Pet Food Trends: Insect Protein and Cannabis


During his conference at the recent Fetch dvm360® Conference, Robin Saar, RVT, VTS (Nutrition), National Nutrition Ambassador at VetStrategy, explained that the key for animals to live longer and healthier lives is to provide complete and balanced nutrition in a meal, which may come from protein from insects and cannabis. Saar shared the results of several studies on the pros and cons of these protein sources and how each can be used to improve a pet’s diet.

How do insects fit into the pet food scene?

According to Saar, life cycle assessments (LCAs) have traditionally been published for mealworms, house crickets, black soldier flies and house flies, and they use benchmarks to provide comparisons of production systems. insects. For example, one study found that mealworms used as a high protein food can be compared to meat and milk. Likewise, house flies and black flies, as high protein food ingredients, can be compared to fishmeal and soybean meal.1

So how exactly do insects fit into the pet food equation? Saar noted the following environmental benefits of insect breeding1:

  • Less land and water needed.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are lower.
  • Insects have high feed conversion efficiency.
  • Insects can transform low-value organic by-products into high-quality food or feed.
  • Public demand for meat protein is expected to increase by 75% by 2050 and the pet population also continues to increase, potentially leading to shortages of meat protein.

However, the nature of this protein resource is not without concern. Saar advised that insect protein surveys should be carried out immediately as it can take years of experience to create a balanced and delicious diet, complete feeding trials, and ensure that no unforeseen complications occur. could arise. She explained that one of the risks of using insect protein comes from contamination factors, including metal and chemical pollution, such as insecticides that can be found with black soldier flies. This species tends to accumulate heavy metals from its diet (especially cadmium and lead).1

Using cannabinoids

Saar noted that although it is currently illegal to feed hemp or its byproducts to livestock due to the unproven risk of cannabinoid residues in animal products (e.g. meat, eggs, milk), studies have shown that hemp seeds and their derivatives can be a viable source of crude protein and essential fats to be incorporated into the diet of livestock, without particular modification of growth performance.2

Saar referred to a study on how mice with autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) showed an abundance of species of mucin-degrading bacteria such as Akkermansia muciniphila, which was significantly reduced after treatment with Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) plus cannabidiol (CBD). According to Saar, mice with EAE treated with THC and CBD also had significantly higher levels of short-chain fatty acids, including butyric, isovaleric and valeric acids, compared to naive or sick controls. The data collected suggests that cannabinoids may reduce EAE and suppress neuroinflammation by avoiding the microbial dysbiosis seen during EAE and by nourishing a healthy gut microbiota.3

The benefits of the ability of cannabinoids to interact with the endocannabinoid include reduced gut permeability, regulation of gut bacteria, and reduced inflammation. Saar also noted that CBD can affect an animal’s response to anxiety and pain due to its activity on the digestive, immune, and central nervous systems.4

She concluded that no part of the cannabis plant is currently approved for use in pet foods and that companies in the industry wishing to use these products must first provide specific research showing that the products are both safe and beneficial for animal feed.5

The bottom line

Ultimately, pet owners want the best nutrition for their companions. Saar explained that having open discussions that support owners in their choices and becoming their trusted confidant is essential for maintaining long-term relationships in clinical settings.

The references

  1. van Huis A, Oonincx D. The environmental sustainability of insects in food and feed. a review. Agron Sustain Dev. 2017; 37:43. doi: 10.1007 / s13593-017-0452-8
  2. Della Roca G, Di Salvo A. Hemp in veterinary medicine: from food to medicine. Font Vet Sci. 2020; 7: 387. doi: 10.3389 / fvets.2020.00387
  3. Al-Ghezi ZZ, Busbee PB, Alghetaa H, Nagarkatti PS, Nagarkatti M. Combination of cannabinoids, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), attenuates experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) by modifying the microbiome intestinal. Immune brain behavior. 2019; 82: 25-35. doi: 10.1016 / j.bbi.2019.07.028
  4. Karoly HC, Mueller RL, Bidwell LC, Hutchinson KE. Cannabinoids and the microbiota-gut-brain axis: emerging effects of cannabidiol and potential applications in alcohol consumption disorders. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2020; 44 (2): 40-353. doi: 10.1111 / acer.14256
  5. The Association of American Feed Control Officials. AAFCO Guidelines for Hemp in Animal Feed. https://www.aafco.org/Portals/0/SiteContent/Announcements/Guidelines_on_Hemp_in_Animal_Food_July_2020.pdf. Posted March 5, 2017. Updated July 16, 2020. Accessed August 26, 2021.


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