Critically appraised topic on adverse food reactions of companion animals (5): discrepancies between ingredients and labeling in commercial pet foods

BMC Vet Res. 2018 Jan 22;14(1):24. doi: 10.1186/s12917-018-1346-y.


Background: Elimination dietary trials for the diagnosis of adverse food reactions (food allergies) in dogs and cats are often conducted with commercial pet foods while relying on their label to select those not containing previously-eaten ingredients. There are concerns that industrial pet foods might contain unlisted food sources that could negate the usefulness of performing food trials. Furthermore, unidentified ingredients might cause clinical reactions in patients hypersensitive to such items.

Results: We searched two article databases on July 7, 2017 and January 12, 2018 for relevant articles, and we screened abstracts from the leading international veterinary dermatology congresses for suitable material. Additional citations were found in the selected papers. In all, we extracted data from 17 articles and one abstract. The studies varied both in the number of pet foods tested (median: 15; range: 1 to 210) and that of ingredients specifically evaluated (median: 4; range: 1 to 11). Studies most often employed either PCR to detect DNA or ELISA to identify proteins from one or more vegetal or animal species; two studies used mass spectrometry to increase the number of detectable proteins. The various methods found ingredients that were not on the label in 0 to 83% (median: 45%) of tested diets; this percentage varied between 33 and 83% in pet foods with "novel/limited" ingredients proposed for elimination diets. Similarly, ingredients were found to be missing from the label in 0 to 38% (median: 1%) of tested foods. Finally, six studies evaluated, among others, several hydrolysate-containing pet foods: mislabeling with unlabeled or missing ingredients was found only in one diet.

Conclusions: The mislabeling of pet foods appears rather common, even in those with "novel" or "limited" ingredients proposed for elimination diets. Unexpected added ingredients are more frequently detected than those missing from the label. There is insufficient information to determine if the presence of a contaminating component will lead to a clinical reaction in a patient allergic to it, as challenges with the mislabeled foods were not performed in dogs or cats allergic to such ingredients. The testing of hydrolysate-containing pet foods found only one instance of possible mislabeling.

Keywords: Canine; Cat; Contamination; Diet; Dog; Feline; Food allergy; Labeling; Pet foods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Cats
  • Diet / veterinary
  • Dogs
  • Food Contamination
  • Food Hypersensitivity / veterinary
  • Food Labeling*