Should we feed our dogs insect-based dog food?

It’s very popular to feed a dog insect-based dog food. It feels like a good way of feeding a dog the protein it needs and reducing the environmental impact of producing meat.

Most people now understand that dogs need healthy fats and good quality fresh protein to thrive and live to healthy old age. The love affair with dry based dog foods is hopefully on the wane.

What is in insect-based dog food?

Insect-based dog food is made from ground insect meal; housefly pupae, crickets, mealworm larvae, black soldier fly larvae and cockroaches can be candidates for insect meal.

So, is it a good idea to feed insect-based dog foods to our dogs?

The concept of insect-based dog food is still relatively new, but on paper the figures look promising with high levels of protein and a lower carbon footprint. But there is no real data about the long-term effects of feeding this to our dogs and it’s notable that comparisons of nutrition and digestibility have been made against poultry meal and isn’t measured against fresh meat protein which would be the gold standard of dog food.

A good novel protein

It does have the benefit of being a ‘novel protein’ which can make it useful for dogs that have allergies. But allergies shouldn’t be diagnosed by the owner and a food just swapped out. Often, when an owner feels their dog has an allergy, they are looking at the headline protein of a food, when it can often be the fillers and carbs that are causing the problem. If you feel your dog has allergies, it’s important to talk to a professional canine nutritionist who will devise an elimination diet and help you pinpoint the issue. If it’s not done correctly a dog can end up deficient in calcium and other important essential nutrients.

Cons for insect-based dog food

While it seems like a super idea, there are some issues around feeding insect-based dog food to our dogs.

The exoskeleton of insects is made of a substance called chitin. Dogs are not adapted to digest chitin. While dogs can eat small amounts of insects, such as grasshoppers, crickets, and mealworms, their digestive system is not designed to break down and extract nutrients from chitin. This can cause upset stomachs and diarrhoea. It also means that a percentage of their diet has little nutritional value.

BLF (black fly larva) which is a common insect meal ingredient contains a high level of saturated fat, which can be an issue for some dogs, especially if they have pancreatitis. It’s the nature of ‘meal’ that manufactures can change the ingredients very easily without having to make alterations to the packaging. So, it might be difficult to obtain consistency over the ingredients.

But the biggest problem by far is most of the insect-based dog food on offer is a dry kibble. Kibble by its nature is a ‘dead food’, as it’s been cooked to a very high temperature to create the biscuits. The heat treatment kills all the natural vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats and then they are added synthetically at the end of cooking. It’s also depleted in moisture, which is needs at time of digestion, not before or after the meal, and it contains high levels of carbohydrate which are not required by dogs.

Ultra-Processed Food

Insect-based dog food come under the heading of an Ultra-Processed Food, (the definition of UPF is it contains ingredients not available to the public and does not resemble the original food)

While the environmental credentials are laudable, I’m not sure it meets the gold standard of dog food which is, a locally made, balanced, raw diet of quality meat-based proteins.