Are Those Cat Food Cans Actually Aluminum? The Surprising Truth

Cat food cans have traditionally been made from aluminum. Aluminum became the material of choice for cat food cans in the 1950s and 1960s as manufacturers moved away from steel cans. The malleability, durability, and corrosion resistance of aluminum made it an ideal material for cat food cans. Prior to that, steel was primarily used. The first commercial cat foods produced in the late 1800s were sold in cans made from tin-coated steel. Later, companies switched to what was called ETP steel (electrolytic tinplate steel). But by the mid-20th century, the unique properties of aluminum made it the preferred material for cat food cans.

Aluminum offered advantages over steel for canning. It allowed for a thinner, lighter container that cooled food more quickly while retaining strength. Aluminum was also less likely to rust or react with acidic foods like cat food. Its popularity continued to grow as metal container manufacturing improved. Today, the vast majority of cat food cans on the market are made from aluminum.


The history of cat food and the evolution of cat food industry

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Advantages of Aluminum Cans

advantages of using aluminum for cat food cans

Aluminum cans have many advantages that make them a popular choice for cat food packaging. Some of the main benefits are:

Lightweight – Aluminum is a very lightweight metal, which allows the cans to weigh less. This makes them easier for pet owners to carry and transport. According to the Aluminum Can Advantage, aluminum cans are 84% lighter than steel cans.

Durable – Although lightweight, aluminum cans are strong and durable enough to protect the integrity of the cat food contents. The cans are able to withstand shipping and storage without damage. Aluminum cans also have a rigid structure that maintains its shape.

Recyclable – Aluminum cans are highly recyclable and have a higher recycling rate than other types of food packaging. The Aluminum Can Advantage states that aluminum cans have a higher recycling rate and more recycled content than competing package types. Recycling aluminum cans also requires significantly less energy than producing new aluminum.

Disadvantages of Aluminum Cans

While aluminum cans have some advantages, they also come with some drawbacks compared to other materials like steel or plastic. Two key disadvantages of aluminum cans for cat food are the higher cost and potential health concerns.

Aluminum is generally more expensive than steel. According to one source, aluminum cans cost around 2-3 times more than tin-plated steel cans. The higher material costs get passed onto consumers through higher prices for aluminum canned foods (1).

There are also some health concerns around aluminum leaching into food contents. Studies have shown that aluminum from the cans can leach into acidic foods and beverages. High levels of aluminum exposure can potentially lead to neurological issues and other health problems (2). The pH level of cat food would cause more aluminum leaching compared to less acidic human foods.

So while aluminum provides benefits like being lightweight and recyclable, the higher price point and potential aluminum exposure are two key drawbacks to weigh when considering aluminum cat food cans.




Alternatives to Aluminum

While aluminum is the most common material for cat food cans, there are some alternatives that manufacturers are exploring, including steel, plastic, and cardboard:

alternatives to aluminum cans for cat food

Steel cans are more durable and better for keeping food fresh over longer periods of time. According to Food Engineering, steel cans allow pet food to be stored for 2-5 years before opening. However, steel cans are also heavier and more expensive to produce and ship.

Plastic cans made from PET are lightweight and shatter-resistant. Manufacturers like Matrix Packaging are using plastic to create resealable, conveniently-shaped containers. But plastics also have sustainability concerns due to their environmental impact.

Cardboard composite cans provide an eco-friendly, compostable option. They are moisture resistant but not fully waterproof like metal or plastic. Brands like Petaluma Kitchen use composite cardboard cans to align with environmental values.

Steel Cans

Steel cans are another common material used for cat food cans. Compared to aluminum, steel is generally cheaper but also heavier. Steel cans are durable and strong, which helps protect the cat food inside. They are also fully recyclable just like aluminum cans. Recycling steel requires much less energy than producing new steel. According to the Steel Recycling Institute, steel cans have an average recycled content of 25% in the United States. Although heavier than aluminum, steel cans are cost-effective, recyclable, and able to keep your cat’s food fresh.

