They're rich in protein, relatively easy to raise, and have a smaller environmental impact than traditional farm animals, such as pigs and cattle. Some experts consider these creatures a superfood. So, what exactly is this amazing nutrient-dense food source? If you guessed fish or fowl, you'd be wrong. The superfood that may soon be filling your dog's bowl is *drumroll* insect protein!
If your instinct is to recoil in disgust at the thought of feeding bugs to your pup, you're not alone. Most people consider insects to be a little off-putting. However, an insect-based diet is actually eco-friendly and can be a healthy alternative to traditional dog foods.
What is insect-based pet food?
Do you shudder at the thought of pouring whole crickets or grub worms into your pup's bowl? If so, fear not. The creepy crawlies used during the manufacturing of dog food have been ground into powder and mixed with other ingredients, such as potatoes or oats, to form kibble or treats. So, the insect-based dog food that you'll be giving to your canine is not going to resemble bugs in any way.
Speaking of bugs, you're probably wondering which are the ones most used in dog food. They are:
Black soldier fly grubs
Is it okay for dogs to eat bugs?
It's not unusual to see dogs hunting and snacking on bugs on their own, and it's not just canines that eat insects. Bears in the wild, for example, naturally consume a lot of insects. In fact, insects make up about 15% of a black bear's diet. Obviously, bugs are a nutritious food source for creatures big and small.
A hypoallergenic source of protein
If your canine has itchy skin, stomach issues, or chronic ear infections, she or he may have allergies to traditional animal proteins, such as chicken or beef. Recent studies have shown that dog foods made with insect proteins are an excellent alternative for canines with these types of allergies. Insect-based diets are often, in fact, marketed as being hypoallergenic.
Insects are rich in nutrients
In addition to protein, edible insects are also a good source of other nutrients, such as fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Even better? Insects are low in fat and cholesterol.
A great option for vegetarian pet owners
Some vegetarians — especially those who are opposed to the factory farming of animals — would prefer to feed their canines a meat-free diet. However, dogs are omnivores, so their diets should contain at least some animal protein. When dogs are fed a strictly vegetarian or vegan diet, they may not get enough protein or certain vitamins and minerals that they need. That is why insect-based dog food is a great option for vegetarian owners who would prefer not to feed traditional meat products to their pets.
Pets in the United States consume a lot of meat. In fact, studies have shown that dogs and cats are responsible for approximately 25-30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. Most of that meat comes from animals raised in factory farms. As you're probably aware, those farms are terrible for the environment. In fact, these industrial facilities:
Generate about 70% of the ammonia emissions in the U.S.
Account for more than 35% of all global methane emissions
Heavily pollute nearby waterways with animal waste
Are often cramped, dirty and force animals to live in inhumane conditions
On the other hand, insect farming has a much lower impact on the environment. Studies have shown that insect farming:
Uses about half as much water as poultry farms
Produces very little methane or ammonia
In addition, insects require less feed than traditional livestock animals. For example, crickets need six times less feed than cattle and two times less than pigs or chickens. When it comes to yield per acre, insects win hands down. An acre of land can only produce about 192 pounds of beef each year. In comparison, that same acre could produce 130,000 pounds of black soldier fly larvae.
What is the best insect-based dog food?
Currently, only a few companies — including Mars, Purina, and Jiminy's — are selling or planning to offer insect-protein-based foods in the USA. One that has received good reviews is Jiminy's Cricket Crave. This kibble is made with a nutrient-dense cricket protein powder and is oven-baked in small batches in America.
Are there any cons involved with insect farming?
There are only some concerns right now about raising insects for food. Some scientists, for example, are worried that insects raised for food could escape from the farms and enter areas in which they are not native and become invasive. In addition, there is still very little information about the long-term consequences, if any, of feeding pets an insect-protein-based diet. As always, consult with your vet before making any major dietary changes to your pet's lifestyle, and be mindful to slowly phase in and out any additional foods you may be feeding.
So, are you ready for your dog to get "bugged"?
Overall, insect-based foods are an eco-friendly, hypoallergenic option for dogs with green-minded pet parents. The biggest hurdle for most people will be getting over the "ick" factor of having their pets eat insects. Canines, on the other hand, will probably be blissfully unaware that they're dining on bugs and readily chow them down.
Lizz Caputo is a Content Strategist at Figo, animal enthusiast, and owner of a rescued senior American Bully. Her hobbies include checking out new restaurants in her area, boxing, and petting dogs of all shapes and sizes.