Take a look at the numerous benefits of cricket protein for dogs, and why it’s a feasible alternative to traditional meats.
The thought of eating bugs isn’t exactly appealing…taste-wise, anyway. As far as the health of the planet and our dogs is concerned, however, it’s actually a very attractive option! Cricket protein is becoming widely known as a superfood thanks to its nutritionally-dense profile, and it’s a favorite among eco-conscious shoppers due to its low impact on the environment. In terms of palatability, it’s not as bad as people think – and dogs love it! Here’s a closer look at this unusual new pet food trend, and why you shouldn’t knock it before you try it.
8 benefits of cricket-based protein
Believe it or not, there are several reasons why crickets are a smart alternative to traditional proteins like beef and chicken. In fact, this isn’t news in many areas of the world. Entomophagy, the practice of eating insects, is commonplace in countries like Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America. In recent years, bugs have also been creeping onto the North American market, and now it’s not uncommon in Canada and Europe to find cricket flour – made from roasted finely-milled crickets – listed on the ingredient labels at pet food stores (see sidebar).
So before you turn your nose up in disgust at the idea, take a look at the following eight reasons why cricket protein is viable food for your dog!
1. It eases environmental stress
One of the main incentives for dog parents to switch their canines to a cricket-based diet (where it’s accessible – see sidebar at right) is the positive impact it has on the planet. Compared to raising and producing traditional sources of meat, cricket protein uses less land and water, and emits hardly any greenhouse gases such as methane (80 times less than cattle). The waste produced during the processing of cricket-based flours is also minimal.
“Some environmental benefits can be seen when comparing how you raise crickets versus other proteins,” says Melanie Dobbin, Cricket Science Technician at Midgard Farms, a Nova Scotia-based cricket producer and researcher. “Raising cattle requires a lot of water, food and time. Crickets, on the other hand, are bred in very large numbers, require minimal space and very small quantities of food and water. Overall, harvesting crickets is 750 times more land-efficient than beef is, making it much more environmentally-friendly.”
2. It’s a good alternative protein source for allergic dogs
It’s quite common for dogs to develop sensitivities to food ingredients they’re exposed to on a regular basis. The offending foods (usually meat, dairy or eggs) can trigger an adverse response such as itchy skin or gastrointestinal issues, leaving the dog uncomfortable at best – or extremely ill at worst.
If your pup suffers from a food allergy or intolerance, switching him to a novel protein diet is a simple solution. “Because it hasn’t been overused, we’re finding that cricket protein is a great choice for dogs with allergies or sensitivities to traditional proteins,” says Anne Carlson, founder of Jiminy’s, a company that makes pet food and treats using cricket protein.
3. It’s more humane
As dog parents become more concerned about the humane treatment of animals, many are switching their canine companions to vegetarian diets. But dogs can’t thrive on plant-based protein sources without careful supplementation. Enter cricket protein – a humane option that delivers the biologically-appropriate nutrients dogs need.
“One of the key reasons cricket protein is more humane than traditional proteins is that the crickets have long and happy lives,” says Anne. “They’re raised in cricket condos that allow them to live in a way as close as possible to how they would in the natural world.”
To harvest crickets, the temperature in their condos is lowered to put the insects into a hibernation-like state – a process that occurs only once they reach the end of their natural life cycle. “The average chicken lives less than 2% of its natural life in crowded terrible conditions, whereas a cricket lives 75% to 80% of its natural life before being harvested,” adds Anne.
4. It’s a clean, complete protein
Gram for gram, crickets are one of the most protein-rich sources available. Cricket protein is a considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that dogs require. “While red meat is often recognized as a significant source of protein, crickets actually have a protein content that’s about three times higher than beef,” says Melanie. “Even with their higher protein content, crickets also provide more essential amino acids than beef when the two are compared on the same weight basis.”
Additionally, crickets are a very clean source of protein and do not contain antibiotics, pesticides, GMOs and heavy metals. Because they’re often raised in controlled, chemical-free environments with free-range access to food and water, they remain healthy until they’re harvested.
5. It’s packed full of nutrients
Crickets are a whole food (i.e. the entire insect is used), which means they’re very nutritionally dense. Besides protein, cricket flour contains numerous macronutrients and micronutrients that support your dog’s health. “Crickets are a great source of vitamins, minerals, Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and they actually provide more iron, vitamin B12 and magnesium that beef does,” says Melanie. “All these nutrients help contribute to the health and longevity of your dog.” Crickets also contain a large dose of taurine.
6. It supports gut health
The cricket’s exoskeleton is a good source of prebiotic fiber, which contributes to a healthy digestive system. “You won’t find chitin in traditional sources of animal protein,” adds Melanie. Aside from chitin, cricket protein itself is also loaded with fiber. In a recent study, Jiminy’s and AnimalBiome studied the impact of cricket protein’s fiber on the dog’s gut. “Fiber is a benefit not normally seen in a protein – other animal proteins don’t contain it – but cricket protein is loaded with it,” says Anne. “The study established that this fiber supports a healthy, balanced level of gut bacteria diversity in dogs. We also noticed other benefits — for example, stool bulking for easier cleanup.”
7. It’s very digestible
In the same study, the researchers looked at the canine’s ability to digest cricket protein. “There were a lot of great studies that showed other animals, like piglets, thriving on cricket protein, but there were not as many for dogs,” says Anne. “Together with Iowa State, we confirmed that cricket protein is a high quality digestible protein for dogs, scoring as high in digestibility as chicken and beef.”
8. It tastes good!
While we might be repulsed by the thought of eating insects, dogs certainly aren’t. In fact, digging for grubs is an instinctual canine behavior that many pups enjoy – even the picky ones!
“One of the first questions I personally had was ‘will dogs like this?’” says Anne. “So I ordered some crickets online and gave them to my dogs. Well, the drool came fast – they loved it. Of course, I’ve tried cricket protein myself and it does taste good. It’s nutty and a bit earthy, so it makes sense that dogs love it!”