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All the buzz about insect protein in pet foods

Approx. 5 minutes read

It used to be that if you found a bug in your pet’s food, you sent the pet food back to the shops and got a replacement. Now pet food is being made with insect protein as a primary ingredient! Before you freak out, though, we’re here to inform you about insect protein as a novel source of pet food protein with a whole range of benefits.

By now you should know that high-quality nutrition forms the foundation of your pet’s health and wellbeing. If your pet is getting a balanced and complete diet that feeds their tummy and their skin, coat, major organs, brain, eyes, bones, teeth and every other part of their body, it will show in their appearance and vitality. Dogs and cats need good quality lean proteins and healthy fats from beef, chicken, fish and other livestock, so why on earth are pet foods now being made with insects?!

What’s the deal with insect protein?

Around six years ago, insect proteins began to make their way onto physical and virtual pet food shelves, as a solution to two problems: how to reduce the carbon footprint of feeding pets, and to offer a novel protein that wouldn’t trigger pet food allergies. Since then, a lot more research has been conducted comparing livestock farming and insect farming, the nutritional value of protein and fats from animals vs insects, and the health effects of insects on our furry and purry friends. There have been very favourable results in both scientific research as well as positive feedback from pet owners who dared to take the first leap with commercial pet food containing insect protein.

But why insect protein? The global population is growing and with it, the pet population too. As we demand higher quality food sources for ourselves, so too are pets being fed higher quality food, which is putting undeniable strain on agricultural land and resources needed to grow, feed and produce this food. An alternative protein source needed to be found – one that does not compromise pet health.

What insect is used in pet food?

The larvae of the black soldier fly are one of the insect types to provide the most benefit to pets with a much smaller impact on the environment compared to beef, lamb or chicken. Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are more sustainably produced than other protein sources, with their land and water use and greenhouse gas emissions substantially lower than that of – for example – beef or chicken. BSFL is also considered a novel protein, which is of particular benefit to protein-sensitive pets whose immune systems are triggered by common proteins like beef, chicken, gluten, corn, soya and eggs.

What are the benefits of insect protein in pet food?

The following benefits are listed based on multiple scientific studies undertaken in laboratory settings in USA, the Netherlands, Belgium, Chile, and reported in scientific journals around the world.

Insect protein:

  • offers pets a high-quality protein and fat source, which is nutritionally suitable to meet their needs
  • is hypoallergenic, and can be offered as a novel protein to pets who suffer from allergies
  • has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties – meaning it’s good for pets’ skin and coat, joints, brain and their health in general
  • improves the cognitive function of ageing pets, thanks to medium-chain triglycerides like lauric acid found naturally in BSFL
  • contains bioavailable calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals
  • is a great source of fibre
  • is highly palatable and digestible (meaning pets produce healthy poops when fed insect-based pet foods)
  • is environmentally friendly (using less land and water input than other forms of protein production)

Not only is insect-based dog food good for dogs (and insect-based cat food good for cats), but it’s good for the environment, and can greatly reduce carbon emissions and the need for more and more agricultural land.

Does insect-based dog food prevent food allergies?

We’ve gone in-depth into the topic of pet food allergies, especially the symptoms that affect pets’ skin and digestive system. It can take weeks or even months to figure out what your pet’s immune system is reacting to, especially when it comes to food triggers. Insect-based dog food offers allergic pets a truly novel protein source that not only meets their nutritional needs, but is also not triggering to their sensitive GI tracts.

Is insect-based pet food hypoallergenic? It is touted as such, but only as long as it doesn’t contain any other ingredients that your pet’s immune system could react to. It’s important to always check the labels and discuss the ingredients with your pet’s veterinarian. Insect-based pet food does have fantastic potential to offer allergic pets a nutritious and healthy alternative food that doesn’t upset their tummies or skins.

How is insect-based pet food made?

If manufacturers are claiming that insect-based pet food is more environmentally friendly than pet food containing traditional sources of meat, we need to expand a little on how it’s made. BSFL are farmed in large numbers, fed and raised on vegetable and fruit by-products, household food waste, by-products of abattoirs and other sources of organic waste that would otherwise be discarded. A research report from the Faculty of Veterinary and Livestock Sciences at the University of Chile says that in one week, one kilogram of larvae can convert 25 tons of organic household waste into five tons of larvae. This translates to 1700kg of larval meal (which is used in pet food and other feed) and 15 tons of organic fertiliser – a useful co-product of the insect protein industry.

The short lifecycle of the larvae and the relatively small amount of space necessary for such large volumes of meal production make insect-based foods a lot more sustainable and eco-friendly than other sources of protein.

Would you feed your pets with insects?

It is not uncommon for cats to hunt and consume insects in the wild (i.e. your back garden), while dogs are less prone to do so – munching opportunistically on passing bugs. So, it shouldn’t be an entirely foreign concept to feed them with insect protein. In the early days of insect-based pet foods, many pet owners surveyed claimed they would be willing to try insect-based pet food if it proved beneficial to their pets’ health, and their dogs and cats enjoyed eating it.

Palatability and digestibility studies were performed in Germany and Poland to determine whether dogs and cats would accept, tolerate and digest insect-based pet foods – as palatability and nutrient absorption are important if your pets are to benefit from their food. Surprisingly, the dogs in these studies were all too eager to wolf down their meals, while a small percentage of cats refused the insect-based diet. Those that did eat it, were fine. (Perhaps it was a matter of purrsonality rather than palatability!)

That being said, the question remains: would you feed your pets with an insect-based diet? If your pet is struggling with their nutrition due to illness or allergies, or if you’re eco-conscious and want to try to tread lightly in little ways that all add up, try one of our insect-based pet food varieties on Pet Hero:

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