.
  2. Aflatoxin: This kind of recall comes about when cats are exposed to foods contaminated by a fungus. Aflatoxins are dangerous because they can cause cancer in those cats that eat food contaminated by them.
  3. Salmonella or listeria infections: This type of recall occurs when foods contaminated by bacteria are consumed by cats. This contamination is common in raw diets. Listeria causes a health condition known as Listeriosis and Salmonella leads to salmonellosis. However, the FDA reports that it is rare for cats and dogs to be infected by Listeriosis and even when they are infected, they do not usually show any symptoms.

What was the Most Serious Cat Food Recall of All Time?

The 2007 Menu Foods Recall

On Feb 20, 2007, Toronto-based Menu Foods Incorporated received a complaint about a problem with its cat food. On Feb 27th, the company began “tasting trials” on 40 – 50 animals to see if it could reproduce the problem.

It could: 9 cats died during those trials (source).

On March 15th, the company notified the FDA that it knew of 14 animal deaths from its foods (13 cats and 1 dog). On the 16th the company issued a voluntary recall of cat (and dog) food products. The recall spiralled, eventually including more than 60 million products across 150 brands of pet food.

Why Were so Many Brands Affected?

To understand why the scale of the problem was so large, you need a bit of background about how pet food is produced.

The uninitiated might assume that every brand of pet food has their own manufacturing plant. While it’s true that many brands have their own company-owned manufacturing facilities, many other brands use so-called “co-packers”.

A co-packing facility may produce cat food for several – or even dozens – of different pet food brands.

To make matters more complicated, a single brand may produce some of their pet food lines in their own manufacturing facility, and other product lines in a co-packing facility.

For example, in response to the 2007 Menu Foods recall, Proctor & Gamble noted that “Iams and Eukanuba dry products are not manufactured at Menu Foods and are not affected by this recall. Only a small portion of our wet canned and foil-pouch products for dogs and cats are affected by this recall.”

So these brands produced some of their wet cat foods in a Menu Foods co-packing facility, while their dry foods were produced in their own manufacturing plants.

What Caused the Pet Deaths in the Menu Foods Recall?

The pets died from kidney failure — but, it wasn’t immediately obvious what caused the kidney failure.

Initially, tests and reports from pet owners pointed to pet foods containing imported wheat gluten. (Wheat gluten is used as a thickener in pet foods).

In the following weeks, a second imported ingredient, rice protein concentrate, was identified as a possible contaminant.

The FDA discovered that two Chinese manufacturers added a chemical known as melamine to the wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate in an attempt to increase the crude protein levels in the ingredients.

Melamine is used as an industrial binding agent and as a flame retardant. While melamine has no valid (or FDA-approved) use in either human or animal foods, it is by itself a relatively non-toxic substance. However, when melamine mixes with another chemical found in pet food, cyanuric acid, the FDA reports that the combination “appears to be more toxic than either compound alone”.

In short, when the melamine-laced wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate was mixed into cat foods, it mixed with cyanuric acid. The combination formed crystals which blocked small animals’ renal tubules and caused renal failure (source).

The Humane Society reported that nearly 2,000 cats died in the US alone. Reuters eventually reported that more than 8,000 pet owners notified the FDA that their pets either got sick or died from eating Menu Foods-manufactured pet foods.

As the number of recalled pet food cans and pouches increased, Menu Foods recorded steep losses. By June 11, the company had lost a major partner whose business contributed eleven percent of total sales the previous year. The first quarter alone saw the company lose $17.5 million dollars and internal projections put expected losses at a total of as much as $45 million dollars. In addition, more than 90 class actions lawsuits had been filed.

The Reaction in China

Chinese authorities were concerned about a number of tainted food scandals that occurred in 2006 and 2007, and they moved swiftly to track down the Chinese contractors responsible for the contamination: Binzou Futian Biology and Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology development.

On May 10, the Chinese authorities declared that it had found both companies guilty of willfully trading contaminated ingredients for pet food.

