Earth’s current population is 7.73 billion people. Many people choose to own dogs and cats as pets, who are carnivores. In the U.S. alone, there are 163 million dogs and cats who consume meat. All of this takes a toll on the planet. A 2017 study by Gregory Orkin aimed to guage the environmental impact of their carnivorish ways, and his findings were dismal. What if there were a greener, more planet-friendly way to feed our pets? What about alternative proteins for dogs?
Environmental Impacts of our Best Friends’ Diets
We all know that meat is not the most environmental friendly diet. A study by the University of California, Davis found that methane from cattle production is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle are actually the number one agricultural source of greenhouse gases in the world.
Previous studies have found that meat-heavy American diets have contributed more than 260 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions just from livestock production. Furthermore, while we definitely want the best for our pets, our desire to feed higher-quality cuts of meat and human-grade diets (particularly in the U.S.) takes an impact on the planet.
This need for human-grade pet foods also produces much waste, as pets can definitely eat some of the more unappealing cuts of meat and organs, but with consumers reluctant to feed them, what happens to these parts? If a cow is raised for the food chain, it makes sense to use the whole cow, for no part of that animal should go to waste.
What’s the Alternative?
While many would argue that our pets can thrive (and I’m sure many are doing well) on plant-based diets, all signs point to our pets as carnivores.
Cats are considered obligate carnivores; this means they must eat meat. They are obligated to it! Dogs, on the other hand are what’s referred to as faculative carnivores; they can adapt to eat some plant matter and grains or can “facilitate” other diets.
There’s no doubt, our pets need quality protein. Some forward-thinking companies are beginning to utilize alternative proteins for dogs; namely insect protein to feed our pets.
While you and I may be put off at the idea of eating insects, our pets probably don’t mind. If it smells appealing and tastes good, why not? Additionally, insects contain high-quality protein, and vital polyunsaturated fats that benefit our pets.
If you think about it, many of our house pets don’t mind, and even love eating insects. My last 2 dogs delighted in digging up and eating grubs out of the garden. Furthermore, wild cats eat a fair amount of insects, with 3%-5% of their diet consisting of them. Maybe we’re the pickier ones.
We love our pets, and understandably, people are becoming more and more involved and aware of the quality of the ingredients that make it. This demand for higher-quality cuts of meat or better byproducts also takes a toll on the planet. Honestly, this forces manufacturers to be creative and come up with new ideas. Some clever new alternative proteins for dogs are mealworm protein, grub protein, and cricket protein.
One of the more interesting alternative proteins for dogs is mealworm protein. With the planet in peril, many people are open to new ideas and these alternative proteins. This is particularly true for alternative proteins for dogs and in pet food. Mealworm and other insect proteins are quickly gaining legitimacy in the pet food market.
Ynsect is a French company is utilizing mealworm protein in their pet foods. They specialize in raising the Molitar Beetle in “Farm Hills” inspired by ant hills. This is a type of vertical farming that maximizes available space.
The mealworms are treated with no chemicals, eat byproducts from crop production that humans cannot eat, and, at maturity, are quickly steamed with water vapor to ensure a quick and stress-free death (according to Ynsect’s website).
Ynsect’s insect proteins and oils are fed to farmed fish, used in some pet foods for dogs and cats, and in nutritional mixes for farmed pigs and poultry. All in all an interesting and forward-thinking process. I personally wonder if this will catch on more and we’ll see these types of proteins become more mainstream in animal feeds.
A company called Yora specializes in using protein from Hermetia illucen larvae (grubs) in their pet foods. This grub was chosen because of its superior nutritional profile and that it gives off a very appealing scent for pets. Furthermore, since this is a single and novel protein, Yora states that their food is ideal for dogs with sensitive stomachs and allergies.
Yora’s line of dog and cat foods was developed by biologists and nutritionists. Their products are sold throughout Europe and parts of Asia. I was disappointed to learn their line is not in the U.S. yet, because we’d surely try their food!
Another one of our favorite alternative proteins for dogs is cricket protein. Like other insects, they can be raised in a fraction of the space, with a fraction of the water needed to raise one cow. Jiminy’s is an American pet food company specalizing in food and treats made with cricket protein.
Cricket protein is another one of the fascinating alternative proteins for dogs because it is highly digestable; Jiminy’s website states that it scores above 80% in digestability studies. Additionally, crickets are higher in protein than beef, full of iron, and contains fiber-unlike meat-based protein. Fiber has great benefits for our Best Friends’ digestive systems.
While we may think, “Ewww, gross! I’m not eating cricket!”, we know our dogs enjoy many different flavor profiles. And most dogs will eat just about anything, including bugs.
Pros and Cons of Alternative Proteins for Dogs
While they may seem strange to us, alternative proteins are quickly gaining their place in the pet food market. Our Best Friends are not put off at the idea of eating insects, and they’re a quality source of protein. Plus, dry pet foods often use carb-based binder to hold the kibble nuggets together, which is not the best source of nutrition for our dogs.
If the binder is switched from grain-based, carb heavy flours and mixes to an insect protein flour, I wonder if the quality of the nutrition and protein percentages in the food will rise. This is merely my speculation and remains to be seen. Following are possible pros and cons of alternative proteins for dogs.
- Sustainability: Farming practices like vertical farming are much better for the planet and can yeild great results. Additionally, insect farming uses far fewer resources than industrial meat farming.
- They’re Great Novel Proteins: Novel proteins can help with allergies, gastrointestinal issues and are often high-quality, low-fat alternatives to beef, chicken and lamb.
- Nutritional Quality: Insect proteins offer better nutritional profiles, higher protein, and no chemical treatments like many of the fillers in traditional pet foods.
- Processing: Insect protein and oils are still considered a processed products. Many people have lost faith in big pet food companies and want foods that are minimally processed for their pets.
- The Ewww Factor: Some people may not like the idea of feeding their pets insects even if it is proven to be a safe and effective protein source for our Best Friends.
While it may seem offensive or off-putting to us, insect proteins likely have a solid place in the future pet food market. Currently, they’ve taken off in more European countries than the U.S. I personally expect we’ll begin to see more U.S. companies adopting the use of insect proteins in their pet food manufacturing process.
We love our pets, but when it comes down to it, their diets are pretty bad for the planet. Feeding alternative proteins for dogs, such as insect proteins may fulfill a much needed sustainability practice in the pet food industry. What do you think of feeding your Best Friend mealworm, grub or cricket-based food? Would you do it? I think we’ll order up a bag of Jiminy’s and try it out! Why not?