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Insects in the Diet of Dogs and Cats: The Nutritious Alternative that is Trending

pets and black soldier fly

In recent years, new pet foods made with crickets, mealworms and black soldier fly larvae have emerged, which promote the health of dogs and cats


When it comes to taking care of our four-legged companions, we do not hesitate to give them the best for their health. And that means choosing the best food for them.


The nutrition of dogs and cats is evolving, and insects are already part of this change.

But how effective are insects in the diet of dogs and cats?


In this new edition of Insect Academy’s newsletter, let's explore how this trend is changing the way we feed our faithful friends.


Highlights


  • Insects can constitute up to 6% of the natural diet of feral cats

  • Cricket and mealworms have protein digestibility comparable to that of poultry meat meal

  • Insects provide taurin, an essential amino acid for cats

  • Black soldier fly larvae offer a rich source of fatty acids like lauric acid, enhancing the immune response and fighting harmful bacteria


Is it natural to feed dogs and cats insects?


Choosing a natural diet can be decisive. Therefore, it is important to understand how natural it is to include insects in the diet of dogs and cats.


In the natural environment, canines, including wolves and foxes, occasionally consume insects. However, their contribution to the total diet is minimal.


On the other hand, feral or stray cats consume insects more frequently, making up to 6% of their diet. This indicates that, although insects are not their main food source, they are part of their natural diet.


Protein digestibility


Nitrogen digestibility is an indicator of the quality of protein in the diet. A high level of nitrogen digestibility suggests that the proteins in the feed are easily digestible and assimilated by the animal, which is crucial for its growth, tissue repair, and other biological functions.


Laboratory studies showed that the digestibility of black soldier fly larvae, housefly larvae, lesser mealworms, house crickets and yellow mealworms was comparatively similar or higher than that of poultry meat meal.


Which insects do pets prefer?


Answering this question may be a bit vague, as various studies have obtained different results regarding the pathability of insects in the diet of dogs and cats.


One study revealed that including up to 24% of banded cricket meal in the diet of dogs did not reduce their consumption. Additionally, it has been reported that dogs prefer dry food containing black soldier fly larvae meal over hose containing yellow mealworm meal.


edible cricket powder

Cricket meal provides a sufficient amount of protein and essential amino acids in the dog's diet, without affecting its palatability

On the other hand, it was shown that cats prefer to eat food with yellow mealworm instead of black soldier fly meal. However, another study revealed that cats accept foods enriched with black soldier fly meal or fat. Therefore, cats' preferences are still uncertain.


Essential amino acids


Dogs and cats need certain amino acids in their diet, which are the building blocks of proteins. These amino acids are essential because they must be obtained through diet, since the body cannot produce them on its own.


Hence, it's important to see if insect proteins meet the essential amino acid needs of dogs and cats.


Insects provide lysine and threonine, essential for the health of dogs and cats. These nutrients are particularly valuable for supplementing grain-based diets, which generally lack these amino acids.


The advantages of an insect diet for cats also include the presence of taurine, an essential amino acid for cats.


Fats and fatty acids


The fat content in insects varies depending on the species, the diet and the environment in which they are produced, as it does with other nutrients. Therefore, the quality of fats in insect foods for dogs and cats can vary between different brands.


Fatty acids are essential components of fats, necessary for the health of dogs and cats. They help in vital functions such as nutrient absorption, skin and coat health, and support the immune system and brain development, being essential in the diet of these pets.


black soldier fly larvae

The high lauric acid content present in black soldier fly larvae has important antimicrobial effects that can help prevent diseases in dogs and cats


Lauric acid, abundant in black soldier fly larvae, improves the animals' immune response and fights harmful bacteria. This acid has been shown to account for approximately 40% of the total fatty acids in BSF larvae and is much higher in these larvae than in common protein sources such as chicken, beef or pork.


Recent studies have shown that oils from mealworms and crickets have similar fatty acid profiles, both being rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. In particular, domestic cricket is an excellent source of oleic acid, containing more than twice as much as pork.


There are two types of polyunsaturated fatty acids: 'n-3' and 'n-6'. They are essential because animals and humans do not produce them, so they must be obtained from the diet. They are important in nutrition due to their impact on fat quality, especially linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. Mealworms and house crickets have high levels of these fatty acids.


On the other hand, all insect oils are generally low in n-3 fatty acids, so this nutrient can be supplemented through insect food.


Health benefits


It is important to remember that animals need antioxidants, especially when they consume a lot of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Insects have lauric acid, flavonoids, peptides, vitamin E and other compounds with high antioxidant effects. Some results showed that the wáter-soluble extracts of grasshoppers, silkworms, and crickets present antioxidant capacity values five times higher than fresh orange juice.


Additionally, some of these compounds have antimicrobial, immunological, blood regulatory and prebiotic activities, which can improve the health of both dogs and cats.

Foods made from insects for dogs and cats are often marketed as 'hypoallergenic'.


This is because dogs and cats can have allergic reactions to common proteins in their diet, leading to skin or digestive issues. Insect protein is less likely to cause allergies as it's not a common part of their diet.


As a result, insect-based foods are becoming more popular for dogs with allergies to usual protein sources like chicken or beef.


Closing thoughts


A closer look at how insects may be part of what dogs and cats eat shows that they could change the way we think about pet foods.


Insects offer a healthy, and sometimes very sustainable, option for our loyal companions.


As more people become aware of this idea, it makes us rethink the usual way we feed our pets.


To follow the latest trends in insects as food, feed, and other applications, follow Insect Academy on LinkedIn.


👋 See you in the next edition!


References:

Beyond the protein concept health aspects of using edible insects on animals http://dx.doi.org/10.3920/JIFF2020.0077


Effect of using insects as feed on animals: pet dogs and cats https://doi.org/10.3920/JIFF2020.0084


Insects as Feed for Companion and Exotic Pets: A Current Trend https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12111450


Insects as source of phenolic and antioxidant entomochemicals in the food industry https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2023.1133342


Insects in Pet Food Industry—Hope or Threat? https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12121515


Protein quality of insects as potential ingredients for dog and cat foods https://doi.org/10.1017%2Fjns.2014.23

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