If you've ever raised a puppy during an especially good summer for grasshoppers or if you just have a dog with a strong hunting instinct, odds are, you've seen your pet eat one or two bugs in their lifetime.
As stomach-turning as this can be for us humans to witness, the truth is, insects can make an especially nutritious snack. In fact, about 25% of the human population consistently consume bugs as part of their normal diet. And we'd be willing to guess that at least twice that many dogs do as well.
Of course, catching the occasional cricket in the backyard is one thing, but feeding your dog insects as part of their daily diet?
It may sound like a radical idea, but it is one that is quickly catching on around the world.
In this article, we will take a look at this new creepy-crawly trend and discuss the surprising health benefits of adding bugs to your dog's bowl.
Why Are Insect Proteins Becoming More Popular?
Part of it has to do with sustainability.
Insect farming requires far fewer resources and much less time than what is needed to raise beef, chicken, or lamb. In fact, growing insects for food production only uses about 2% of the land and 4% of the water per pound of protein compared to raising beef.
Insect “ranching” also requires considerably less space. With current methods, it only takes about 66 square feet to grow just under one ton of crickets; a feat that can be accomplished in just 14 days.
The low resource, space, and time requirement for farming insects means that this protein source can be produced very cheaply, making it a much more affordable way to keep your dog fed.
But price and sustainability are just a couple of the reasons dog owners are starting to look to cricket protein as a dietary option.
Cricket Nutritional Breakdown
Cheap dog food is great, but only if it actually supplies all the nutrients a dog requires to live a long, healthy life.
Luckily, insects are more than just adequate in terms of the nutrients they provide. In fact, they can often hold their own with even the most popular of superfoods.
Vitamins and Minerals
Crickets, grasshoppers, mealworms, and other insects contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that dogs need. Some nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc, are actually found in higher concentrations in insects than they are in beef.
While plant-sourced iron can be difficult for even omnivore humans to digest and absorb, insect iron has proven to be much closer in biologic availability than meat. In fact, buffalo worms, which are similar to mealworms, have just as much bioavailable iron as a sirloin.
Insects contain about as much protein per gram as most meats. This is important considering that dogs get most of their energy from protein. As we mentioned earlier, insect protein is also easier to digest which means the body more readily utilizes it than most meats.
Many commercial dog diets lack in protein or use filler proteins from peas and other legumes to help meet the protein requirements for quality dog food. But dog's systems weren't built to digest and utilize these types of proteins, which means feeding high amounts of them can lead to problems.
Recently, the veterinary community has seen a huge uptick in the number of dogs diagnosed with diet-related dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). This dangerous heart condition can lead to complications and death in severe cases.
While this new surge in DCM cases affecting dogs not generally predisposed to the disease is still not fully understood, it does appear that feeding a diet high in legume and plant proteins might be a contributing factor.
Since insects are high in easily digestible protein and contain all necessary amino acids (more on that in a minute), they can be fed safely to carnivores like dogs.
In addition to protein, insects also contain important fats and minimal carbohydrates.
Like beef and other types of meat, crickets are considered a complete protein because they contain all ten amino acids that dogs must get from their diet because they cannot synthesize them themselves.
In addition to those ten amino acids, crickets, unlike other farmed insects, also contain taurine.
Adequate taurine levels are important for doggy heart health and for avoiding complications such as dilated cardiomyopathy. Taurine is not considered essential for dogs because it can be synthesized from other amino acids. However, breeds with a predisposition to DCM and those that eat a high-plant-protein diet may benefit from higher dietary taurine levels.
Antioxidants are essential for protecting your cells against damage from free radicals. They can be beneficial for heart health, can reduce inflammation, and may even help fight cancer.
For the most part, antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables and are not well-known for existing in higher protein foods. But, again, this is one place where insects appear to be an exception.
Silkworms and crickets have both been found to have higher antioxidant levels than orange juice, and most insects tested appear to have moderate to high degrees of antioxidant activity.
Since so many dogs today suffer from debilitating arthritis, cancer, and other chronic illnesses, upping the antioxidant load in dog food may be one simple way to help our pups live longer, disease-free lives.
