Rarely, cat litter made from corn can be contaminated with aflatoxins

This is something which has been on the Internet for a while and which I have been slow to pick up on. Although I was reasonably prompt in picking up the possibility of aflatoxin contaminating dry cat food because there was a huge scare, indeed a scandal regarding dry cat food contaminated with this mould.

I should have jumped from that knowledge to what I am writing about here because corn can be a dry cat food filler and you can buy cat litter made from corn. Aflatoxin is a type of mycotoxin. The APS website says that aflatoxins are “one of the most potent and dangerous groups of mycotoxins worldwide. They are a threat to both human and animal. Over 4 million people in developing countries are repeatedly exposed to this toxin and remarkably the same website tells us that they contribute “to greater than 40% of the disease burden in these countries”.

It is on corn that this mould – particularly the Aspergillus species – can grow under the right conditions which would be warm and wet. And here’s the point: technically the mould might grow on corn inside the home because the litter will be wet due to urination and the home is warm. I think that is the potential for this contamination. I’d like an expert to comment on that please.

Corn contaminated with aflatoxin. Image: APS.

Rigorous checks?

The manufacturers of corn-based cat litter would argue that their processes are rigorous enough to avoid the contamination. In fact, Susan Thixton of the Truth About Pet Food website contacted the manufacturers of World’s Best Cat Litter and asked them about this. They responded by saying that there is no possibility of contamination and toxicity when the product is in the bag and fresh out of the bag.

And they add that there won’t be any mould fungi issues unless the product has been subjected to moisture in the litter box which of course it will be. The question then is how fast does the mould grow and I suspect that it would need longer to grow than the interval between cleaning the litter tray and therefore it must be rare that cat litter becomes contaminated by the Aspergillus species of mould.

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Spices and nuts

But the potential would appear to be present. My research in fact indicates that aflatoxins are produced by fungi other than from the Aspergillus species. And they can contaminate other agricultural commodities such as spices, nuts and grains.


And there have been instances where aflatoxin contamination has occurred in cat litters. There is a well-known case on a cat forum where a very distressed lady described how her cat was harmed by the product. She stressed that it’s not possible for the manufacturers to check all the corn and therefore some may slip through the process. She makes the point that corn which has not been infected by this fungus can become infected when stored in warm temperatures during transit.


Susan Thixton’s research tells us that unaffected corn at 18% moisture can only be stored safely for just over a month and 70°F. So, you can see that aflatoxin contamination might occur during storage and be missed by the manufacturers of dry cat food corn filler and by the manufacturers of litter substrate made with corn. It seems feasible to suggest that an opened bag of corn cat litter might become damp and unused for more than a month.

How can you tell?

The problem, as I see it, is you don’t know whether corn substrate has been contaminated with this fungi. How do you tell? I’ve seen nothing on the Internet which helps me in that regard. The second problem is that at high levels aflatoxins can cause serious illness; liver damage and even death. The toxins can be present even when there is no visible mould.


And pets, say the FDA, are susceptible to aflatoxin poisoning because cats are often fed the same food all the time resulting in the toxins accumulating inside the animal’s body. I guess the same would apply with cat litter if it is not cleaned regularly which is probably not that uncommon by the way.

Although with cat litter cats are not eating the stuff but they could ingest the toxins if they come off the substrate. Cats do rummage around their cat litter quite a lot. Also, it has been reported that some domestic cats eat cat litter made from corn. The same will apply to cat litter made from walnut shells, coconut husks and wheat. So, the danger is there.

Stop using corn-based litters?

Perhaps the conclusion is not to buy corn cat litter at all. My preference is wood pellet cat litter which I find the best and I believe it is the best in terms of environmental issues. It is also good in terms of odour containment. And it is not dusty like some cat litters. Tidy Cats cat litter is very dusty and is made of silica.

Dust and silica

Separately, the Snopes website says that Tidy Cats cat litter is safe even though I wrote about the potential dangers of this substrate years ago. They disagree with me but I disagree with them because a factory worker told me that the dangers of this litter come from the fact that it is made from silica and silica cuts the lungs of cats when they inhale it. That’s a point that Snopes did not pick up on as far as I know.

How do aflatoxins poison cats?

Cats have to ingest it in significant quantities and the severity of poisoning varies with the level of exposure, the cat’s sensitivity to the toxins, their overall health and the duration of exposure.

The toxins can be absorbed into the bloodstream where they are distributed throughout the body. The toxins primarily affect the liver where they have a harmful effect including hepatotoxicity which means they damage the liver cells. This prevents the liver working normally and can lead to liver inflammation and necrosis which impairs the organ’s ability to detoxify harmful substances.