Although it was only tangentially related, on May 29th, Chinese courts convicted Zheng Xiaoyu, the recently sacked head of the state-run Food and Drug Administration, of accepting bribes. He was given the death penalty and executed on July 10, 2007 (source).

Learn more: See our reviews of the best wet cat food.

What are the Differences Between Voluntary Recalls and Involuntary Recalls?

When a problem in pet food has been detected or suspected by the company manufacturing the pet food, consumers or the FDA, a voluntary recall can be triggered. Even though the pet food manufacturing company can be directed by the FDA to recall the product in such a case, the recall is still voluntary.

A voluntary recall happens when the problem detected or suspected in the pet food carries the risk of death or serious injury but such risk is not immediate. It also happens if some of the products fail to satisfy the FDA regulations.

A company can also trigger a voluntary recall of its own products when it receives reports from consumers that its products are causing harm or when, through its own tests, it discovers problems with its own products.

An example of a voluntary pet food recall is Hill’s Pet voluntary recall announced by the company on January 21, 2019. The recall was due to suspected excess amounts of vitamin D in some of the company’s products. This recall did not affect any dry foods, treats or cat foods.

An involuntary recall is different from a voluntary recall in that the recall, triggered by a government agency such as the FDA, is mandatory. This type of recall is very rare. Companies that fail to adhere to the instruction to recall their products from the market may be charged using the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. It gives power to the FDA to issue mandatory recalls.

What are “Silent” Recalls?

Sometimes manufactures that notice problems with their pet food products may decide to correct the situation by offering remedies to consumers without informing the responsible agencies such as the FDA. This can include replacing defective products with new ones.

This type of recall is called a “Silent” recall. In such cases, the companies involved do not inform the general public about the recall. They also try as much as possible to ensure that the media does not know about such recalls.

A good example of a “Silent” Recall is Darwin’s Natural Pet Products pet food recall of 2017. In December 2017, the company attempted to silently recall 23 tons of cat and dog food.

The reason behind this “Silent” Recall was suspected listeria and salmonella contamination. Salmonella is a bacteria which resides in the human and animal intestines. It can also be found in water, the soil, dust, and other substances. If a cat eats food contaminated by both these bacteria, it can become ill and sometimes die.

Even though Darwin’s Natural Pet Products attempted to conduct this recall as silently as possible, some online websites such as Petful carried reports on the recall. Eventually, the FDA warned the public of the threat posed by three types of the company’s dog food.

Even though manufacturers of cat foods may try to use silent recalls to remedy a problem, this action can still be unethical or illegal. The silent nature of such recalls may be seen as an attempt by the company to hide something.

Also, since such recalls are intended not to be public knowledge, it is possible that some affected consumers may end up not knowing about them. There is also no way through which the authorities can determine if the problem has been addressed if they have not been informed that such a problem existed in the first place.

Learn more: See our reviews of the best kitten food.

What are the Best Websites to Track Food Recalls?

Below are some of the best websites where you can track and keep up to date with cat food recalls.

  • The American Veterinary Medical Association will help you to keep track of the alerts and recalls by the US FDA and pet food producers within the last 3 months.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides current information about food safety and food poisoning outbreaks.
  • PawDiet delivers updates about the latest pet food recalls. Consumers can text the word START to (844) 402-3335 to receive recall alert messages for free.
  • PetFoodIndustry will keep you updated with the list of pet foods recalled by the manufacturers and the reason behind such recalls.
  • The Petrics app keeps consumers up to date about the latest recalls of pet foods through their mobile application.

bearded vet holding a cat

Are there Popular Brands of Foods That Have Never Been Recalled?

Yes, there are popular brands that have never been called. These are Fancy Feast and Meow Mix.

Fancy Feast is the manufacturer of gourmet cat food. It has been in business for over 30 years.

Meow Mix manufactures a variety of wet and dry cat foods. It has been in operation since 1974.

