Is xanthan gum safe for dogs?
If you want to feed xanthan gum to your dog or your cat, be warned. Xanthan gum can cause fatal kidney damage in dogs and cats, and this isn't the first time that pet food additives have caused kidney disease. (Read about how the FDA responded to a previous incident.)
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the additive is safe for use in human food but is "not suitable for use in pet food in the United States."
What is xanthan gum, anyway?
According to the FDA, "xanthan gum is a natural food thickener made from polysaccharides extracted from the bacteria Xanthan gum is produced from a single strain of bacteria, Bacillus subtilis."
If it sounds familiar, it's because it's also used in pet foods that are sold in stores (and that have been recalled) as "gluten-free" and "corn-free."
Why is xanthan gum bad for dogs?
When used in pet foods, xanthan gum can have a laxative effect on pets.
According to the FDA, "[Xanthan gum] can interfere with the absorption of fat, protein, and carbohydrate from the intestines. It also increases stool volume and impairs digestion."
So how can you tell if your dog is taking in xanthan gum? The agency recommends testing a pet's stool, but it warns that even when it's been tested, "Results will vary and are not always indicative of gastrointestinal disease."
If your dog or cat is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting, it's best to consult your veterinarian for treatment.
What's the cause of the kidney damage?
According to the FDA, "There is no way to prove that the xanthan gum in the recalled products caused the kidney injury in pets. However, as with previous pet food safety issues, we are seeing an increase in the number of reports of kidney injury in pets that have been fed pet food products that contained xanthan gum."
The FDA says its investigations into kidney disease in pets have shown that "The cause of the kidney injury is often an underlying disease or condition that predisposed the pet to the disease. These predisposing diseases include obesity, kidney disease, diabetes, and other diseases."
If your pet is suffering from a disease or a condition, be sure to tell your veterinarian, and ask for a referral to a nephrologist — a specialist in the treatment of kidney disease.
It's important to know, though, that the disease in question could be the result of several factors — not just the additive — and that it's not necessarily the case that the additive caused the kidney damage.
Still, as the FDA says, "We believe that xanthan gum, when used in food for animals, increases the risk of developing kidney disease."
Why can't dogs and cats eat the same food that we do?
While your dog or cat will certainly eat food that you eat, that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be eating the same thing. According to the FDA, "The type of food fed to dogs and cats are different. The most common type of diet fed to dogs is meat, vegetables, and carbohydrates."
As you can see from this chart, dogs tend to eat a lot of protein and fat, while cats prefer to eat lean meat and fish.
Cats also tend to prefer to eat a higher-fat diet, so some dogs may not want the extra fat. That's also true of dogs who are overweight — if your dog or cat is overweight, you may have to consider whether they'll be able to eat a more natural diet that doesn't include all that extra fat.
What if I buy the wrong kind of food for my dog or cat?
If your dog or cat has been prescribed or recommended a prescription diet by your veterinarian, you can follow their directions. If not, though, there are ways to find an alternative — even if it's an alternative that doesn't include the additive that's causing the problems.
If you're buying a prescription food for your dog or cat, for instance, you can look for a non-prescription brand, or you can find a non-prescription food that's not sold in stores. If you're buying a non-prescription food, the manufacturer will usually be able to help you find one that will work well with your pet.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), "Prescription diets should be made by a veterinarian. Non-prescription diets are made in pet stores or health food stores."
You can also check the ASPCA's website for non-prescription food recommendations. If you're trying to find a non-prescription food that's available for purchase at a grocery store, though, you're out of luck.
According to the ASPCA, "The FDA does not allow pet food to be sold over the counter. If you wish to find out if a diet is safe for your pet, you should check with a veterinarian."
Is there any way to tell if my dog or cat is taking in xanthan gum?
There's not really any way to tell if your dog or cat is taking in xanthan gum. According to the FDA, "There is no specific test that shows the presence of xanthan gum in the digestive tract. Thus, it is not possible to detect the presence of xanthan gum in a pet's digestive tract."
The FDA does note, though, that "Because of the risk associated with kidney disease, pet owners should avoid feeding xanthan gum-containing diets."
That being said, if you suspect that your dog or cat is eating the additive, it's best to take it to your veterinarian for testing.
Do I have to worry about xanthan gum in my dog or cat?
The FDA warns that dogs and cats are at risk of taking in xanthan gum, especially those with compromised kidneys.
The agency says, "