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.
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.
RELATED: 230 cat poisons (list)
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.
Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.