Insects – surprising superfood for pets

The first image that comes to mind when mentioning insects and food in the same sentence is the one of Simba in the movie The Lion King having to eat a ‘feast’ of mealworms and other insects, which his friends Pumba and Timone offered him for lunch.

If you have not seen this humorous scene, suffice it to say that our lion friend Simba did not find the squirming food as appetising as his insect-eating friends did. Thankfully, this is not what we are talking about when we refer to insects in pet food.

None of us can imagine placing a bowl of creepy crawlies in front of our dogs, who are excitedly waiting for their meals. Edible insects sound unappetising but, as research continues, it has become clear that they offer more nutritional value and benefit than originally thought.

This research is predominantly happening right here on native soil because South Africa is one of the global frontrunners in insect research and developments, according to Dominique Kuhlman, General Manager of the Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI).

Owing more to ‘bugs’

Although it is not commonly known or considered, insects are some of the largest environmental providers in nature.

They are pollinators and waste degraders and, in addition, serve as a valuable food source for wildlife. In the wild, insects could be described as an animal vitamin supplement, because they provide a source of functional nutrition to animals who consume insects as part of their natural diets.

Some of these animals include wild and feral felines – insects contribute up to 6% of their diets. The African aardwolf consumes insects as an indispensable dietary requirement.

Another interesting fact is that our companion animals unavoidably ingest insect matter, either via their food or from their living environment. This could come from stored foods – for example, meal moths – or directly from parasites, like mites and fleas.

Edible insects in pet food

Popular insect additions you will find in pet food, either in whole dried foods or fat extracts thereof, include the black soldier fly, yellow mealworm, silkworm, shrimp and krill. These are exceptional sources of essential nutrients, fatty acids and calcium, and are also sources of healthy dietary fibre.

The sustainable health benefits for our companion animals of including insects in their diets are considerable.

We are what we eat

When it comes to insects, nothing could be more accurate. You could say that what insects ingest is the exact nutritional value they offer when consumed as food.


In South Africa, insects used in pet food are fed completely balanced diets that include agricultural produce or by-products, such as fruit pulp. This approach is geared towards ensuring that insects receive ideal and constant nutrition when they are bred and grown.


Including insects in good-quality pet foods is a novel way for manufacturers to diversify and upgrade the nutritional value of these foods because of the essential nutrients provided by the insects.


Nutritional benefits of insects

  1. Healthy fat Larvae rich in lauric acid, referred to as the medium-chain triglycerides (MTC) acid, are extracted from the black soldier fly. The MTC acid provides a highly metabolisable source of energy for animals. It supports a lean body weight, and cognitive health and functioning. This nutrient also aids in creating a balanced gut microbiome through its antimicrobial properties.


  1. Protein Insects are a great source of protein and amino acids. Our companion animals need these to maintain their gut health, and their health in general.


  1. Dietary fibre A healthy fibre intake is essential for our pets, not only for their digestive health, but also for their skin, hair and bone development. One of the most important nutrients is chitinase – the enzyme needed to digest the chitin found in the insect skeleton. Chitinase acts as an antioxidant and prebiotic and is something that our cats and dogs do not create naturally in their own metabolic functions.


Sustainable pet food brand strategies

The pet food industry is buzzing with the continuous findings around the nutritional value of insects. With South Africa at the forefront of these developments, we are sure to see an increase in insects included in the pet foods available to us.


According to a consumer survey done by the pet food industry in 2023, 58% of consumers are interested in proven results when it comes to eco-friendly pet food solutions. This shows insight and support from pet owners worldwide.


Insects are an invaluable source of nutrition to animals in the wild. Humans need to recognise their nutritional value and utilise them to benefit companion animals who are not able to hunt for themselves.



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