Aflatoxins can also suppress or compromise the cat’s immune system which would make them more vulnerable to infections and diseases generally.

And thirdly, prolonged exposure is linked to increased risk of liver cancer.

The symptoms might include jaundice from a failing liver and other signs of liver dysfunction, diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, loss of appetite and lethargy.

Aflatoxin poisoning as rare in the domestic cat so people shouldn’t become overly concerned about it but they should be aware of the potential. If you suspect that your cat might have been exposed to it then no doubt you will contact your veterinarian as a matter of urgency.

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Why do domestic cats love corn on the cob?

Cat eats corn on the cob like a human
Cat eats corn on the cob like a human. Image from a YouTube video.

I am not sure that all domestic cats like corn on the cob but judging by the number of questions asked on the Internet about cats eating corn on the cob and also judging by the video on this page of a cat eagerly gobbling up corn on the cob, it has its attractions but what are they? You’ll see different opinions. I think this is work in progress.

Smell and taste – fatty

It must be to do with smell and taste. Very much so for cats, taste is linked to smell. Domestic cats judge the acceptability of foods initially by its smell followed by a check on its taste. It is said that corn on the cob has a buttery smell and taste. Corn on the cob has a lot of flavour. The buttery taste may be one of the attractants to the domestic cat because they like fats and therefore they like butter.

Perhaps they confuse the buttery flavour of corn on the cob with butter itself. There is no doubt in my mind that domestic cats like corn on the cob primarily for its taste and not because they think is good for their health. Although there are some potential health benefits (see below).

Plants and roughage

Although, on that topic, domestic cats eat grass and plants and therefore they can occasionally dip into a vegan-type diet. Yes, they do this despite the world being told that they are obligate carnivores.

Cat likes corn on the cob
Cat likes corn on the cob. Image: Reddit.com

Domestic cats eat quite a lot of vegetation particularly if they are living off the land by catching prey. When a cat catches a mouse, they eat the entire mouse except for the gallbladder sometimes and in the stomach of the mouse there will be vegetation because mice are herbivores.


The vegetation provides roughage which is good for digestion. Corn is rich in dietary fibre. It is non-toxic to cats. They might like it partly because of its fibre content.

When they bite into the corn they are also biting into the cob and corn cobs are a rich source of cellulose and hemicellulose and they contain significant amounts of lignin.

Cellulose-rich foods are a good source of roughage for humans. Roughage as you know is good for transmitting digested food through the gastrointestinal tract. It helps to keep the gut healthy.

My gut feeling (excuse the pun please) is that some cats like to eat corn on the cob because of its taste and the taste might replicate the taste of fatty foods and they may instinctively understand that it contains roughage. There is also the carb content which provides energy.

Unidentified beneficial nutrients

It may also contain nutrients which benefit the domestic cat’s health that we do not currently know about. For example, there is still a debate about why domestic cats eat grass. Some experts say that they eat grass because it contains folic acid which is good for the transportation of oxygen around the body through haemoglobin. Others say that grass is good for them because it is roughage. Others also say that grass helps to make them sick which vomits up hair balls.

The point that I’m making is that is that there are certain aspects of domestic cat behaviour that are still being worked through by humans. We don’t know all there is to know about domestic cats yet.


It may be significant that in all the photographs we see of domestic cat eating corn they always eat it off the cob. There may be something in the cob which smells attractive to domestic cats.

Manufactured cat food

Corn is included in some commercially prepared cat foods. For example, Iams openly state on the internet that they use corn ingredients in their cat foods. They use it in different forms such as ground corn, corn meal, corn grits et cetera. They state that corn grits and corn meal are used in their cat food as a high quality source of carbohydrates which as you might know is a source of energy. Corn has a lower glycaemic and insulin response compared to rice. This makes it better for senior and overweight cats.

AI intelligence says this

It is not common for domestic cats to show an interest in corn on the cob, and it is not a recommended food for them to consume as it can pose a choking hazard and is not nutritionally balanced for their needs. However, some cats may show interest in corn on the cob due to its texture or the scent it emits. Cats have a keen sense of smell and are attracted to strong scents, so they may be drawn to the aroma of the corn. Additionally, some cats enjoy chewing on things, and the texture of the corn on the cob may be appealing to them. It’s important to note that while some cats may enjoy nibbling on corn on the cob, it is not a safe or healthy food for them to consume and should not be given to them intentionally.

Do you have an idea why some domestic cats like corn on the cob?

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