New research aims to advance preventive pet healthcare

Dog in jungle with sign saying 'I'm a dog and I can eat bugs!'

Why insects are the future of dog food

As I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! winds down for another year, contestants will no doubt be glad that insects are no longer on the menu. Although celebs and viewers alike may be put off by the thought of having to eat creepy-crawlies, in recent years savvy dog owners across the UK (and the world) have been reaping the benefits of an insect-based diet for their pets.

Benefits of insect-based diets

Not only does insect-based food help reduce the incidence of allergies and provide numerous health benefits compared with traditional food, it’s also the most sustainable pet food option.

Sustainability

Earlier this year, Patrick Hanson claimed that owning pets can be just as environmentally damaging as flying by private jet, based on the carbon dioxide emissions produced during the pet food manufacturing process. The following graphic from yorapets.com provides a striking illustration of the environmental benefits of dog food produced from insects, whether that’s fewer greenhouse gas emissions or reduced land and water use.

Graph to show environmental impact of farming to produce 10kg of protein

Hypoallergenic properties

The majority of the skin or gastrointestinal problems pets contend with are caused by a protein allergy. Changing the protein source to a novel, hypoallergenic protein (one that is less likely to cause an allergic reaction) such as insects is the simplest way of treating these issues. Choosing the correct diet for your pet is a treatment step in its own right.

Avoiding prescription diets

Another advantage of insect-based food is that, strictly speaking, it’s not a prescription diet and is therefore available to everyone. Whereas a lot of pet food companies will offer a diet that's aimed at relieving older dogs’ aching joints, for instance, insect-based food already features the benefits of antioxidants and mild anti-inflammatories. It's a routine diet, but can technically offer the benefits of many prescription diets because of its properties and the fact it's a hypoallergenic food.

Some grubs display antimicrobial properties, allowing owners to ditch the antibiotics they’re using to treat pets suffering from diarrhoea or very sensitive stomachs and opt for insect-based food instead.

Nutritional benefits

Researchers are currently investigating the nutritional benefits particular to insect protein. Compared with beef or chicken, insects provide different types of fatty acids which are very good for brain and skin health.

For example, grubs contain lauric acid, a natural fatty acid also found in coconut oil, which supports skin and coat health. Apart from promoting glossy fur, the lauric acid also actively enhances cognitive ability in older dogs.

Improving oral health

A lot of dogs struggle with dental issues, such as gingivitis and bad breath. Insect-based protein diets can include an antimicrobial peptide that actually helps disinfect the mouth and improve oral health.

Financial savings

Aside from the environmental, nutritional and health benefits of insect-based dog food discussed above, a final point worth noting is one of cost. As insect-based protein is such a nourishing meal, you tend to feed your dog less of it compared to beef- or chicken-based alternatives, reducing the cost per meal.

By Dr Stephnie de Villers (BVSc, BSc, MRCVS)

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