What Is Citric Acid?
Citric Acid is a natural compound that is found in several citrus fruits such as Lemons, Limes, and Oranges. The compound is colorless and odorless, with a strongly acidic, sour taste.
Originally, Citric Acid was derived from these citrus fruits; however, while you can derive it from fruits like Lemons and Limes, this is not the most efficient method.
By feeding the mold sugar, it produces a constant supply of Citric Acid. This trait was soon taken advantage of and allows for the Citric Acid production process can be scaled up much more easily than extracting Citrus Acid from fruits.
Citric Acid has two main purposes, and the first of these is as a flavoring in products designed to be sour or taste similar to lemons or limes.
It has almost certainly been present in various candies and drinks that you’ve drunk over your lifetime. You can see an example of this in the ingredient list of Sour Patch Kids below.
However, the other common use of Citric Acid is less well-known, and is that it can act as a preservative for foods and drinks.
As we will touch on shortly, this preservative property is a factor that leads to Citric Acid’s inclusion in pet-related foods.
Why Is Citric Acid In Pet Food?
The main reason that Citric Acid is often found in pet food recipes as a minor ingredient is that it is a fantastic fat preservative.
While some would prefer that pet foods do not contain preservatives, they are a necessity to ensure that the food remains safe to consume for long periods of time.
Most dog and cat owners have become accustomed to their dry food lasting for weeks and months with little change in its condition.
The reason that Citric Acid is such an effective preservative is thanks to its acidic nature. This makes it very difficult for mold or bacteria to survive and grow.
This preservative trait can be particularly important in foods with high levels of fat, such as recipes from more premium brands with large quantities of meat ingredients.
While Citric Acid isn’t the only preservative with this useful trait, it is considered by many to be more “natural” than some other preservatives, which is why it is seeing high levels of usage.
Another common preservative that is used in dog or cat food recipes is Rosemary Extract and it is used in a similar fashion to Citric Acid and is also considered “natural”.
You can read more about Rosemary Extract in our article Rosemary Extract In Pet Food.
Is Citric Acid Bad For Pets?
The tiny quantities of Citric Acid found in most dog or cat food recipes are unlikely to have any noticeable effect on a dog’s health.
However, if, for some reason, a dog or cat were to consume a large amount of Citric Acid at once, then it could have some negative effects, especially on their central nervous system.
While this risk is real, the chances of it happening are slim to none and would have to be a deliberate effort or an unfortunate accident.
Our research has come up with some discussions around another possible risk related to the increased risk of bloat in dogs whose food contains Citric Acid.
Research showed that dog foods that are moistened prior to feeding (this means water or some other liquid was added to the food) and contain Citric Acid caused a 320% increase in the risk of bloat compared to foods without Citric Acid.
This is a substantial increase and isn’t something that should be dismissed, especially for select dog breeds susceptible to bloat, such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, and German Shepherds.
However, we could only find a single source for this and therefore believe that there may be more research required to understand the link, if any, between Citric Acid and increased rates of bloat in dogs.
Pet Food Brands That Use Citric Acid
Given that it is naturally occurring and relatively safe for pets, Citric Acid is widely used throughout the pet food industry.
While researching the use of different ingredients in dog food recipes, we found that 26 of the 100 most popular dry dog food recipes on Chewy.com contained Citric Acid, which is a notable number.
The inclusion of industry giants like Royal Canin and Purina is significant, given the vast amount of testing and research that these brands carry out.
You can see an example of the use of Citric Acid in a dry dog food recipe in the below ingredient list of Orijen’s Original recipe.
As you can see, Citric Acid features as a minor ingredient and is only present in a tiny quantity, given how far down the ingredient list it is shown, close to other minor ingredients like Dried Chicory Root and Rosemary Extract.
Orijen takes its ingredient label a step further than many and makes it clear that Citric Acid is being used as a preservative which is helpful for those pet owners less familiar with its purpose.
While we don’t believe that the use of Citric Acid in pet food recipes is a major problem, if you are looking to avoid it, we recommend carefully studying the ingredient list of any prospective pet food recipes to see if it is present.