Insect Pet Food: The Alternative To Meat?

More and more of us are cutting down on meat or switching to plant-based diets because of climate change. It has raised a lot of questions regarding where we get our food from.

Pets are estimated to be consuming up to 20% of all meat globally, and more and more people are treating them as members of the family. For some, being conscious of sourcing our food applies to their pets too. Raw dog food, which is seen as being made on a smaller scale, is booming in popularity.

One alternative pet food ingredient talked about has been insects, which are said to be a more environmentally-friendly alternative to meats such as beef, chicken and fish.

But will insect pet food ever become the norm, and can it really reduce your global pawprint?

Insects in pet food

Insects are already widely used in fish farms and poultry farms as feed, to produce the meat which goes into your pet’s diet.

So many advocates of insect pet food argue that using the insects themselves is a great way to cut out the middle man (or bug). Costs will be kept lower in the production cycle, and insects are a lot more environmentally friendly to mass-produce and turn into food.

Some UK firms are already selling pet food with up to 40% insect protein

Insects can also be fed on human food waste. It puts this to good use as opposed to going into landfills. Compare it to the soya which cattle are raised on – soya plantations are responsible for significant levels of greenhouse gases.

Compared to beef, insect-based foods use 2% of the land and 4% of the water per kilogram of protein.

One gallon of water is needed for one pound of insect protein, but it is 2,000 gallons for one pound of beef.

80% of the water in the US is used for food production

More and more land is being used in agriculture, too, which insect food aims to bring to a halt. Farming one tonne of insects only uses around 20 sq m of space. There is only an average turnaround of 14 days too, to keep up with demand.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has even gone as far as to say that insects may be better for pets than prime steak. There can be just as much (if not more) protein in the end food with the right balance of insects.

Vegetarian cat diets

Hold on cat owners – read on before you go out and buy vegetarian pet food.

It is really not recommended to feed your cat on a meat-free diet. They are carnivores, but also need an essential amino acid called taurine. This is found pretty much exclusively in meat, fish and insects. Cats cannot produce taurine themselves.

Dogs are omnivores and can also make their own taurine. So, it’s slightly easier to feed them on vegetarian or vegan diets

Using insects as a primary ingredient in cat food could give your cat their necessary daily intake of this without using ‘meat’. Many people may be more comfortable with this.

African wildcats are actually known to eat insects. They are the closest wild ancestor to house cats, so they should have no struggle digesting them.

Insect-based diets and food allergies

While a vegan dog is possible if your vet agrees they can follow this lifestyle, some insect dog food is actually marketing itself as a meat alternative for any dogs allergic to common ingredients, such as animal protein.

Protein from beef, dairy, wheat, and chicken are the most common culprits of food allergies in dogs

Many dogs who have one allergy to a certain ingredient will often actually have multiple. This can make it hard to find food that is suitable for some dogs, especially which contains enough daily protein.

Insect food doesn’t just keep ingredients to a minimum in most cases, but often gives sufficient protein levels without any of these allergens being used.

As they have been so rarely used, dogs and other pets are unlikely to develop an allergy to them in adult life either.

The ethics around using insects for pet food

Some vegetarians or vegans may still find it a bit unpalatable to be killing insects, especially on such a mass scale. But could agree that it is a much better alternative to cows, chickens or lambs.

This could give owners who really want to reduce their pet’s meat intake for the planet a brilliant alternative. But some insects are better for ethical meat use than others.

The lifespan of cricket is just 6-10 weeks. They die shortly after reproduction. So using them after their natural death also eliminates the ethical questions over killing them. This is what most companies who use crickets do.

In the West, the idea of using insects as a food source is still a bit daunting. But it is a common part of the menu for over 2 billion people around the world. While many humans can cut out meat with the help of supplements and other plant-based foods, we have to understand that it isn’t as easy for dogs and cats to get their protein and vitamins from elsewhere.

Which insects are used for pet food?

There are still studies ongoing to find the best insects, based on protein levels and cost-effectiveness, and the levels of taurine for cats.

Yora, a UK start-up, uses black soldier flies. These, along with common housefly larvae and yellow mealworms, are some of the most common insects in animal feed production.

Chippin Snacks uses crickets, along with fruits and vegetables such as bananas, blueberries, pumpkins and carrots. Crickets produce no methane, and Chippin uses human-grade insects which are humanely harvested in Canada.

As you read above, these crickets are used after they have died naturally. So, no insects are dying for the cause of feeding your pet. They also contain almost 3x as much protein per 100g as chicken or beef.

It is still not as popular as it could be though. So it is thought that dozens of variations of insects could be used as a novel protein source.

Cost of insect pet food

It is still a rare phenomenon in the early stages of development of production, so could cost twice as much as high-end food and four times as much as budget options.

Few manufacturers also make it currently, and the demand is not as large as with other trends like raw food or cold-pressed, so making it economically viable can be a struggle.

While keeping insects is often low-cost, the technology and work which has gone into the farms have often exceeded what would be needed for keeping livestock. It’s all a new phenomenon, still under scientific study.

But if you are currently feeding your dog on a speciality diet because of allergies, intolerances or overall wellbeing, the increase in cost could be worth it for how much easier it is.

Insects are unlikely to cause stomach upsets or allergies in the same way as chicken or red meat would. It is a new protein source and a bit less ‘harsh’.