A well-known ritual begins at my home around 6 p.m. My Burmese cats, Claude and Truffle, grope downstairs to dinner, pace the kitchen, and when they get impatient to be fed they start screaming.
When I put her food down, I have to keep a close eye on Claude because he doesn’t just eat his own. He will put truffles out of the way and devour yours too.
Apart from Claude’s terrible manners, none of this is surprising – except that the cats have not eaten animal food from the usual leftover meat, but maggots in the last two months. After announcing this week that 330 domestic cats are believed to have died from developing a rare blood disease related to premium food brands, newly launched Lovebug brand is hoping that renewed interest in what we feed the UK’s 10.7 million cats , give their eco-friendly alternative a boost.
Helpfully, there are no insect wings or antennae in cats’ food bowls; While Lovebug may be made from soldier fly larvae, it’s made into the same brown nibbles that Claude and Truffle have always eaten – and neither seemed to notice the difference. The company was founded at a time when we were never so concerned about the food we give our pets. Not only our diet affects the planet, but that of our pets too: an estimated 20 percent of the meat consumed worldwide is consumed by domestic cats and dogs, while pet food accounts for a quarter of the environmental impact of meat production, according to a 2017 study. The alleged wisdom Feeding our pets a trendy raw meat diet was recently called into question at the European Congress on Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases when scientists raised concerns that they are contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria; Support for insect-based pet foods even comes from the British Veterinary Association, which says such meals could help reduce our carbon footprint.
Lovebug is made by Mars Petcare, the world’s largest pet food manufacturer, better known for making more traditional cat dishes like whiskas. In a dramatic turnaround for a company that is a major player in the meat industry, the company is now using six-legged creatures instead of four to reduce your pet’s environmental paw prints. Analysts say we won’t meet our greenhouse gas targets if we don’t rethink what our animal companions eat.
But while dogs are now being accepted by animal welfare experts like the RSPCA as omnivores that can thrive on a full, plant-based diet, it is harder for cat owners like me to come up with solutions.
Stroll through a cat lover’s forum and you’ll be bombarded with memories that cats are “must-have carnivores”.
This means that in order to be healthy, they must contain some nutrients such as taurine (which is important for cat health) and certain amino acids found in other animals’ bodies.
Yet while there is a “vain” factor associated with eating insects, it appears that beetles are a more compact and efficient way of administering them than the mammalian meat we normally feed. For one thing, they take up much less space and water, and the larvae contained in truffle and Claudes food are reared in a warehouse in the Netherlands.
During their short lives, they only eat fruits and vegetables left over from the human food chain and live in bowls – and unlike cows, they do not give off methane. A ton of insects can be grown in two weeks on an area of just 20 square meters.
When their time comes, they’ll be numb from the cold in a split second and crushed into a fine powder. As an animal lover, I have to say that it feels less cruel.
The commercial pet food we give our cats is actually far from what they would eat in the wild: a combination of small rodents, birds and … insects.
Andrew Knight, veterinarian and professor of animal welfare and ethics at the University of Winchester, says that the existence of domestic cats bears little resemblance to their predecessors: “We feed cat food with tuna. But the idea of a house cat swimming 50 kilometers out to sea and fighting a tuna that can weigh up to a quarter of a ton is ridiculous. Still, pet food marketers have led us to believe that this is their natural diet. “
Cats now mostly eat meat-based pet food that is already supplemented by synthetically produced nutrients such as taurine, which are destroyed by the heating process anyway. The same can be done with plant-based pet foods to ensure that they contain all of the nutrients a cat or dog needs.
Such a diet would minimize any possible ethical or “insect repellent” concerns, says Knight, who also points to a recent study that shows that cats fed such foods are less likely to lose weight, Gastrointestinal or liver problems suffer as cats fed meat ones.
Claude is certainly an avid insect hunter who chases flies and daddy’s long legs and is happy when he devours one. In fact, insect protein may be even better for cats because it has been found to contain more amino acids.
Alice Oven, co-author of The Clean Pet Food Revolution: How Better Pet Food Will Change the World, points out that beetles are already at the heart of our food chain without us even realizing it.
“We have been feeding insects to livestock for decades, especially fly larvae and mealworms, as a protein-rich alternative to fishmeal,” she says.
While she believes one of the main motivations for large pet food companies to develop insect-based products is that they will prove to be cheaper, she nonetheless welcomes the move – as likely the nearly three-quarters of recently surveyed cat owners who said the environment does was taken into account when making decisions about your pet.
Although I initially shy away from kissing the nose of maggot-infested pets, is it really worse than what they ate?
A scan of the approved ingredients for the pet food industry listed by the government makes dismal read. Slaughterhouse scraps that can be used include “skins, hides, horns, feet, pig bristles, poultry heads, hatchery scraps, day-old chicks and blood, placenta, wool, feathers, hair, hoof cuts”.
Truffle and Claude sleep in the sun after dinner, unaware of what’s in their food, how it affects the planet, or what concerns their people are concerned with in order to keep them healthy.
But as the fight to get a grip on the climate crisis – and keep our pets healthy – becomes more urgent, we humans certainly have to weigh this up.