What gelling agents and thickeners does my wet pet food contain?

January 27, 2022   |   By David Jackson, AllAboutDogFood.co.uk

Gelling agents and thickeners in pet foodFinding out what thickeners and gelling agents wet foods contain can be like pulling teeth. Many manufacturers will either side-step the question or ignore it altogether and even some of the ones that are open and cooperative might not know some of the facts about their own foods.

Well, we've been working hard to find a system that provides you with the information you need where it is available and incentivises manufacturers to be more transparent where it is not.

And, as always, we would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Why gelling agents and thickeners are important

To find out why these additives might have an impact on your dog, take a look at our ingredient glossary entry here.

Why many manufacturers can not/will not disclose the information

First off, wet pet food companies are under no obligation to disclose the use of most gelling agents and thickeners so if they would rather not say, there's nothing you or I can do to make them. When this is the case we always assume the worst and we suggest you do the same.

But the real difficulty arrises when companies knowingly or unknowingly give out partial or even false information as fact.

Outsourced manufacturing

Most wet pet food companies do not have their own factories, instead outsourcing their manufacturing to third party factories like Landguth in Germany, Vafo in the Czech Republic or Cambrian in Wales.

Since the factories take care of the production side of things, many wet pet food resellers simply do not know a lot of the technical details of their own products.

When faced with technical questions (like what gelling agents and thickeners are used) these wet pet food companies have to go to the factory for information but the answers they get may not be entirely forthright.

Side-stepping the truth

According to one wet pet food manufacturer that has been willing to talk to us, thickeners (like locust-bean gum, cassia gum etc) are only ever used in conjunction with a gelling agent (like carrageenan, agar-agar, konjac, alginate, for example). Again, check out our guide for more info.

The trouble is, of course, that most members of the public and even many pet food company staff are not aware of the distinction between thickeners and gelling agents so when presented with the answer "our foods contain thickener x" from the factory or the reseller, they do not realise that it completely fails to address the question of gelling agents.

To further complicate matters, some technological additives including gelling agents and thickeners can be incorporated into the vitamin and mineral premix. Since they are therefore not individually added by the factory itself, it is perfectly permissible to claim that the food does not contain any added ingredient x even though ingredient x is present in the food via the premix (i.e. 'no added carrageenan').

Our solution

For all these reasons, we have decided to overhaul how we list paté or loaf type wet foods. Essentially, unless a company is willing to tell us exactly what gelling agents and thickeners theirs contain, we will now indicate on the listing that these additives are undisclosed, we will withhold the 'clear labelling' logo and the 'hypoallergenic' logo (as some of these additives are not what we would describe as hypoallergenic) and we will rate the food as if it contains the most controversial gelling agents and thickeners. Please note that some of these changes are still being rolled out.


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Gouvian 2 years ago

My miniature poodle was very ill at 19 months old, when opened up after various other tests her stomach and intestines were very inflamed. I had been feeding Lukullus wet food with Arden Grange dry food. I found out that Lukullus had carrageenan included as a gelling agent so now avoid it. Shame as my dog loved it and was doing very well on the combo until.....

I think I am going to have to continue to home cook meat and veg to add to her dry food. Fortunately, she loves an egg, white or oily fish and any meat I offer her. Just avoiding chicken at the moment.

I note that when I cook the meat for her, once it is cold it gels anyway so why the additives???

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C D Gouvian 2 years ago

I think they are added to make the food appealing to the human eye... nicely packaged little meaty loafs that are easy to manage. It is carrageenan that makes my little dog very ill - agonising stomach pain, vomiting (with blood), foul wind, yellow loose stools and diarrhoea.

If I have food/drink with carrageenan it gives me severe stomach cramps, so I avoid it completely.

My 2.5 kg dog is now back on raw. He loves it and there are no thickeners or gelling agents to worry about.

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C D 2 years ago

Thank you for all you do on this matter, and all others! I am convinced that thickeners / gelling agents (which I always thought were the same thing) are one of the main culprits in digestive problems in dogs and cats. And yes it IS like pulling teeth trying to get an answer from companies. I am about to put my dog back on raw because he has recently been having digestive issues with a food which a couple of years ago contained NO gelling agents or thickeners - confirmed by the company - and which he always did well on. And now in your directory this food has dropped down to 90% and says 'Unspecified Gelling Agent'. I searched because my dog had Colitis last week and I was curious about any recipe changes. I have emailed the company just now for clarification. Thanks again, David.

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