Petfood protein is changing, as traditional sources, such as fish and meat byproducts, are replaced with plant-derived proteins. These proteins are more accessible and affordable, but they may be accompanied by harmful toxins called mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins originate from fungi growing naturally alongside crops in pre-harvest fields. Animals can tolerate some exposure, but mycotoxins may cause a loss of appetite, sleepiness, lack of coordination, immune system suppression and vomiting. One common and symptom-triggering mycotoxin found in some grain-based dog and cat food is called deoxynivalenol. Manufacturers screen for this mycotoxin using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test kits, but they're only able to detect one chemical form.
Pet owners can minimize the risk of mycotoxins by avoiding cheaper petfoods that are more likely to contain vegetable cereals and corn or wheat fillers.
Research has found that adding a specific type of acid to the original test can allow manufacturers to detect masked-deoxynivalenol compounds and remove the contaminated grains. Another possible way to detect mycotoxins is to add yeast to petfood. The yeast's fiber binds to the toxic molecules, blocking deoxynivalenol from the blood stream and preventing negative symptoms.
Source: Trevor Smith et al. , 2013. Veggie-based petfood movement brings new safety questions, University of Guelph research suggests. University of Guelph , August 2013.