Are Dented Pet Food Cans Safe?

Author: Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

Published: February 5, 2016

Updated: June 2, 2017

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Pet-Food-Can-Botulism
Botulism Is A Potential Risk

You return home from the pet food store or your vet’s office with a case of your pet’s food only to realize something that you hadn’t realized when you first picked up the case… one (or several) of the cans is dented! You recall hearing something about Botulism and dented cans and wonder if the food in the dented can(s) is safe to feed to your dog or cat.

Well, as with many things in life, there isn’t really an easy “Yes or No” answer. It can be perfectly safe to do so in some cases, while not so in others. So here’s some information and some guidelines to help you make the best decision when confronted with the scenario of a dented can.

A brief aside for those of you with cats who might be thinking that the best way to avoid this problem is just to feed your cats dry food, please reconsider and make sure you are aware of Urinary (Urethral) Obstruction in cats before you make up your mind (ESPECIALLY if you have a male cat!).

Details About Botulism 

  • Botulism is caused by a toxin produced by certain strains of Clostridial bacteria

  • Clostridium are anaerobic bacteria, meaning that they grow and thrive in an environment WITHOUT oxygen (such as a can of food)

  • It takes only a very small amount of the Clostridial toxin to sicken and potentially kill an animal (or a person)

  • You cannot smell, see, or taste the Botulism-causing toxin (or the Clostridial bacteria that produce it)

  • Botulism used to occur far more often back when most canning was done in the home, it happens very infrequently now that most canning is done in factories where strict cleaning and sanitization procedures are (supposed to be) followed

The Clostridial bacteria can contaminate food after it has been canned if the can becomes dented or damaged in such a way that the seal on the can is broken

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  • The most concerning dents are those that are deep, those that have clearly resulted in a puncture in the surface of the can, and those that happen near and involve the seams along the top, bottom, or side of the can

  • Contaminated cans may have a bulging or bloated appearance as a result of the gas the bacteria produces

  • Contaminated cans may “spray” or explode their contents when opened

  • Contaminated cans may “give” or make a popping sound when you press on the top, side, or bottom of them

Fortunately, cats and dogs seem to be less sensitive to the Clostridial toxins than people, though cases do occur. These cases tend to happen more from outdoor and free roaming pets eating the carcasses of decomposing animals than they do in pets being fed commercially canned foods. Here’s one case that affected two dogs in France, and here’s a report of what is believed to be the first naturally occuring case in cats.

So, while Botulism from dented or otherwise damaged cans of cat or dog food may not be a likely occurrence, it is still a possibility. With that in mind, I would leave you with this advice when confronted with a damaged can of pet food… Inspect the can closely using the criteria listed above —

  • if it’s clearly bloated or has dents which are deep or involving the sensitive areas, don’t feed the food inside to your pets.
  • if it clears the tests above, then it’s likely to be OK.
  • when in doubt, or just to be as safe as possible, throw it out (or better still, return it to the place you bought it from for a replacement or refund). Why take the chance?!


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