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Recalled Pet Food: Aflatoxin

Must Read: Aflatoxin Pet Food Recalls

The recall of SportMix dog and cat foods may impact you even if you’re not feeding the food being recalled.


The FDA released an update which indicated the recall has expanded internationally. Further, based on the number of reported deaths and illnesses as of this date this is likely the largest documented aflatoxin recall within the pet industry.


The FDA released an update on the original recall announcement adding over 1,000 lots of pet food manufactured by Midwestern pet. Affected foods were made in their Oklahoma facility. More than seventy deaths have been reported with an additional 80+ pets ill.

This recall indicates there are some clear quality control issues within Midwestern Pet’s manufacturing operations. As foreshadowed in the original article below, it likely meant that they were not inbound testing their ingredients for safety and adequacy. Midwestern was likely not outbound testing their final product for safety and nutritional adequacy either. The recall expansion supports this and we can expect the number of reports of ill pets to increase, as well as further expansion of this recall.



Recently a recall of SportMix dog and cat foods due to ‘potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin’ was announced by the FDA & Midwestern Pet Foods. SportMix is manufactured by Midwestern Pet Foods who also makes well-known brands Earthborn, ProPac, Venture, Wholesomes, CanineX and most recently their ancient grain food Unrefined. The first FDA update indicated 28 dogs reported dead, and at least 8 more ill, with 70+ ill and 80+ dead as of the second announcement. It’s likely the FDA announcements will result in more reported cases.

If you are feeding SportMix, you can check the most recent FDA announcement for lot and date codes to see if your food has been recalled. If your pet is ill, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away. You can learn more about filing a Pet Food Complaint with the FDA here: Report A Complaint.

The recall was prompted when the Missouri Department of Agriculture tested multiple SportMix products which contained very high levels of aflatoxin. Currently, the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the FDA are investigating the incident to determine how and why the foods contained such high levels of aflatoxin.


What Is Aflatoxin?

Aflatoxin is produced by a mold Aspergillus flavus. Aflatoxin is dangerous at high levels, although low levels exist in common foods we and pets eat. These foods include nuts and grains (including ancient grains!) such as peanuts, and corn. In pet food, the most common culprit is corn, however numerous recalls have been announced over the years for a variety of human and pet products.

The FDA states that pets are more at risk of aflatoxin poisoning because they do not eat a varied diet like humans do. In other words, the cumulative effect of eating food with already high levels of aflatoxin makes the situation worse.


What symptoms should I look for?

The FDA States:

Pets with aflatoxin poisoning may experience symptoms such as sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice (yellowish tint to the eyes, gums or skin due to liver damage), and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues and/or death. Some pets suffer liver damage without showing any symptoms. Pet owners whose pets have been eating the recalled products should contact their veterinarians, especially if they are showing signs of illness.


Why this recall should concern you:

Aflatoxin at dangerously high levels in pet food is preventable from a manufacturing standpoint. If a manufacturer is testing their inbound ingredients and outbound testing their final product, dangerously high levels of aflatoxin should never make it to the marketplace. The fact that it has been found in 9 different lots of pet food is concerning and raises several questions:

  • Was Midwestern inbound testing their raw ingredients to ensure that they were safe? In this case, it is likely that the ingredient containing the aflatoxin was corn.
    • Note: The past year there were agricultural reports indicating high levels of aflatoxin in some crops, meaning that if Midwestern was purchasing from these regions they should have been testing for aflatoxin, and other contaminants more frequently.
  • Was Midwestern outbound testing their final products to ensure that they were safe and nutritionally adequate?
  • What types of quality control does Midwestern have in place to prevent problems like this from occurring?
  • What steps does Midwestern take to clean machinery and storage containers in an effort to prevent cross contamination to other products made in the same facility?
  • What other products were made in this facility during and after the recalled product was made?
  • Does Midwestern hold a sample of each lot of food produced so that it may be tested if issues arise such as this?


Another Lesson?

