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Xanthan Gum: A Future Ingredient in Pet Food?


Story at-a-glance -

  • Xanthan gum, an ingredient used infrequently in commercial pet food, could become a lot more common now that AAFCO has issued preliminary approval for its broader use in canned dog and cat foods.
  • Xanthan gum is made by fermenting corn sugar with Xanthomonas compestris, a bacteria. In processed human foods, xanthan gum is used as an emulsifier, a thickener, and in gluten-free products. Nutritionally, xanthan gum is a carb with about seven grams of fiber per tablespoon.
  • Xanthan gum is generally considered safe for dogs and is assumed safe for cats. Diarrhea can result at megadose levels, and potentially at lower doses in sensitive individuals.
  • Xanthan gum is made using carbohydrates from corn, wheat, dairy, or soy, all of which are considered allergens that can damage your pet’s health. We recommend avoiding pet foods containing this ingredient.

By Dr. Becker

If you’re a pet owner who feeds a processed commercial diet to your dog or cat, soon you may be hearing more about an ingredient called xanthan gum. It is currently used only sparingly in pet products – typically in wet foods, sauces, and gravies – but AAFCO has preliminarily approved it for broader use in canned dog and cat foods.

So What Is Xanthan Gum?

Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide produced by fermentation of carbohydrates by the gram-negative bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. It is used as a thickening and suspending agent in processed foods.

The bacteria occurs naturally – it is what causes the black rot on veggies that have been in the fridge too long – and can also be produced synthetically. The value of X. campestris is its ability to produce a gel-like, gummy substance as a protective coating.

Once the bacteria has fermented, it is pasteurized (killed) and filtered. The resulting xanthan gum is then treated with isopropyl alcohol, dried, ground, and diluted to desired consistency. The finished product is a loose, whitish-colored powder. The behavior of xanthan gum makes it ideal for food processing purposes. Nutritionally speaking, it is a carbohydrate with about seven grams of fiber per tablespoon.

Why Might It Be Used in Pet Foods … and Is It Safe?

The primary benefit of xanthan gum is its ability to thicken and stabilize solid ingredients suspended in fluid, so depending on the cost, manufacturers of canned pet food could certainly find a use for it. Currently, it is most often combined with guar gum and/or locust bean gum (don’t those sound yummy?) to aid in viscosity and gel control.

Xanthan gum is generally considered safe for dogs and is assumed to be safe for cats. Studies indicate it can cause diarrhea at megadose levels, but this shouldn’t be a concern for most pets since AAFCO’s approval for use is based on a not-to-exceed level of .25 percent (that’s .0025 of 1 percent) in canned dog and cat foods. But keep in mind, a substance that causes diarrhea at high doses can potentially cause diarrhea at low doses in sensitive individuals.

Studies show that xanthan gum has a very low glycemic value compared to other polysaccharides, probably because it is indigestible and not absorbed in either the stomach or small intestine.

My Recommendation Regarding Xanthan Gum in Pet Food

Obviously I’m not a fan of highly processed pet foods, so an ingredient that aids pet food manufacturers in their extreme processing methods doesn’t excite me.

Xanthan gum is made using carbohydrates from corn, wheat, dairy, or soy. Regular visitors here at Mercola Healthy Pets know I always advise against feeding these foods to dogs and cats. The holistic veterinary community considers all four to be allergens, and each can wreak its own special brand of havoc on your pet’s digestive system and overall health, not to mention the concern about GMO’s in soy.

It’s possible pet food companies that add xanthan gum to their products might try to advertise its high fiber content, low glycemic value, or the fact that it’s “gluten-free.” Remember not to fall for marketing spin! When all is said and done, xanthan gum is just another non-nutritive, carb-based additive in processed pet food.

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