Shortage of Cat Food Cans. The Hidden Causes Behind Empty Shelves


There has been a major shortage of canned cat food in stores across the United States since 2021. This shortage has left cat owners scrambling to find enough food to feed their feline companions. Understanding the reasons behind this shortage and why it matters is important for both pet owners and the pet food industry.

According to a recent report, the shortage stems from multiple factors, including increased cat ownership during the pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and a lack of aluminum for cans. This shortage has made it difficult for cat owners to find their cat’s normal food, leading to concerns about pets not getting adequate nutrition. The shortage shows vulnerabilities in the pet food supply chain that need addressing. Solving the root causes will help ensure reliable access to cat food going forward.

Increased Cat Ownership

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant increase in cat ownership and demand for cat food. According to the ASPCA, 90% of cats acquired during the pandemic in 2020 are still in their homes as of May 2021 (ASPCA, 2021). Another report found that 19% of Americans added a cat to their household during the pandemic (ManyPets, 2022). A Frontiers in Veterinary Science study discovered a 250% increase in cat adoptions in 2020 compared to 2019 (Ho, 2021). The significant rise in cat ownership increased the demand for cat food and supplies. With more cats being fed daily, cat food manufacturers struggled to meet the heightened demand. This contributed to shortages of cat food cans during the pandemic.

Supply Chain Issues

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions to supply chains and manufacturing operations across the world. For pet food, specifically canned cat food, these supply chain issues have led to shortages for several reasons:

Labor shortages at manufacturing facilities have slowed production. Pet food companies have struggled to maintain full staffing throughout the pandemic due to illnesses, quarantines, childcare issues, and more. With fewer workers available, factories cannot operate at full capacity (Source).

Transportation delays are also disrupting distribution. A lack of truck drivers and logistics workers has made it harder for pet food companies to get their products delivered to retailers in a timely manner. Port congestions and delays unloading shipping containers have exacerbated these transportation issues (Source).

Ingredient and material costs have also risen significantly, driven by labor shortages, transportation challenges, and supply/demand imbalances. The increase in costs throughout the supply chain make it more expensive for pet food manufacturers to source ingredients and produce their products (Source).

Aluminum Shortages

One of the main reasons for the cat food can shortage is that there has been a global shortage of aluminum. Aluminum is a key material used to make cat food cans as well as beer cans. According to this article, increased demand combined with supply chain issues has led to aluminum shortages around the world. This has made it difficult for cat food manufacturers to source enough material to produce sufficient quantities of cans.

Aluminum production faced setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some smelters being shut down or running at reduced capacity. At the same time, demand for canned beverages increased as people consumed more alcohol at home. The shift to aluminum cans in the beer industry put further strain on already limited aluminum can manufacturing capacity, leaving less supply for cat food companies. These factors together have made it very challenging for pet food brands to procure enough cans, resulting in shortages on store shelves.

Increased Pet Food Sales

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a massive increase in pet food sales as more people adopted pets. According to Pet Food Industry, overall US pet food sales grew nearly 10% from 2019 to 2020, reaching a record $42 billion. This growth continued into 2021, with sales increasing another 8% to over $46 billion.

With more pets in households, demand for pet food spiked. Many pet owners began stockpiling food, buying 2-3 months worth at a time. This put immense pressure on pet food supplies, making it difficult for manufacturers to keep up.

The rise in pet food sales has steadily outpaced overall US retail sales growth. As consumers spend more on their pets, manufacturers are struggling to increase production fast enough. This imbalance has contributed to shortages of certain pet food products.


One factor exacerbating the cat food shortage is consumer hoarding of cat food. According to research from the Animal Legal Defense Fund[1], up to 250,000 animals per year fall victim to hoarding situations. While the majority of these involve dogs and cats being hoarded, there has also been an increase in owners stockpiling large amounts of pet food due to fears of it running out.

This hoarding of cat food removesinventory from store shelves, makingit even more difficult for other consumers to locate and purchase cat food for their pets. With demand alreadyoutstripping supply, hoarding only intensifies the shortage issues. Retailers have begun implementing purchase limits to deter hoarding, but many consumers continue trying to stockpile cat food well beyond reasonable personal use.

Experts recommend consumers only purchase what they need for their cats’ regular diet. Hoarding creates a vicious cycle where people buy in excess due to fear of running out, which accelerates the supply issues and prompts more hoarding. The best way pet owners can help alleviate the shortage is by not hoarding cat food.

Manufacturing Challenges

The pet food industry has struggled to keep pace with the increased demand for cat food. Many cat food manufacturing facilities were already operating at maximum capacity before the pandemic. With the surge in cat adoptions in 2020 and 2021, production has been unable to meet the heightened demand.

According to this article, manufacturing of wet cat food, which is primarily done overseas, has faced significant slowdowns. Port disruptions and delays in getting key supplements and vitamins imported have caused shortfalls in production.

Additionally, labor shortages at manufacturing facilities, especially in California which produces much of the wet cat food for the US, have reduced outputs. Pet food companies have been unable to hire enough workers to increase production to the levels needed.

With more cats now in households across the country, the demand has simply outpaced what manufacturers are able to produce. Until production capacity can catch up, shortages of canned cat food are likely to persist.

Impact on Pet Owners

The cat food shortage has had a significant impact on cat owners trying to find food for their pets. With empty shelves at many retailers, pet owners have struggled to find certain brands and formulas of cat food. According to, cat owners have been scouring shelves and even hoarding cat food, buying up large quantities when they do find it in stock.

This has made it difficult for some cat owners to consistently feed their pets the same food. Frequent diet changes can upset some cats’ digestive systems. The shortages have forced owners to switch brands or formulas out of necessity rather than choice. According to, this has been especially challenging for owners of cats with special dietary needs or allergies.

In more severe cases, owners have struggled to find any cat food at all, resorting to unconventional options like human food or even making their own cat food recipes. Feeding people food long-term risks nutritional deficiencies in cats. Overall, the shortages have created an anxious and stressful situation for many cat owners when it comes to simply feeding their pets.

Potential Solutions

There are a number of ways to help address the canned cat food shortage and increase production:

Pet food manufacturers could look to expand aluminum can production capacity by installing additional manufacturing lines and equipment. This would require significant capital investment, but could help meet rising demand in the long run.

Manufacturers could also work to secure additional sources of aluminum supply globally. Since domestic supply is constrained, importing more aluminum from overseas suppliers could help ease shortages.

Pet food companies could shift a greater portion of wet food production to pouches and plastic trays which use less aluminum. This would allow them to maintain overall wet food output despite limited can availability.

Brands could also explore alternative protein sources that are more plentiful, like poultry, to substitute ingredients that are constrained like beef and fish.

Increasing staffing and production shifts at manufacturing facilities is another way pet food makers could scale up output. This would allow them to produce more cans during times of peak demand.

Pet retailers and veterinarians may be able to provide guidance to pet owners on potential substitutes or nutritional alternatives during shortages. Improving consumer education could help reduce panic buying and stockpiling behavior.


In conclusion, there are several key factors contributing to the current shortage of cat food cans. The COVID-19 pandemic led to increased cat ownership and demand for pet food products. At the same time, supply chain disruptions and aluminum shortages made it difficult for manufacturers to keep up with demand. Some consumers began hoarding cat food, further exacerbating shortages. Moving forward, the situation should improve as supply chains stabilize, aluminum production increases, and hoarding subsides. However, the increased interest in pet ownership may lead to continued higher demand. Pet food companies will need to invest in expanding manufacturing capacity to fully meet the elevated demand. Careful monitoring of supply and demand trends will be essential to avoid future shortages.

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