The recall of SportMix dog and cat foods is another lesson to both retailers and pet owners that it is important to ask questions of the brand of food you feed your pets. You can learn more about those questions here. I am well aware of many who think that I’m being unreasonable when asking the questions I ask, or pushing for changes in regard to food safety and nutrition adequacy testing – but the reason why I do it is because things like this are PREVENTABLE. Sure, implementing nutritional adequacy testing is inconvienent if you’re a manufacturer – but it’s worse when pets get sick or die because you didn’t implement that testing.  As a retailer it’s inconvenient to have to constantly reach out to pet food companies – but it’s worse when a pet experiences a problem because I didn’t do my homework. It’s clear that many companies do not check all the boxes, but I can do my best to support companies that are doing their best to improve. I can also educate my clients and customers on who does and does not have certain safety/nutritional adequacy measures in place. I can also tell them who refuses to answer questions!

Simply said, knowing what quality control measures a manufacturer has or does not have can make a world of difference. While we don’t know if this recall will be expanded to other lots, or even brands – it is not out of the realm of possibility. For example, if Midwestern truly did have one batch of a contaminated ingredient such as corn, and does have proper quality control measures in place (e.g. proper cleaning of machinery and storage containers to prevent cross contamination) then other products may not be affected. If they do not have adequate measures in place (or failed to follow them) it is possible other products will be affected.

In either case, the question still remains: how did the contaminated food end up in the marketplace to begin with? Was it because they were not inbound testing raw ingredients, or outbound testing the final product or both?  We’ll have to wait and see.[vc_single_image image=”4225″ img_size=”large”]Original Recalled Products: Date accessed: 11 January 2021 https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-alert-certain-lots-sportmix-pet-food-recalled-potentially-fatal-levels-aflatoxin[vc_single_image image=”4226″ img_size=”large”]Second Recall (January 11, 2021) Date accessed: 11 January 2021 https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-alert-certain-lots-sportmix-pet-food-recalled-potentially-fatal-levels-aflatoxin[vc_single_image image=”4227″ img_size=”large”]Date code example: Date accessed 11 January 2021 https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-alert-certain-lots-sportmix-pet-food-recalled-potentially-fatal-levels-aflatoxinAbout the Author

Nicole is the founder & owner of award winning NorthPoint Pets & Company, in Connecticut. She is also the Founder & CEO of Undogmatic Inc. Her undergraduate and graduate education includes biology, chemistry, business and nutrition. She has worked in the pharmaceutical industry on multiple R&D projects and has had the privilege to learn from leading international figures in the human and pet health industry. She regularly lectures at national conferences, including federal, state, and municipal K9 events. Her current research involves identifying pathogenic risk factors and transmission among raw fed pets through a comprehensive worldwide survey.




What You Need to Know About EEE Virus & Your Pets

Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) risks and more need-to-know information to protect your pets.

While the fall weather brings in warm thoughts of cool weather and pumpkin spice, it is still prime weather for mosquitos in most areas of the United States. 

The rain, pockets of humidity and early sunsets give these nuisance pests more time to wreak havoc since Mosquito-borne viral diseases are a major concern of global health and result in significant economic losses in many countries1.

A deep frost will generally eliminate any remaining mosquito population, but until then read on to learn how to minimize risk for you and your pets. Triple E for dogs, or cats, has been a low-risk for many years with very few cases are reported each year.

While you are getting ready to take in the fall foliage on a hike with your dog or sitting on the front porch with your cat, here’s what you need to know about mosquitos in order to protect your pets from Triple E and more:

1. Mosquitos like to lay eggs in standing water. They are attracted to stagnant water found in bird baths, pool covers, unchlorinated kiddie pools, but they will also take advantage of small containers like cups, container lids, and unattended water bowls.

2. They typically fly 1-1.5 miles per hour2, and some can even travel up to 7 miles to breed and spread disease between areas and animals. These behaviors are what explain the increasing spread of EEE virus and West Nile virus which are spread through the bite of an infected female mosquito.

3. The average lifespan of a female mosquito is 2-3 weeks, but they can survive up to six months in the right environment3.

