By Dr Daisy A. May MRCVS BVSC (Distinction), Veterinary Surgeon
As a society, it’s apparent that we are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of our personal life choices on the environment and indeed on our future, and the future of new generations. And, in a world that is becoming ever more cognisant of the environmental impact of our choices, it would seem that our pets are not exempt from scrutiny.
To set the scene, here’s a little context: the pet food industry represents a colossal global market, a goliath force churning out kibble, cans and fresh dog chow at a breakneck pace. And – unlike the majority of today’s commercial sectors – the pet food industry has largely flown under the radar when it comes to it’s environmental impact. Did you know for example, that 20% of the world’s fish and meat production goes towards feeding our four-legged family members, and not us? No? I’m not surprised; because somewhat shockingly, it’s not well known. And the pet food industry at large would probably prefer to keep it that way!
With such a staggering figure in mind, it of course follows that the carbon footprint of the pet food industry will be dramatic. In fact, this sector generates a mind-boggling 106 million tonnes of CO2 every year; equivalent to the carbon footprint of the entire Philippines. To further put that in perspective, the carbon footprint of an average dog’s diet is approximately twice that of running a 4×4 vehicle.
But amidst this rightly growing concern, buzzes a glimmer of hope in the form of a rather unlikely contender: insect protein, typically derived from soldier fly larvae. Speaking as a scientist, an environmentally conscious individual and a veterinarian, if I may be bold: why the hell not? In a modern era that embraces colorful hair and crocs, trends that would surely have floored my grandmother, are we really so stuck in the past that we would turn away such a promising solution to our problems on the basis of being squeamish?
I certainly hope not.
So: as bug diets emerge as a more sustainable, more planet-conscious and more eco-friendly alternative to traditional meat-based dog diets, here are a few key reasons why insect protein could (in my at-least-vaguely expert opinion) be the future of canine nutrition.
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- Bug Diets Require Lower Resources
There’s no ignoring it: livestock farming is one of the leading drivers of global deforestation (including rainforest destruction) and water shortages, as well as climate change. Vast amounts of land and water – to name just two key resources – are required to rear, transport and slaughter the animals that end up in your pet’s daily dinner.
One of the most compelling arguments in favor of bug-based dog diets is that their production used 47 times less land, 25 times less CO2 and 25 times less water compared to traditional livestock farming. Such drastic reductions in resource consumption are difficult to ignore.
And, in contrast to fish and meat farming, the creation of an equivalent dinners-worth of insect protein only generates on average 4% of the amount of CO2. That’s worth buzzing about.
- Bug Diets Boast Big Nutritional Benefits
Unlike a spirulina shake or a side-serving of kale chips, insect protein deserves to be taken entirely seriously when it comes to nutrition. In fact, bug protein outperforms steak pretty much across the board, bestowing on average twice as much protein per 100g compared to meat and fish.
Protein derived from solider fly larvae is also rich in essential micronutrients such as omega fatty acids, making it a wholesome choice which any health guru would be proud to advertise on the wall of their yoga studio.
- Bug Diets are Naturally Hypoallergenic and Easily Digestible
“Hypoallergenic” is a fancy word we veterinarians use to convey that a food source has a low allergenic potential, that is, that the food is unlikely to set off an allergic reaction. As a brief aside, dogs with food allergies will often suffer with itchy skin as well as gastrointestinal upset. We (rather unnecessarily) call this food-induced itchiness a ‘cutaneous adverse food reaction’.
Some protein sources are more likely than others to cause allergic reactions in dogs, and pet owners are always surprised to hear that chicken is actually a pretty common allergen! Bugs, on the other hand?
Well, we don’t have an awful lot of data yet, but my preliminary observations are that bug diets seem to be very well tolerated and certainly the data we do have suggests insect protein falls firmly into the hypoallergenic category. In rare cases where a reaction to the food does occur, skin and digestive issues should subside completely once you discontinue the insect based diet. This makes insect protein a safe choice for the majority of pets, arguably much more so than a chicken-based dog food!
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Dr. Daisy A. May, MRCVS BVSc (Distinction) – Veterinary Surgeon & Passionate Writer
Daisy qualified with distinction from the University of Liverpool vet school in 2019 and has a particular interest in canine and feline nutrition and dentistry.
During her academic years, she completed a wide variety of placements, including a competitive final-year elective at Chester Zoo. Since graduating, she has hung up her zoo medicine hat and focused her attention on smaller patients.
Outside of the clinic, you’ll find her with her laptop in a shaded part of the garden, authoring practical and easy-to-follow pet care articles to ensure top-quality advice is available to each and every pet parent at the touch of a screen.
Connect with Dr. Daisy A. May on LinkedIn and explore her vast professional journey and writings.