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Dogs need a nutritious and well-balanced diet, but should they eat insect-based food? Traditional dog food products tend to be made of animal byproducts, cereals, and grains, but it depends on the manufacturer and the blend. On the other hand, insect-based pet food is relatively new, which means that although there’s plenty of potential going forward, there are plenty of challenges associated with its novelty.
Choosing an insect-based diet for your pet is the sensible choice for a number of reasons, but one major consideration is the environment. When we’re talking about the environment, however, it may be helpful to compare it to some of our behaviours as humans first.
As an individual, we likely don’t make a major change in improving the environment by using a reusable shopping bag over a single-use plastic bag. We also don’t make a big difference by choosing to walk or take public transport over driving. As a whole, however, society can make significant improvements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions when we all make an effort.
Alternatives to Traditional Dog Food
Although dogs are carnivores, they aren’t obligate carnivores. This means that they do naturally tend to eat meat, but they can survive without meat in their diet. Meat provides dogs with the nutrients they need to grow and live healthy and happy lives, so most dog food is meat-based as a consequence.
Having said that, vegetarian plant-based dog food diets now exist that are fully capable of providing dogs with all of their required dietary needs. Of course, synthetic blends of human-grade or dog-appropriate vitamins and minerals are added to make up for any deficiencies.
Insect-based food is another option that’s quickly becoming an environmentally-friendly and nutritious way of meeting the needs of dogs. Most research on insect-based pet food diets is relatively recent and following the landmark 2013 study from the United Nations on edible insects. This study supports the viability of insect-based dog food.
Comparing these two alternative diets with one another, insect-based dog food has shown to have more complete amino acid profiles than vegetable protein.
If the world’s population continues to grow at its current rate and our demand for livestock consumption does not decline, something’s got to give. The Earth’s limited resources cannot sustain this demand forever, meaning that at some point we must find alternatives. Better sooner rather than later, and insects have been identified by the UN as one such alternative.
This doesn’t mean we need to start eating caterpillars tomorrow, but we may wish to consider insect edibles as an alternative at least for our pets. Cats and dogs consume an enormous quantity of meat-based products, leading the pet food industry in the UK to an all-time high as a £2.65bn industry.
This growing trend, combined with the environmental impact of traditional meat-based dog food, makes the perfect storm for insect-based pet food to enter the market.
Benefits of Insect Based Dog Food
What can an insect-based diet do for your dog? There are plenty of potential health benefits as well as environmental benefits, such as:
- Low in fat and calories: this helps your dog maintain a healthy weight and avoids problems with obesity. Many dog breeds are prone to overfeeding and packing on weight, which leads to all sorts of obesity-related problems such as hip dysplasia, diabetes, and heart conditions. Insects are lean.
- High in iron, calcium, fibre, and protein: crickets, for example, are 65 per cent protein by volume, making them an efficient source of protein for everyday consumption.
- Lower resource consumption: 1kg of cricket protein requires less than 1L of water and 1.7kg of feed. Compare this to beef, which requires 22,000L of water and 10kg of feed.
- Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: crickets produce 1,815x less GHGs than beef. Cow farts aren’t doing the environment much good, but cricket farts probably aren’t something we’ll ever have to worry about.
It’s also worth noting that far less time is required to harvest crickets and other insects than with most livestock.
Once again using the comparison between crickets and beef, consider the following: one cricket takes about a month to mature whilst a calf takes up to two years to mature. Also, consider that one cricket can lay about 1,200 eggs per month compared to only 1 calf per year and the tangible benefits of insect farming become a lot clearer.
Challenges of Insect Based Dog Food Diets
If farming insects is so clearly superior to conventional livestock for all of the above reasons, then why hasn’t the industry changed in this direction? The simple answer would be, as many an economist might say, supply and demand. Old habits die hard, and in developed Western nations we tend to have stigmas towards edible insects.
This isn’t so around the world. In 36 African countries and 29 Asian countries, insects are commonly eaten (although perhaps not as a staple dish). In any case, Western societies are averse to eating bugs and we haven’t yet considered how beneficial it can be for our pets.
On account of this, most Western countries’ agricultural practices are still based around large-scale industrial farming to meet the demands of consumers. There simply aren’t that many insect farms in operation (there are 20,000 cricket farms worldwide). Since insect farms are relatively new, they lack the efficiencies along the supply chain of conventional livestock farms.
Another challenge posed by insect-based dog food is that much of the research done on the health effects of insect diets is recent. Now, that’s not a bad thing, and it’s certainly better than having no data to stand by, but it also means that we don’t have reliable trends over time on the effects of insect consumption.
Moreover, much of this research is targeted towards human consumption of insects and doesn’t consider the effects on dogs. Some research indicates that novel protein sources can pose potential challenges to the gastrointestinal tracts of dogs since the presence of contaminants and allergens can be dependent on the method of production.
Nevertheless, the benefits of insects are already being touted by the British Veterinary Association.
Lastly, pet food for sale within the European Union must undergo stringent checks for quality purposes and to be authorised for sale. Although there is no legislation specifically put in place for pet food within the EU, but it must be made safe for human consumption in order to prevent the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.
Verdict: Should Dogs Eat Insect Based Dog Food?
From the research that does exist on the consumption of insects, the environmental and health benefits seem promising. It’s a sensible choice for all of the listed reasons, but it may not be suitable for every dog. The same could be said for a specific brand of traditional dog food, however. Individual tastes will vary, but so far it seems that most dogs that have tried insect-based dog food enjoyed it quite a bit!
Crickets and mealworms have a ‘nutty’ flavour and smell like organic cocoa, perhaps not what one would assume.
If we’re going to compare flavour, however, consider what meat-based dog food made of animal byproducts smells like before flavour is added. Nearly all of the offals and ‘scrap’ pieces of meat ground together and packed into a tin probably smells repulsive, but thankfully major dog food producers have been adding more appealing flavouring.
Insect-based dog food is superior to meat-based diets for health reasons, too. Being rich in iron and protein as well as low in fat and calories is a huge benefit, especially when so many consumers purchase ropey dog food products that can lead to obesity and overfeeding.
Try Bug Bakes Dog Food or Treats Today
Bug Bakes carries a range of products that are eco-friendly and part of a nutritious and healthy diet for your dog. Our products are also easy to try; we deliver within the UK and EU so you can conveniently introduce your dog to insect-based food or treats.