There has been a huge push to create more sustainable options in pet food. From compostable poo bags, or biodegradable packaging – pet food companies have been looking for new ways to innovate and provide options for pet parents looking to reduce their impact on the environment.
And one of those new innovations is using alternative protein sources that are more “eco friendly”, in particular – INSECTS.
Once you get over the initial “ick factor” of insects as food and take a step back. Research has actually shown that crickets in particular use about 2% of the resources that cattle do for the same volume of food. Making their potential environmental inpact less.
Are crickets healthy for dogs to ingest as their main protein source?
This is a question that researchers have been looking into for over five years. A series of studies have been done in order to look closer into the use of crickets in dog food. Answering the questions of:
- Do crickets contain the proteins that dogs need to survive?
- How digestible are crickets for dogs?
- How does cricket protein digestibility compare to other proteins on the market today?
Do Insects contain the Essential Amino Acids that Dogs Need?
The first study published in the Journal of Nutritional Science back in 2014 was the start of the research looking into the use of crickets in dog food and treats and evaluated if crickets contained the essential amino acids or proteins that dogs needed. This study actually looked at other types of insect protein sources than just crickets – including mealworms, fly larvae, and roaches.
Overall the study found that crickets did contain the amino acids required for both growth and maintenance for dogs, along with exceeding the minimum protein requirements. This opened the door for further study into the digestibility and bioavailability of these proteins for both dogs and cats.
Further comparisons of Cricket Meal to poultry, fish and soybean meal have found them to contain similar amino acid profiles.
It’s important to note that even though a protein source may contain a certain amount of an amino acid, the bioavailability and digestibility may be influenced by other factors. In particular with insects, the concern was with the insect skin or chitin, which since fibrous could influence digestibility/bioavailability.
How Digestible are Crickets for Dogs?
In order to prove the potential safety of using crickets in dog food researchers first had to establish potential digestibility in-the-laboratory environment (in vitro).
The second study simulated the digestive process with a series of test-tubes which adjusted pH, added digestive enzymes, etc to see how potentially digestible these insects were. Then they compared the potential digestibility of crickets to the values of known proteins commonly used in dog food – poultry meat meal, fish meal and soybean meal.
The study found that crickets had a potential digestibility of 91% – for reference digestibility of poultry meat meal was 87%, fish meal was 85%, and soybean meal was 94%. This was repeated in a second study done in 2016, and both studies found that crickets had a high potential digestibility.
Are Crickets Safe for Dogs?
The next step in the research process was to actually feed dried crickets to dogs to assess if it was safe, and digestible. One study looked directly at this slowly switching out chicken meal in a dog food or cricket meal and then tracking the overall digestibility of the diet.
What they found was that as the cricket meal increased within the diet and the chicken meal decreased the overall digestibility and protein digestibility of the diet decreased. However it should be noted that even though the digestibility did decrease, by the end of the study when cricket meal made up 24% of the diet overall digestibility was still high at 84%, and protein digestibility was at 82%.
Researchers concluded that crickets are a highly digestible protein source for dogs (with >80% digestibility), even though they are less digestible than chicken meal. It is important to note that beef meal, along with fresh meat is more digestible than chicken meal as well.
Dogs within the study did not show any signs of nutritional deficiency within the study period (of 40 days), however, it should be noted that most nutritional deficiencies take upwards of several months or several years to show external signs. Thus long-term feeding trials should be done in order to further prove the safety of crickets as a protein source for dogs, especially if fed in higher quantities within the diet.
Should we feed crickets to dogs?
The research that we have done so far have shown that crickets and insects may be a good alternative option for protein for dogs, however more research needs to be done on the long-term safety of crickets as the primary source of protein in a dog’s diet.
Additional innovation may need to be made in how the crickets are farmed, fed, and cooked for dog food – as all of these may influence the overall digestibility and nutrient availability for the dogs. More research also needs to be done looking at possible cross-contamination and pesticide issues, since insects would potentially be much more sensitive to these items.
Personally, I think insects and/or crickets may be a new protein source in pet food – particularly for dogs that have severe food allergies as an alternative to vegan diets. However, at this time I believe that we need more information as to the long-term safety of this new protein source. If planning on feeding a cricket protein diet, I would highly recommend choosing a food that has performed both digestibility and AAFCO feeding trials in order to prove the potential safety. I’d also ask if the diet has been formulated by a board-certified veterinary nutritionist or someone with a phD in small animal nutrition.
Would you feed a cricket diet to your dog? What about cricket treats?
McCuster S, Buff PR, Yu Z, Fascetti AJ. Amino acid content of selected plant, algae and insect species: A search for alternative protein sources for use in pet foods. Journal of Nutritional Science 2014;3:e39;1-5
Bosch G, Zhang S, Oonincx AB, Hendriks WH. Protein quality of insects as potential ingredients for dog and cat foods. Journal of Nutritional Science 2014; 3:e29:1-4.
Bosch G,, Vervoort JJM, Hendriks WH. In vitro digestibility and fermentability of selected insects for dog foods. Animal Feed Science and Technology 2016; 221:174-184.
Kilburn, Logan R et al. “Cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus) meal fed to healthy adult dogs does not affect general health and minimally impacts apparent total tract digestibility.” Journal of animal science vol. 98,3 (2020): skaa083. doi:10.1093/jas/skaa083
About the Author: Nikki is a Registered Veterinary Technician (Veterinary Nurse) and Dog Mom with over a decade of experience with dogs and cats. Since graduation from college (BS Biology, AS Animal Health -2013) she has adopted two mixed breed dogs – Ranger and Ash, and has focused her time learning about pet food and nutrition.
Nikki shares information on a range of dog nutrition topics: from how to create a homemade complete and balanced dog food recipes, to how to choose a dog food. Nikki strives to give dog parents the information they need in order to make the best nutrition decisions for their pup!