As our regular visitors will know, we are fans of meat for our dogs. We thoroughly believe that it is the best source of nutrition for dogs and therefore we have always insisted that it should make up the core of any good dog food. But as you're no doubt aware, meat is also becoming a huge problem for the planet. As global demand for meat increases, the meat industry is responsible for ever increasing levels of habitat destruction (to clear land for meat animal rearing and for growing the crops that feed them) and carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. Add to that the awful animal welfare that most factory-farming entails and it's easy to see why meat alternatives are rapidly becoming one of the hottest topics in the pet food world.
Chief amongst the potential alternatives to meat in pet food are insects. There are currently a dozen or so candidates for insect protein sources including housefly pupae, crickets, mealworm larvae, black soldier fly larvae and cockroaches. They are all easy, quick and relatively inexpensive to produce with far lower carbon emissions or required space than conventional meat farming. Some, like the black soldier fly, can even be raised entirely on waste human food, making them an even better choice for the environment.
And while it might seem odd to feed your four legged friends on some six legged bugs, it's not actually all the weird at all. Right now, a whole host of human cultures across the world consume nearly 2000 species of insects on a daily basis and wild forms of both cats and dogs commonly eat insects as part of their day to day diets.
In terms of palatability, insects can be a bit of a mixed bag. Different species have entirely different flavours and a lot also depends on what the insects themselves have been fed on and how they have been cooked or otherwise prepared.
Insects for use in pet foods are generally dried and ground to form a powder called insect meal.
And the key question: is insect meal actually any good for our dogs? Well, although studies on insect derived nutrition for pets is still a little limited, the data that is available is actually very positive. Insect meal is typically very rich in protein (from 37 to 63% dry matter) and its amino acid profile generally scores very well for both cats and dogs, often roughly in line with fish meal and poultry meal. Again, the exact composition of amino acids and digestibility varies a lot from species to species and also depending on what the insects have eaten. For example, housefly pupae have a very high amino acid score and a digestibility just below that of poultry meal while yellow mealworms don't score quite as well for their amino acids but have a very high digestibility, above even that of poultry meal.
Of course, these comparisons are only with poultry meal and fish meal, both of which have plenty of their own critics. It is not known how insect meal compares with the 'fresh' meats used in dry pet foods nor with raw meats.
It is also worth noting that some insect meals, particularly that made from black soldier fly larvae (which is used in foods like Yora), contains relatively high levels of saturated fat which may not be ideal for all pets.
- Protein quality of insects as potential ingredients for dog and cat foods. Journal of Nutritional Science, 2014. Link
- Review of Black Soldier Fly (Hermetia illucens) as Animal Feed and Human Food. National Taiwan University, 2017. Link
Find foods containing Insect Meal See the full Ingredient Glossary