Plastic Cans

Plastic cans for cat food are made of lightweight, flexible plastic materials that can provide certain advantages. Plastic is far less heavy than steel or aluminum, which helps reduce shipping costs. Plastic is also flexible, allowing for some cans to be squeezed to get every last bit of food out. Additionally, some types of plastic like PET are recyclable, though it depends on the plastic resin type. According to Walmart, popular brands that use plastic pet food cans include Fancy Feast Appetizers and Friskies Party Mix cat treats.

Cardboard Cans

Cardboard or paperboard cat food cans provide a compostable and renewable alternative to metal cans, but they are generally less durable. According to this article, cardboard cat food cans like Fancy Feast boxes consist of two layers with a cardboard insert in between to separate the layers. While cardboard is more environmentally friendly, it can tear more easily compared to aluminum and may not preserve the food as effectively over time.

Some cat owners prefer cardboard cans since they can repurpose them for crafts or DIY projects after use. For example, this YouTube tutorial shows how to transform Fancy Feast boxes into a homemade cat food dispenser. Overall, cardboard cat food cans provide an eco-friendly alternative but may be less convenient and durable compared to metal.

Nutritional Impact

The type of can used for cat food does not significantly affect the nutritional value or shelf life. Both aluminum and steel cans are effective at blocking light, moisture, and oxygen, which helps preserve nutrients and freshness (1). The key factors that determine nutritional quality and shelf life are the ingredients used, production process, and packaging conditions rather than the can material itself.

That said, some differences between can materials may have minor impacts. For example, aluminum cans are better at fully blocking light compared to steel. Prolonged light exposure can degrade some vitamins over time. However, pet food manufacturers often add extra vitamins as a buffer knowing some loss will occur during storage (2). So the can material itself is unlikely to meaningfully change the vitamin levels at time of feeding.

One area aluminum cans may have a slight advantage is shelf life. Aluminum cans are better at preventing any oxygen ingress during storage. High oxygen levels can accelerate vitamin degradation and fat oxidation. However, modern manufacturing techniques for both aluminum and steel cans make oxygen ingress minimal. Properly packaged wet cat food in either type of can should easily meet the 2+ year shelf life with minimal nutritional loss (3).

Overall, while there are some minor differences, the can material itself does not significantly affect the nutritional value or shelf life of wet cat food. Proper ingredient selection, production, and packaging are far more important for maintaining nutritional quality over time.





Environmental Impact

The environmental impact of cat food cans versus other types of packaging is a complex issue. According to a recent report, material transportation contributes 29% of greenhouse gas emissions from pet food production in the US. Cans are generally more recyclable than pouches, but the recycling rate for pet food cans is low at around 27%.

environmental impact comparison of cat food packaging

One study found that most dog food cans contain BPA linings, which have been linked to health issues. However, cans keep food fresher than bags. From a carbon footprint perspective, the production of aluminum cans is energy intensive compared to other materials. But cans are lighter than glass, meaning lower emissions from transportation.

Overall, there are pros and cons to cans versus pouches and bags when it comes to environmental impact. More study is needed to determine the best packaging from a sustainability standpoint. When possible, choosing recyclable and renewable materials minimizes environmental harm.


The key factors to consider when choosing a material for cat food cans are nutritional impacts, environmental impacts, and safety for cats. Aluminum is lightweight and recyclable but can leach trace metals into food. Steel is durable and healthy but energy-intensive to produce. Plastic does not degrade but may allow chemicals to leach. Cardboard is compostable but can harbor bacteria. Ultimately, the safest and most nutritional choice for cat food cans may be stainless steel, which is non-porous, durable, easy to clean, and free of chemicals or leaching concerns.

stainless steel optimal for balancing health and sustainability

To summarize, stainless steel cat food cans avoid the potential downsides of other materials. Cats can safely eat food from stainless steel without health risks. The sturdy steel construction also allows multiple uses after washing. With proper care and recycling, stainless steel is an optimal choice for balancing cat health, safety, and sustainability when selecting cat food can materials.

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