Science & Technology: The Dangers of Heavy Metals in Pet Food


Pure Cravings has committed to testing every single tuna, salmon, and other fish in its cat food. There are currently no government standards for heavy metals in pet food. Pet food can be up to 670 times higher in heavy metals than human food. Two fish of the same species, age, and size can have completely different mercury levels.

Cats are sensitive to mercury, the levels of which can vary widely in different fish used for pet food. According to Sean Wittenberg, founder of Pure Cravings, depending on the waters where a fish lived and what it was eating, two fish of the same species, age and size can have completely different mercury levels. Pet Age recently spoke with Wittenberg to find out about his dedication to feline health and how Pure Cravings has committed to testing every single tuna, salmon, and other fish in its cat food.


How are heavy metals in pet food ingredients harmful to companion animals? 

Heavy metals are toxic and can impact cat health in alarming ways. Mercury is a neurotoxin that damages dense tissue like organs and the brain. There are currently no government standards for heavy metals in pet food; as a result, pet food can be up to 670 times higher in heavy metals than human food. Cats can develop high mercury levels through their diet leading to issues of mercury accumulation like hyperthyroidism, neurological disorders, kidney failure, and cancer. As cats age, the impact of chronic overexposure to mercury becomes even more severe, particularly in cats over 12 years old. Many of these health conditions are irreversible, so pet parents must take precautions to ensure pets have a limited intake of heavy metal toxins, like mercury.

Signs your cat may be experiencing mercury toxicity include ataxia (difficulty walking without wobbling); loss of coordination; seizures; hypermetria (involuntary movements); nystagmus (involuntary, rapid back and forth eye movement); nervous system depression; and paralysis.  If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian for care immediately. 


Why does Pure Cravings test every single fish that goes into its canned cat food? 

 Mercury is a naturally occurring element that has always been in the environment; however, through the worldwide use of coal-fired power, mercury levels in the oceans have increased by over three times in the past 75 years. When it comes to fish, the mercury level of two fish of the same size, from the same school, can vary by more than 10 times. As a result, the only way to truly protect cats from excess mercury is to test each fish to a strict mercury limit. 

We developed a proprietary technology to guarantee cats are only receiving the purest form of nutrient-dense fish. We test every single tuna and salmon, and every catch of sardines and mackerel to a strict mercury limit of 0.07ppm. We set this limit because studies suggest mercury levels below 0.07ppm are generally safe for cats, and the veterinary community and other pet health experts have broadly agreed on this as a target mercury level in pet food. This value is far lower than the average mercury levels found in many cat foods today. We see an opportunity to use our mercury testing technology to make a difference for millions of cats and their owners. With Pure Cravings, cat parents can be confident that they are serving the healthiest, safest cat food available.    


Why is it important to look at pet food ingredients via scientific data? 

To ensure pet food ingredients are healthy and fit for consumption, we must use technology and scientific data. Most impurities are undetectable to our senses, so we cannot depend on visual inspections or assumptions from past experiences. We must rely on scientific tools to measure exact levels of contaminants, like mercury, to protect our feline family members.

Additionally, there is a common misconception that you can limit mercury exposure by choosing “smaller fish,” but science has shown the variation of mercury in fish of all sizes. That’s why we test every single tuna and salmon and every catch of mackerel and sardines that goes into our products. 

We use scientific data not just to ensure limited levels of mercury, but also to reduce negative impacts on our ocean ecosystems. All our fish are sustainably wild-caught, using FAD-Free fishing methods which have lower carbon emissions than other fishing methods.   


Can you describe the process that tests for contaminants in fish? 

Traditional laboratories use Cold Vapor Atomic Absorption (CVAA) and Plasma Mass Spectroscopy (ICP-MS) to test for heavy metals like mercury. While these are accurate methods, they are expensive, very time-consuming, and require a lab environment and skilled technician.  

The Pure Cravings technology is a breakthrough in heavy metals testing and is AOAC performance certified. With this technology, we can take a grain of rice-sized tissue sample from a fish and inject it into our machine. In seconds, the testing method can tell the total mercury concentration to the part per billion — 1,000 times more sensitive than the FDA limit for human food — with the same accuracy as the ICP-MS and CVAA methods. Using this technology, Pure Cravings tests more than 10,000 fish per day and only buys those fish that meet our strict standards, which are in line with targets set by pet health experts. 



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