Are Insect-Based Diets Safe and Healthy for Pets?
In a recent article for The Washington Post, author Danny Funt argues that insect-based diets are a sustainable alternative to traditional meat-based pet foods. But what are the benefits and potential drawbacks of insect-based diets and can pet parents overcome the “yuck factor” of feeding their furry friends bugs? In this article, we’ll take a look at the evidence presented in Funt’s piece and discuss whether insect-based diets are truly the future of pet food.
What Are Insect-Based Diets?
Insect-based diets contain insects like crickets and black soldier fly larvae. These types of bugs are rich in protein and an alternative to meat-based protein sources like lamb, beef, chicken, fish, and eggs. Just like traditional pet foods, insect-based diets may also contain ingredients like grains, vegetables, and fruits.
What Are the Benefits of Insect-Based Diets?
Funt’s article draws on several sources to highlight the benefits of insect-based diets for pets. Anne Carlson, the founder of dog food start-up Jiminy’s, claims that pet food made with insect protein delivers a number of key benefits, “It’s humane. It’s hypoallergenic. It’s delicious,” she said.
The main argument in favor of insect-based diets is that they’re more sustainable than meat-based diets. When compared to livestock farming, insect farming requires far less land per gram of protein. In addition, farming insects saves water and releases substantially less carbon and methane into the environment.
Feeding pets insect-based diets is one way for pet parents to do their bit to lessen the environmental impact of meat consumption. Almost 25% of Americans have already reduced their own meat intake, with environmental concerns playing a major role in the decision. Now, more and more pet parents are examining their pet’s diets and looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact.
In recent years, sustainability has become a hot-button issue for consumers. This is especially true for millennials, who are now the largest demographic of pet parents in the United States.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that many pet food companies are developing insect-based diets to meet the growing demand for sustainable pet food. But aside from the environmental benefits, insect-based diets may offer some health benefits as well.
In his article, Funt highlights the nutritional value of insects, drawing on the opinions of animal nutritionists. Insects, such as crickets and fly larvae, contain roughly the same amount of protein as conventional meat sources, according to the experts. They are also similarly digestible and provide a good source of amino acids, minerals, and micronutrients.
Rotational diets are also highlighted as a way for pet parents to cut back on meat and diversify their pet’s diet. Unlike a conventional diet where the same menu of wet or dry meat-based pet food is fed at every meal, a rotational diet involves varying proteins and food forms to ensure that a pet’s diet is as varied as possible. Making sure that 10 percent of their protein intake comes from insects is a good way for pet parents to reduce the environmental impact of their pet’s diet. As an added benefit, rotational feeding also helps pets receive the nutritional benefits of different food types.
Since insect-based diets are based on unique animal protein sources, they are also considered hypoallergenic. This means that they can be a good option for pets that suffer from food allergies or intolerances. According to PetMD, “there are many types of cat food and dog food currently available for pets who react to common allergens, but more options, like insect-based pet food, are always welcome.”
Are There Any Drawbacks of Insect-Based Diets?
Although insect-based diets appear to be a promising new option for pet parents, they aren’t without their drawbacks. First, the cost of insect-based diets is still relatively high, which makes them unaffordable for some pet parents. However, experts believe that the cost of insect protein will drop as demand grows.
Another problem for insect-based pet food companies is what scientists call the “yuck factor.” Many pet parents are reluctant to give their pets food that contains bugs, which could prevent insect-based diets from being successful. Only time will tell if pet parents in the U.S. will warm up to the idea.
In addition to these drawbacks, many experts believe that an ancestral (raw food diet) is more biologically appropriate for cats and dogs than an insect-based diet. “While sustainable pet food may not be as biologically appropriate for our pets as the ancestral diet, there is some promise in this type of pet food,” said Dr. Amber L. Drake, Professor of Biological Sciences and Veterinary Medicine.
Could Insects Be the Future of Pet Food?
The question of whether or not insects will become a staple of pet food is still up for debate. However, one thing is certain: with the growing trend of sustainable pet food, insect-based diets are a promising option for pet parents looking to become more eco-friendly.
Overcoming the “yuck factor” of insect-based diets is the next challenge for pet food manufacturers. But companies like Nestlé are already selling pet food that contains insects on a large scale in Europe. Nestlé’s Purina line of insect-based dry dog food is available in over 200 stores in Switzerland, with plans to double that number by October. Mars has also launched a black soldier fly larvae-based dry cat food in the United Kingdom this year in response to consumer demand.
When it comes to the U.S. market, signs are pointing towards greater acceptance of insect-based diets. In August, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved black soldier fly larvae for use in adult dog food and treats. In the future, this will likely extend to other types of insects, such as crickets and mealworms.
Dr. Drake believes that insect-based diets deliver several benefits and could be a more sustainable option for pets. However, she acknowledged that more research is needed before they become a staple in the U.S. According to Drake, “sustainable foods can be nutrient-dense, provide an option for pets with dietary sensitivities or allergies, and have environmental advantages. Additional research is necessary, but this could be a promising addition to future pet foods.”