4. Male mosquitos feed only on plant nectars, while females feed off blood from mammals, birds, and reptiles. Female mosquitos do this so their eggs can mature prior to laying them. If they do not acquire blood, the eggs will not be viable and hatch4.

5. In some cases, mosquito eggs can survive a drought. Receiving water after an eight- month dry period, eggs can hatch and go from larva to adults in just a week5.

6. Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) has been in the news recently because of human infections, but it can also be transmitted to cats, dogs, and horses6.

7. Like with heartworm dis-eases, the prevalence of EEE is unclear. In New England for example, the prevalence of heartworm has been reported to vary between 5-25 cases per veterinary clinic annually7.

Both dis-eases are preventable by improving balance which increases resistance to all infectious dis-eases.

Mosquitos spread EEE and heartworm so work to improve your pets’ balance and decrease the number of mosquitoes around your house whenever possible to prevent problems since treatment is expensive, impacts the quality of life, and is risky.

8. Cats can also get heartworm from mosquitos, though the disease and symptoms display differently than they do in dogs8.

9. This year there is expected to be a higher than average risk of mosquito-borne disease across most of the country because of the warm fall and excess moisture9.

10. Even mosquitos not carrying disease can cause skin irritation or an allergic reaction in pets – much like traditional allergic reactions10. While not much peer-reviewed literature exists mosquito bite allergies, many incidents of reactions to mosquito bites have been widely reported by pet owners.

Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus can cause illness in dogs or cats, however infection is quite rare11. Most pets that do become infected with EEE, or even West Nile virus, fully recover from infection. 

Signs of Triple E can include any one or a combination of: fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, weakness, uncoordinated movement, head pressing, circling, seizures, tremors, irritability, blindness, or coma. However, not all animals with signs of encephalitis have infections like EEE. It is imperative to seek veterinary attention if your pet exhibits any of these symptoms as definitive diagnosis requires ruling out other important diseases11.

Keeping your pet indoors during high-risk times such as early morning, dusk, and overnight is the most effective short-term solution to decreasing risk for EEE virus. In addition to this, there are a number of other steps we can take to protect our pets from mosquitos and mitigate the risk of viruses and disease. The first, and often last, line of defense is an animal’s own immune system.

A diet rich in whole foods, antioxidants and fresh components is more cost-effective over the long term than care for a chronically ill pet. The right nutrition can often yield more vitality and immune function. While the “best food” for pets is wildly debatable – the most important factor to consider is your own pet’s individuality.

For animals that spend time in an outdoor kennel or open porch, natural sprays like cedar, rose geranium, and other essential oils can be used extremely effectively, although application is required more frequently than chemical pesticides. Growing evidence indicates long term risk of chemical use on their pets or yards for both humans and pets12.

The natural options that contain essential oil blends can be extremely safe for animals and effective on pests when used properly. Cedarwood oil repels and kills mosquitos, fleas, and ticks. It can be used on pet bedding, plants and directly on pets when properly diluted. In addition, lemongrass, peppermint, and rosemary repel mosquitos when applied to animals, furniture, carpet, and bedding, but are not typically used to treat plants or outdoor areas.

Several veterinary-provided and over-the-counter medications available remain the most popular choice for pet owners and parasite and related disease prevention. Some work by repelling the insect along with fleas and ticks and others provide a low dose medication that
prevents the maturing of some mosquito-spread diseases, including heartworm.

While the options are considered generally safe for most healthy dogs, all do have risks – especially if package directions are not adhered to or these are used for ill pets13. In addition, there is additional risks when these are used in conjunction with lawn preventatives12. It is also imperative to check if your particular preventative is safe for puppies, pregnant dog, or dogs currently being bred.

Chemical yard treatments available typically involve a pesticide granule to keep mosquitos at bay. Commercial and retail treatments vary greatly in ingredients, toxicity, and application amounts. If your pet eats grass or spends enough time on the treated areas, they can ingest and absorb these chemicals through inhalation and their paw pads – and increased exposure to pesticides has been linked to allergy, inflammation or nervous system complications in both pets and people.