These are the only two manufacturers out of the ten leading producers of pet food that have never had any of their products recalled.

However, please remember that we still do not recommend these manufacturers. A recall does not make a company bad, and no recalls does not mean the company’s food is healthy for your cat! Check out our list of the worst cat foods and most dangerous ingredients here.

What Government Agency is Responsible for Pet Food Quality and What is its Role?

The agency responsible for the regulation of pet food quality in the USA is the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The FDA is responsible for the safety of foods, human and veterinary drugs, medical devices and biological products. Some of the responsibilities of the FDA include the following:

  • Establishing products standards and approving them
  • Prescription of drug labeling
  • Setting the drug manufacturing standards

Learn more: See our reviews of the best cat food for seniors.

What is a Raw Food Diet?

A raw food diet is a diet consisting of foods that are neither cooked nor excessively processed.

For cats, this diet can include edible bones, vegetables, fruits, uncooked meats, and animal organs.

Raw food diets attempt to emulate the way cats ate before the advent of processed foods by including vitamins, enzymes, and minerals found in naturally occurring foods.

Learn how to make the best homemade cat food with our article here.

Are Raw Food Diets a Good Thing?

It is not possible to say whether raw food diets are a good thing or not because they are controversial. To determine if they are a good thing or not, you need to look at some of their benefits and risks we have listed below.

Benefits of raw food diets for pets include the following:

  • Improves the animal’s coat condition due to the high presence of proteins in fresh meat and fats
  • Helps in building muscle
  • Improves dental hygiene and results in fresh breath and cleaner teeth
  • Facilitates digestion, thereby ensuring the pet benefits from most of the food it eats
  • Aids the pets’ weight control, which leads to an increase in energy and stamina

Risks associated with raw food for pets include the following:

  • Presence of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness
  • Raw foods might lack the necessary and essential vitamins.
  • Presence of solid objects or bones, which can cause injury.
  • Pet owners stand risks of getting infected when they are exposed to contaminated raw foods.

If you’re looking for a great alternative to a homemade or raw diet, we highly recommend the lightly cooked, human-grade delivery service, NomNomNow.

How Can You Tell if Your Cat’s Food May Have the Potential to Poison Your Cat?

One of the first signs which you would notice if there is a problem with your cat’s food is when your pet refuses to eat it. If it is a food which it loves, this shows that something is not right with the food.

Also, food can have an unpleasant smell. Mold growth could occur as a result of the food’s exposure to humidity or moisture. If the cat always becomes ill after eating a certain type of food, this can be an indication that something is wrong with the food.

Other than food, there are other reasons why your cat can be poisoned. Sometimes the poison may result from the gases and substances in the environment such as carbon monoxide, pesticides or medications. This is the reason why you should contact your veterinarian as soon as you suspect that your cat has been poisoned so that you know what the real problem is.

In situations where you discovered that a product you’ve fed your cat has been recalled; reach out to your veterinarian even when your cat isn’t showing any signs of illness. Your veterinarian will determine the best and next course of action and also embark on a treatment plan if required.

If Your Cat Food has been Recalled, Can You Get a Refund?

Yes, you can get a refund for your cat food that was recalled. The moment you get a notification about the recalls, stop feeding the food product to your cat and return the unopened product to get your full refund.

There are various rules for various recalls. They depend on the nature of the recall. However, it can be expected that in most cases, consumers should expect a full refund for their purchase. Usually, consumers can return the foods to shops within the same brand near them, even if they did not buy the food from those specific shops.

It is important to keep your receipt until your pet food is finished. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to determine what you need to do to get your refund.

Learn more: See our reviews of the best high-protein, low-carb cat foods.

Emily Parker

Emily Parker is the Content Manager at Catological. She's passionate about helping cat parents love their cats better by providing the best information and recommendations about everything you'll need to know about your cat, from kitten to senior years. She believes natural, biologically-appropriate products are best...why wouldn't you provide the best for a member of your family?!