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A number of pet food companies have started producing dog treats and dog food that feature cricket protein as an ingredient. Here’s why you should care—and why your dog might be excited to have a taste.
A safe alternative for dogs with food sensitivities
Food allergies and sensitivities can be a messy challenge for dog parents, with ten percent of all dog allergy cases related to food. Those allergies can cause symptoms including chronic ear inflammation, gastrointestinal problems, chronic diarrhea and gas, licking feet, or an itchy rear end.
The most common allergens in dog food are protein sources: chicken, beef, dairy, and egg. A time-tested solution for food allergies is to feed sensitive dogs hydrolyzed protein, a type of protein that is predigested and does not spark a reaction in the immune system.
Recently, research has shown that cricket protein may serve a similar purpose. A 2018 study concluded that insect protein-based dog foods are a promising alternative for dogs with food intolerances. Twenty dogs with skin problems related to food sensitivities were fed cricket protein-based food, and 60% of them showed significant improvement in their symptoms, while only one dog showed negative impacts.
A tremendously lower environmental impact
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your dog’s environmental paw print, insect protein might be just the thing. There is a substantial ecological cost to feeding our dogs and cats. Pet food and byproducts are responsible for 25-30% of the total environmental impact of animal protein production in the US.
A 65-pound dog should eat about 65 grams of protein per day, or about one pound (455 grams) per week. Here’s how the environmental impact of that one pound of protein breaks down:
|Feed required to produce 1 pound of animal protein||Water required to produce 1 pound of animal protein|
|Beef||25 pounds||2900 gallons|
|Pork||9 pounds||460 gallons|
|Chicken||4.5 pounds||300 gallons|
|Crickets||1.7 pounds||1 gallon|
Crickets have a smaller footprint, and not just because their legs are tiny. Crickets are more efficient than any warmblooded animal at converting plant-based foods into protein, their water and land requirements are much lower, and their greenhouse gas production is a tiny fraction of that created by larger livestock.
Crickets are tiny compost-eating machines. They can be raised on waste products from the production of other food, such as vegetable scraps, spent grain from beer and liquor production, and pulp from the production of fruit juice.
While crickets can recycle huge amounts of food waste, cricket farms require comparatively little space, about 10% of the land area required for beef production.
Crickets are cold-blooded, meaning that their body temperature is similar to the temperature of the surrounding environment. Because crickets don’t use calories from their food to warm or cool their bodies, those calories can go into the production of body mass in the form of proteins. They’re far more efficient at this than mammals and birds.
But is it safe to eat crickets?
Yes. The cricket flour that is used in dog treats and food is produced for human consumption, following USDA and FDA regulations for food safety, and has been demonstrated to be safe for dogs, too. Most wild insects are also safe for dogs to eat.
In fact, insects were likely part of the ancestral diet of dogs, as we can see in the eating habits of dogs’ close relatives like wolves, coyotes, and foxes. I’ve had more than one dog that was a pro at catching flies and moths, and I always appreciated the service!
In terms of food handling safety, the United Nations FAO reports that insects are likely safer than beef, chicken, or pork, which can expose us to infectious diseases if undercooked or handled improperly.
Of course, not all insects are safe for dogs to eat, particularly when the bugs are caught live. Stinging insects can cause serious problems for dogs, even if a bee sting can cause an adorably puffy face. Some grasshoppers, cockroaches, and fleas can carry parasites that may spread to a dog that eats them.
Other insects, such as monarch butterfly caterpillars, are toxic to dogs and can cause tummy troubles, vomiting, or even heart problems if eaten. Fortunately, most toxic insects also taste awful, so a dog is less likely to gobble them down.
Cricket protein treats for dogs
There are at least five brands of cricket protein-based dog treats available in the United States, and there is a number available in the UK and Canada, as well.
Here are five options for U.S.-based dog parents. For those dogs with food sensitivities, I’ve included the ingredients (when available).
Ingredients in Original Recipe: Cricket Powder, Lentils, Pumpkin Puree, Ground Flax Seed, Peanut Butter, Molasses, Coconut Oil, Sea Salt, Cinnamon, Citric Acid, Buffered Distilled White Vinegar, Antioxidants (Canola Oil, Mixed Tocopherols, Rosemary Extract)
Helpful review: “One of my dogs is allergic to literally all proteins and is on a hydrolyzed diet, so I was excited to find a new product to see if she could handle. She LOVES these treats and she hasn’t had any reactions to them!”
Ingredients: Cricket Protein, Pea Flour, Garbanzo Bean Flour, Tapioca Flour, Apples, Flaxseed, Coconut Oil, Turmeric
Helpful review: “Healthy treat that can easily be broken into smaller pieces for smaller dogs. Our Frenchie loves them!”
Ingredients: Oats, Apples, Cricket, Flaxseed, Dried Apples, Canola Oil, Honey.
Helpful review: “I bought this product as housewarming gift for my friend who has two dogs (a goldendoodle and a rescue pup). She is vegan and she is always telling me that she hates that she has to feed meat to her dogs, so I figured this was something she was going to like. She LOVED it, and her dogs loved it even more.”
Ingredients: Peanut Butter, Sweet Potato, Potato Flour, Egg, Cricket Powder, Honey, and Coconut Oil.
Helpful review: “These treats are the bomb! So nice to buy products with quality ingredients and USA made. They smell great and my dog who is sometimes a little picky, loves them! They have a nice crunch to them, but are easy to break into smaller pieces if desired.”
Active ingredients: Cricket Powder, Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), Creatine Monohydrate N, N-Dimethylglycine HCI (DMG), Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil, Sodium Hyaluronate (HA)
Helpful review: “My dog isn’t super into treats and will never take them at pet stores or other pet-friendly places, but he was very excited about these treats.”
Cricket protein treats for humans
Would you try crickets yourself? According to a recent study, folks who like sushi are also likely to enjoy edible insects. If you want to create your own cricket-based treats, you can buy some powdered cricket flour. Or dig into one of these tasty snacks!
I’ve tasted all three of the products below and I think they’re a great gateway into the wild world of entomophagy (aka eating insects). I’ve shared them with the students in my entomology classes and all of them get good reviews.
For my money, these tortilla chips are the tastiest and most approachable of the cricket treats. I can’t tell a texture or flavor difference from an average tortilla chip, and the seasonings are very tasty.
You can dunk them in milk or eat them on the go. The flavor of these chocolate chip cookies is great and the texture is hearty and appealing.
Marketed to high-performance athletes, these high-protein, high-fiber nutrition bars are tasty, have a nice texture, and come in a variety of flavors.
The future of animal and human nutrition?
Food security is one of the biggest challenges facing the world as the human global population grows. The United Nation’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) considers edible insect to be an extremely important resource for feeding people, pets, and livestock. The FAO recommends increasing the production of edible insects, improving insect farming techniques, and marketing insect protein to consumers globally, including you.
Insect farming is on the rise worldwide, and current research indicates that it will offer an environmentally sustainable solution to protein production in the future. The global market for edible insect products is predicted to exceed one billion dollars by 2023.
Feeding cricket protein to your dog could be your first step into this future!