Can insects provide the protein needed in pet food?

By 2050, the world population is predicted to reach about 10 billion people. As the world population increases, so does the number of companion animals and the annual growth rate of the pet food industry. Moreover, pet caregivers are becoming more aware of their pet’s nutritional needs and are demanding better quality products to support their pet’s health and well-being.

On the other hand, increased food production is responsible for significant environmental impacts such as land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water pollution. To face this problem, diversification of protein sources and partial replacement of animal proteins with alternative sustainable protein sources is required.

The quality of insect protein

Protein quality is defined as the protein’s ability to meet essential amino acid requirements, which depend on its amino acid composition and digestibility. Protein is one of the most expensive nutrients, providing essential amino acids and chemicals for body function and energy conversion. Edible insects contain high nutritional quality and non-protein nitrogen-containing proteins, and their nutrient composition can vary by species, environment, and diet.

  • Crickets It contains essential amino acids comparable to eggs, chicken, pork and beef, making it the main source of protein in a dog’s diet.

  • Black soldier fly larvae It is another promising protein source containing 40-44% crude protein, which can be a valuable alternative to fish meal and soy meal, which are widely used in animal feed production.

Effects of edible insects on the health of domestic animals

Bugs contain antimicrobial peptides and lauric acid that boost the immune response and improve gut microbiota. In addition, insect larvae contain low molecular weight peptides with antioxidant potential that effectively protect the protein from cell damage. Since insect proteins are not commonly found in pet food, and even when present in pet food, they are still a small percentage due to their high protein content, the likelihood of pet allergies to these proteins is minimal.

Effective commercialization of insects

Consumer acceptance is an important challenge for the successful commercialization of insects used in pet food, especially in western countries. Visual aspects, strong aversion to insects as food, awareness of the nutritional value of insects, and knowledge of the environmental and health benefits of insect farming influence consumer acceptance. By 2029, the market for edible insects as animal feed is projected to reach $2.4 billion.

Is there any danger?

One of the risks of using insects in animal feed, although minimal, is adverse food reactions, including allergic reactions. Allergy is defined as a hypersensitivity reaction initiated by immune mechanisms with clinical signs affecting the skin, intestinal, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems in companion animals. In addition, there is a risk of insect contamination during growing, packaging, cooking or feeding. Moreover, some insects are vectors of antimicrobial resistance genes. Other important issues include the presence of bacteria, molds and mycotoxins that can adversely affect consumer health, and the bioaccumulation of heavy metals such as zinc and cadmium in insects.

Final speech

Edible insects are a promising alternative protein source for the pet food industry. Insects are high in protein and essential amino acids with antioxidant potential. In addition, they contain antimicrobial peptides and fatty acids, including lauric acid, which improve immune response, gut microbiota, and feed palatability. But as mentioned above, there are risks. Therefore, further research is required to minimize these risk factors and increase the widespread use of insects in the pet food industry.

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