Are Cat Food Cans Made of Tin? The Truth Revealed


Cat food cans have been around for over a century, providing pet owners with a convenient way to store and serve food to their feline companions. While early cans were made entirely of tinplate steel, modern cat food cans come in a variety of materials like aluminum, steel, and increasingly more sustainable options. The type of metal used in the can affects factors like durability, health safety, environmental impact, and cost. This article will provide an overview of the different materials used in cat food cans today.

History of Cat Food Cans

Cat food cans first started being used in the 1930s when canned cat food was introduced. According to the American Pet Products Association, canned cat food provided a convenient way for owners to feed their pets as more people moved into urban apartments where they did not have space to store dry bulk food or prepare food themselves.1

The original cat food cans were made from tin-coated steel, also known as tinplate. Tinplate was an affordable option for can making at the time. It provided adequate flexibility for forming cans while also being rigid enough to retain its shape. The inner tin coating protected the steel from corrosion and prevented flavor transfer between the food and metal.2

For over 50 years, tinplate remained the material of choice for cat food cans. It allowed canners to produce cans efficiently and provided an optimal blend of strength, durability, and corrosion resistance at an affordable cost.

Modern Cat Food Can Materials

The most common materials for cat food cans today are tin-coated steel, aluminum, and various types of plastic. Tin-coated steel, commonly referred to as “tin cans”, became the dominant material for cans in the early 20th century. Aluminum cans were introduced in the late 1950s and grew in popularity through the latter half of the 20th century due to their lighter weight and recyclability. Plastics such as polypropylene are also used for some cat food cans and pouches.

There are a few key reasons these materials have become so widely used for cat food cans:

  • Strength – Steel and aluminum provide the needed durability and sturdiness to protect the contents without the can itself cracking or being easily punctured.
  • Corrosion Resistance – The tin coating on steel cans and the properties of aluminum itself allow them to resist corrosion and maintain integrity over years of shelf storage.
  • Safety – Tin, steel, and aluminum are considered safe for food contact and do not pose health risks by leaching chemicals into the contents.
  • Manufacturing – Modern high-speed manufacturing lines are tailored for rolling/stamping steel and aluminum into cans at low costs.
  • Recyclability – Steel and aluminum are highly recyclable materials with well-established recycling streams.
  • Shelf Stability – Metal cans provide an excellent barrier to oxygen, light, and other external factors that could degrade the quality and shelf life of the cat food contents.

Plastics like polypropylene are also selected for their durability, safety, barrier properties, manufacturability, and recyclability. The ideal can material depends on the specific requirements of the cat food being packaged.


Tinplate refers to thin steel sheets that are coated with a very thin layer of tin. Contrary to what the name implies, modern tinplate does not actually contain any tin. Rather, the tin layer serves as a protective barrier to prevent the steel from corroding or rusting.

In the past, tinplate was made using iron or steel coated in a layer of tin. This historically was used extensively for packaging. Over time, the process evolved to use very thin steel coated with an even thinner tin layer. This provided the corrosion protection of tin at a lower cost than using solid tin, which was more expensive.

For cat food cans today, tinplate offers some advantages. The tin coating provides protection against corrosion and metal leaching. Tinplate cans are lightweight but strong. They are also relatively inexpensive to produce compared to other metals. However, tinplate has some drawbacks as well. The thin tin layer can be damaged during manufacturing or transport, exposing the steel underneath to corrosion. There are also concerns around the sustainability and recyclability of tinplate cans.


Aluminum is a common material used for cat food cans. According to Cat Food, aluminum cat food cans can be easily recycled and sorted. The pros of using aluminum for cat food cans are that it is lightweight, recyclable, and rust-proof. The cons are that aluminum is more expensive than other metals and requires more energy to produce initially.

Many major cat food brands package their food in aluminum cans, such as Fancy Feast and Friskies. Aluminum is an ideal material for cat food cans because it is durable enough to protect the contents but light enough to make the cans easy to ship and store. Recycling aluminum cat food cans also reduces waste since aluminum can be recycled repeatedly without loss of quality.


Steel is commonly used for cat food cans today. According to PetZone, steel cans make up around 75% of all cat food cans.

Steel became more popular than tinplated steel because it is cheaper and allows for thinner, lighter cans. Steel cans are also more durable and resist denting better than tin.

