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Should I Feed My Dog Insect-Based Pet Food?

Howard Calvert

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Howard Calvert
Howard Calvert

Howard Calvert

Content Writer

Aside from Dog Food Advisor, Howard has written for a range of newspapers, magazines, and websites on topics including how to pole vault, what it’s like to leap around a giant human pinball machine, and the experience of running 100 miles round Mont Blanc.

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Updated: April 22, 2024

Verified by Laura Ward

Laura Ward

Laura Ward

Pet Nutritionist

Laura studied BSc (Hons) Animal Science with an accreditation in Nutrition at the University of Nottingham, before working for eight years in the pet food and nutrition industry.

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Laura Ward

Your pup no doubt sits up and takes notice whenever a fly buzzes by or a cricket launches itself through the grass. Some will try to catch the bug in their mouth. But have you ever thought about whether you should feed your dog insect-based pet food as part of a balanced diet

Insect-based pet food is on the rise. Pet parents have an increased appetite for meat-free options, fuelled in part by environmental worries. The pet food industry produces around 100m tonnes of CO2 per year supplying meat and fish products for pets and pet food accounts for 20% of all meat and fish consumption globally.

There’s also a supply and demand factor, which has driven up the cost of meat.

Whatever the reasons, pet food ingredients will likely change in the not-too-distant future and insects as a source of food will become a common option, despite the ick factor many people might currently feel.

In many parts of the world, insects have been eaten by humans for centuries as part of a healthy diet (although the chocolate-covered ants in India might not be too healthy). In Western countries it’s new and much rarer, but you can already buy cricket burgers and edible mealworms for sprinkling on salads for us humans — there are even restaurants with insect-based menus — so it would follow that insects would be used for pet food, too.

But anything new comes with doubt. People will not be won over easily unless there is evidence that insect-based pet food is nutritious and safe. The following article covers all you need to know about feeding your pet protein-packed insects and the current state of play. 

What is insect-based pet food?

Insect-based pet food uses insects as the main ingredient rather than meat or fish. It’s a rapidly growing market and you can already find a range of insect-based kibble and wet dog food options, as well as plenty of treats made primarily from insects.

In terms of the specific insects your pup might be chowing down on, there are predominantly three main types currently used in dog food: black soldier flies, mealworms, and crickets

Black soldier flies

In 2021, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approved the use of black soldier fly larvae in adult dog food and treats 1. Research has found that BSFL contains between 35% and 50% protein 2, with a high level of amino acids including lysine and sulfur amino acids. They also pack plenty of minerals, including magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron, making them a well-rounded choice in terms of nutritional value.

Mealworms

In January 2024, French insect-based pet food manufacturer Ÿnsect was the first company to be approved to use defatted mealworms in its dog food by the AAFCO 3

Like black soldier flies, mealworms are bursting with protein — a study found that the amount in defatted mealworm flour was comparable to the levels of animal protein found in pork, beef, and salmon.

Crickets

Crickets are another insect widely utilized in dog food, usually ground into a protein-packed flour and added along with vegetables and minerals to make kibble or treats. 

The protein value of crickets has been recorded as between 58% and 78%, putting it at a similar level to soybean and fishmeal 4. Research has also found that dog food with crickets boosts dogs’ healthy gut microorganisms 5.

What are the benefits?

One of the main reasons for choosing insect-based pet food is its lower impact on the environment when compared to rearing livestock for animal consumption. Research has shown that insect farming for use in pet food reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and uses less water and agricultural land. It’s estimated it can produce 75-95% less CO2 than livestock farming 6.

Mealworms’ environmental footprint is less than many other dog-food ingredients as the insects are raised from agricultural by-products used to grow cereal. For example, according to Ÿnsect, 1kg of its Sprÿng Protein70 flour emits half as much CO2 equivalent as lamb or soy flour, and 22 times less than beef flour.

Innovafeed is another company that manufactures insect-based pet food. Its new brand, Hilucia, uses black soldier fly larvae to make food for pets, livestock, aquaculture, and agriculture.

When the company analyzed its ingredients, the results showed they generated 50% fewer carbon emissions when compared to more commonly used pet food oils, animal proteins, and fertilizers. In addition, they had a lower impact on biodiversity, water consumption, and land use 7.

Is there more fiber in insect-based dog food?

Crickets in particular contain fiber including chitin — a different type of dietary fiber than that found in vegetables and fruit. 

As well as helping with the digestion of food, fiber benefits the microbes in your dog’s gut, and some types of fiber help with the production of beneficial probiotic bacteria.

Can insect-based dog food help dogs with allergies?

Another big plus point for insect-based dog food is that insects are a novel protein source — meaning they haven’t been exposed to it before — which is ideal for dogs with ingredient sensitivities, as it can avoid other protein sources that may trigger their issues.

Combine that with a grain-free mix and the result is a dog food with a novel protein source that could be the answer to any sensitivities your dog might be experiencing on their current food.

Is insect-based food safe for dogs? 

Studies have shown that insects as an ingredient for dog food are highly nutritious, palatable and digestible. Like with any ingredient, however, considerations must be made to ensure the safety of insect protein supplied for pet food. Insect ingredients must be routinely tested to ensure the absence of fungal, mycotoxin and bacterial contamination, as well as heavy metals (where food sources supply a heavy metal source bioaccumulation occurs). 

This testing is also carried out on the diets of the insects. The nutrition of insect ingredients is a product of the insects’ food or substrate (the surface or material on or from which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment). Therefore strict rules apply around the diet of insects. 

Regulating what insects can be fed is important to guarantee the safety of the whole feed and food chains, as well as avoiding the presence of undesirable substances. The consistency of the insect diet ensures the insect ingredient is consistent in the nutrients it provides over time.

In summary, the risk associated with insects as an ingredient is similar to other farmed animals fed with plant-based diets. Strict controls over the insects’ diet and insect farming facilities, with precise quality control measures, ensure the safety and consistency of the final ingredient 8

Article reviewed by
Laura Ward

Pet Nutritionist

Laura studied BSc (Hons) Animal Science with an accreditation in Nutrition at the University of Nottingham, before working for eight years in the pet food and nutrition industry.

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