Due to the elimination of various pet food products in the market last year, the debate on the possible risk of mycotoxins in pet foods has increased.
Mycotoxins are highly toxic secondary metabolites of fungi, usually produced by Fusarium, Aspergillus and Penicillium presented in cereals. Those can cause different toxic effects in animals ranging from immune suppression or neurotoxic effects, death in several cases.
Furthermore, the sensitivity to the different mycotoxins differs among animal species and also depends on other factors:
- Toxin: type of mycotoxin consumption, level and duration of intake.
- Animals: sex, age, race, general health, immune status, nutritional status
- Environment: farm management, hygiene, temperature.
Therefore it is very difficult to detect and diagnose problems with mycotoxins in animals.
Mycotoxins certainly represent a potential health threat for pets. According to a recently published study of mycotoxins, raw materials used in commercial foods are frequently contaminated with mycotoxins. Dry pet food is a particular concern because of its content of cereals.
Best known mycotoxins are aflatoxins due that they are potentially carcinogenic and hepatotoxic. In dogs and cats exposed aflatoxins can be observed with the loss of appetite, jaundice, lack of energy, vomiting and even cause death within 3 days of exposure.
Recently in an investigation of 180 samples of dog food in Brazil to see the presence of fungi that produce mycotoxins, were found A. flavus and A. parasiticus species as prevalent in food. These mycotoxins were present in places where environmental storage conditions were not suitable.
The sensitivity of the different animal species to aflatoxins varies too. For example, in rabbits just 0.3 mg / kg in cats 0.55 mg / kg in dogs 1.0 mg / kg in pigs and 1.4-2.0 mg / kg. These species are more sensitive than animals e.g. mice (9.0 mg / kg) or hamsters (10.2 mg / kg). Moreover, aflatoxins have been associated with equine death after consuming contaminated maize at a concentration of 130 ppb of total aflatoxin.
Other mycotoxins commonly found in food are ochratoxins, kidney mainly is the target organ. Dogs are especially susceptible to ochratoxin. In dogs, the clinical picture of ochratoxin varies from anorexia, weight loss and vomiting to hyperthermia, dehydration and prostration.
Fusarium mycotoxins (trichothecenes, zearalenone and fumonisin) are concern for companion animals, because many ingredients known in feed contain these toxins.
Trichothecenes cause negative effects on the immune system and lead to digestive disorders (vomiting, diarrhea or food refusal) or bleeding. Zearalenone causes problems in the reproductive system of all species of animals, and finally, fumosinas inhibit the synthesis of various sphingolipids and damage organs in animals. Also in horses can cause leucoencefalomalacia equine lameness, blindness, depression, lack of appetite and death.
The mycotoxin risk management
Mycotoxins are very common contaminants of pet foods, therefore, have a great threat to the health of pets. Testing of pre and post-harvest or proper storage can reduce the risk of mycotoxin contamination, but not completely prevent it. Therefore, to protect pets from the harmful effects of mycotoxins, feed additives are indispensable. These additives in foods may protect animal health by deactivating mycotoxins in contaminated food. These products directly inactivate toxins in the gastrointestinal tract of animals, either based on adsorption of mycotoxins or biological degradation.