The primary advantage of steel cans is that they are recyclable. Steel contains iron which can be continuously recycled. Recycling steel requires much less energy than producing new steel.

One downside is that the iron in steel can react with acidic foods unless the cans have a protective enameling. However, this is not an issue for cat food which is not highly acidic.

Overall, steel offers the benefits of strength, durability, recyclability, and low cost. This makes it an ideal material for cat food cans today.

Other Materials

In recent years, some pet food manufacturers have explored using alternative materials besides tinplate, aluminum, and steel for cat food cans. This has been driven by factors like sustainability and health concerns over certain metals.

One emerging material for cat food cans is plastic composites or multilayer plastics. Major companies like Nestle and Mars have introduced plastic pouches as an alternative packaging format to metal cans (Source). These multilayer plastic pouches consist of different plastic polymers like polyethylene and nylon layered together. They provide the barrier properties needed for shelf stability while using less material than traditional metal cans.

However, there are some downsides to plastic pouches compared to metal cans. They are more difficult to recycle and contribute to plastic waste pollution. Plastics also lack the dent resistance of metal cans. There are also some concerns over chemical leaching from the plastics into the food. So metal cans still remain the dominant format for shelf-stable wet cat food.


Cat food cans have traditionally been made from tinplate due to its durability and ability to protect the food inside. However, tinplate does have some downsides when it comes to sustainability.

Tinplate cans are difficult to recycle because the tin is fused to the steel body of the can. Separating these materials requires advanced recycling systems that not all communities have access to. An estimated 55% of steel food cans are recycled in the US, while the remaining cans end up in landfills. Tinplate cans also have a plastic lining inside which makes them even harder to recycle [1].

In contrast, aluminum cans have a recycling rate of nearly 70% in the US. Aluminum is infinitely recyclable and can be remade into new cans repeatedly. Producing aluminum from recycled sources also requires much less energy than creating new aluminum. This makes aluminum one of the more sustainable options for cat food cans.

Steel cans without tinplating are also easier to recycle than tin cans. However, the plastic lining still poses some recyclability challenges. There are also concerns about BPA leaching from the linings of tinplate, aluminum and steel cans.

Some cat food brands are moving towards pouches and cartons made from plant-based materials rather than metal cans. For example, compostable cardboard pouches or recyclable stand-up pouches made from plant-based plastics. These provide a more sustainable alternative, though durability and food preservation may be reduced compared to metal cans.

Health Concerns

When it comes to the safety of cat food cans, pet owners mainly worry about two things – the linings used inside the cans and the materials the cans are made from.

The inside of metal food cans are lined with a coating to prevent the food from interacting with the metal. Traditionally, this lining contained bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical that can seep into food and cause health problems. However, due to concerns over BPA, most manufacturers have switched to BPA-free linings made from materials like oleoresinous c-enamel or acrylic.

These alternative linings are considered safe, though some activist groups still warn about trace amounts of BPA in can linings. As long as you choose cans marketed as “BPA-free”, the lining should not pose any substantial health risks.

When it comes to the can material itself, tin, aluminum and steel are all considered safe options. Tin can sometimes contain lead, but modern manufacturing standards require lead levels to be very low and within safe limits.

Aluminum was linked to Alzheimer’s disease in some early studies, but later extensive research has found no definitive link between aluminum consumption and neurodegenerative disorders. Steel is generally regarded as the safest option, but tin and aluminum cans are also fine for one-time use.

The main safety concern would be chronic exposure to deteriorating or damaged cans that may leach chemicals into the food. As long as you inspect cans before use and avoid old, damaged ones, the can materials should not pose any significant health risks.


In summary, cat food cans have evolved over time and are now predominantly made from tinplate, aluminum or steel rather than pure tin. Tinplate is one of the most common materials used today, consisting of thin steel with a tin coating. Aluminum is also very popular for its lightweight yet strong and corrosion-resistant properties. Steel cans without tinplating have their own advantages as well, being sturdy, durable and able to be recycled indefinitely.

While traditional tin cans are rare today, variations of tinplate, aluminum and steel cans allow brands to balance factors like sustainability, cost, durability, food safety and nutritional value. Careful manufacturing processes and coatings help minimize potential health risks from chemical leaching. With rising focus on environmental impact, recyclable metal cans remain a popular choice for cat food. Continued innovation in can materials and coatings will likely meet evolving consumer and industry demands.

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