Insect Diets and the Dog Gut Biome
Another factor that can determine the long-term health of an animal is the makeup of their gut biome.
The bacteria that live in the gut play a vital role in proper immune function, disease prevention, and chemical balance within the body and brain. The use of antibiotics, stress, and certain diseases and diets can reduce microbe count and diversity, leading to poor health.
Taking care of the gut biome is often as simple as eating enough fiber to feed these bacteria. Like antioxidants, fiber is not found in high amounts in animal products, but it is abundant in insects.
Chitin, the main type of fiber found in bugs, is different from the types of fiber found in plants but appears to have a similar beneficial effect on the gut biome. Studies in both humans and dogs have found that an insect-rich diet results in changes to the gut biome associated with better digestion and improved overall health.
Insects Are Hypoallergenic
Millions of dogs worldwide suffer from food allergies that result in debilitating conditions that can affect their quality of life. Because crickets are highly easy to digest, full of gut-healthy fiber, and a “novel” protein in every possible sense of the word, they make a great alternative protein for dogs who can't handle other types of meat.
The three most common protein allergies in canines are beef, lamb, and chicken. These also happen to be the three most common animal-sourced dog food ingredients.
Food allergies can cause a range of symptoms, from digestive upset, diarrhea, and vomiting, to severe itching, hives, hair loss, and ear infections. These symptoms can often appear out of nowhere, even when a dog has been on the same diet for years.
To make matters worse, dogs that are allergic to one protein often develop allergies to others. This can make it impossible to find a nutritionally complete, quality diet to feed. In many cases, the only foods that work are ones that contain only novel proteins that your dog has never eaten before–things like kangaroo and venison.
Unfortunately, these novel meats very often come with a steep price tag and can be difficult to find.
Insects are one novel protein that has the potential to break that mold.
Crickets, black fly larvae, and other insects are not known to cause allergic reactions in dogs. In fact, insect protein tends to be even easier to digest and absorb than animal protein.
And, as we discussed earlier, insects can be produced at a reasonably low price, making it a much more affordable alternative protein than other options on the market.
Cricket Powder as a Topper and Treat Base
Pure cricket powder, which is widely available, can be mixed with traditional raw meals to make a nutrient-packed, complete doggy diet.
Insect toppers can also be added to kibble and wet food to help up the protein content and to add a great source of raw vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino fatty acids. The latter is found in crickets in a perfect Omega ratio of 3 : 1. Doing this can be especially helpful for dogs who suffer from sensitive digestive tracts or are suffering from disease or recovering from a recent infection.
Even if you don't choose to add cricket powder to your dog's daily diet, you can still give them a nutrition boost by making your own homemade dog treats that utilize cricket powder within the recipe.
However, you choose to add insect protein to your pup's diet, you can be sure they will thank you for it. Not only do dogs typically find insects highly palatable in whole and powder forms, but the extra nutrition this unique protein provides will help your pup thrive for years to come.
Kelly April Tyrrel. “Eating crickets can be good for your gut, according to new clinical trial.” ScienceDaily.com, 8 August 2018.
M. Montowska, et al. “Nutritional value, protein and peptide composition of edible cricket powders.” Food Chemistry, Volume 289, Pages 130-138, 15 August 2019.
Carla Di Mattia, et al. “Antioxidant Activities in vitro of Water and Liposoluble Extracts Obtained by Different Species of Edible Insects and Invertebrates.” Frontiers in Nutrition, 15 July 2019.
Gladys O. Latune-Dada, et al. “In Vitro Iron Availability from Insects and Sirloin Beef.” Food Chemistry, 12 October 2016.
Roger Harrabin. “Insect-based food ‘better for pets than top steak.'” BBC.com, 27 August 2019.
Tim Wall. “Cricket-based dog food supports healthy dog gut microbes.” petfoodindustry.com, 29 May 2019.
Sara Seitz worked in the pet industry for over a decade. In addition to being a certified dog trainer, Sara gained experience working as the general manager of a dog daycare and boarding facility, as the creator and manager of a pet sitting company, as a groomer, and as a dog behavior evaluator. She also has a bachelors in animal behavior from CSU. Currently, Sara works as a freelance writer specializing in blog, article and content writing.