Gamma radiation is used to sterilize diets for specific pathogen-free (SPF) animals. Because a gamma-irradiated diet was linked to leukoencephalomyelopathy in SPF cats, we investigated the effects of 'typical' (28.9-34.3 kGy) and 'high-end' (38.4-48.7 kGy) doses of gamma irradiation and of pasteurization (at 107 degrees C for 15 min) on the amounts of fat; protein; carbohydrate (and taurine in cat diet); vitamins A, E, B, B-1, B-2, and B-12; and peroxide in commercially available dry cat, dog, and rodent diets. The only treatment-related changes occurred with vitamin A and peroxide. The typical and high-end doses of gamma irradiation reduced the vitamin A level of the cat diet to 42% and 30% of the untreated value, respectively-levels below recommended allowances for growth and reproduction. Only the higher irradiation dose reduced vitamin A in the rodent diet, and neither dose altered the canine diet. Pasteurization reduced the vitamin A content of the cat diet to 50% of its original level, which was within the recommended level for this species. Irradiation increased the peroxide content of all 3 animal diets: by approximately 11-fold with the typical dose and by 14- to 25-fold with the high-end dose. Therefore gamma irradiation can have profound, selective effects on the vitamin A and peroxide contents of dry diets, and caution is advised when feeding such diets long-term and exclusively to SPF animals, particularly cats. Furthermore, pasteurization (with its fewer deleterious effects) may represent an alternative method of decontaminating diets for rodents, dogs, and cats.