For optimal Vitality and health of your pet, always use these chemical products cautiously, sparingly and never mix commercial products. Take time to read the ingredients and directions before applying any chemicals, and watch for adverse effects. In fact, many treatments prohibit animal contact until the application is dry or for 1-7 days in some instances.

With so many options to manage the risks of mosquitos and other insects, making the best choice for your animals can be stressful. Having a trusted holistic veterinary advisor will help decrease this anxiety of uncertainty.

Use of prescriptions, store-bought options, natural treatments or a combination are up to you and depend on your animal’s health, lifestyle, and location14. An animal that spends more time by water or woods may require a different strategy then a dog living in a city apartment or a cat that is strictly indoors. It is best to research your options and discuss them with a trusted veterinarian.

It is also vital to review their diet regularly and get annual testing for heartworm and other insect-borne diseases. If you notice any changes in your pets’ BEAM (Behavior, Energy, Appetite Mood) that may suggest they are under the weather, do not delay in seeking vet treatment!

Proactive preventative health measures through lifestyle, diet and other preventative strategies are always more effective than reactive treatment.

This entry is offered for informational purposes only and should not replace the advice from a qualified veterinarian. Be sure to discuss all concerns with your veterinarian in order to help all involved make an informed decision when it comes to the care of your pets.

1. Cheng G, Liu Y, Wang P, Xiao X. Mosquito Defense Strategies against Viral Infection. Trends Parasitol. 2016;32(3):177-186. doi:10.1016/j.pt.2015.09.009

2. FAQ – American Mosquito Control Association. FAQ – American Mosquito Control Association. Accessed September 30, 2019.

3. Mosquito Lifespan: How Long Do Mosquitoes Live? (From Egg To Death). End Mosquitoes. Mosquito Lifespan: How Long Do Mosquitoes Live? (From Egg To Death). Published December 25, 2018. Accessed October 1, 2019.

4. User S. Jackson Township – Mosquitoes. Jackson Township – Mosquitoes. Accessed September 30, 2019.

5. Zika, Mosquitoes, and Standing Water | | Blogs | CDC. Zika, Mosquitoes, and Standing Water | | Blogs | CDC. Accessed September 30, 2019.

6. Symptoms & Treatment | Eastern Equine Encephalitis | CDC. Symptoms & Treatment | Eastern Equine Encephalitis | CDC. Published May 22, 2019. Accessed September 30, 2019.

7. Incidence Maps – American Heartworm Society. https://www.heartwormsociety.org/veterinary-resources/client-education/incidence- maps. Accessed September 30, 2019.

8. Heartworm in Cats – American Heartworm Society. Heartworm in Cats – American Heartworm Society. Accessed September 30, 2019.

9. What mosquito-borne and tick-borne infections are threatening your pet in 2019? | Pets & Parasites: The Pet Owner’s Parasite Resource. https://www.petsandparasites.org/expert- insights/2019forecasts/. Accessed September 30, 2019.

10. Insect Bite Reaction in Dogs. vca_corporate. vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/insect-bite- reaction-in-dogs. Accessed September 30, 2019.
11. WNV and EEE in Animals. Mass.gov. https://www.mass.gov/service-details/wnv-and-eee- in-animals. Accessed October 1, 2019.

12. Protect Your Pets From Dangerous Lawn Chemicals | Midwest Pesticide Action Center. Protect Your Pets From Dangerous Lawn Chemicals | Midwest Pesticide Action Center. Accessed October 4, 2019.

13. US EPA O. EPA Evaluation of Pet Spot-on Products: Analysis and Plans for Reducing Harmful Effects. US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/pets/epa-evaluation-pet-spot-products- analysis-and-plans-reducing-harmful-effects. Published March 27, 2013. Accessed September 30, 2019.

14. Dr. Jeffrey Levy DVM PCH :: Classical Veterinary Homeopathy : Heartworm. https://www.homeovet.net/content/lifestyle/section4.html. Accessed September 30, 2019.