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The quest & scope for novel proteins

I am often asked about exotic foods for our companion animals and so much publicity is now being directed towards a variety of ingredients unheard of in previous petfood formulations. There is of course much use of high-quality animal and plant derived ingredients forming the basis of the petfood brands.

The rendering industry is a major source of category 3 proteins resulting from bovine, poultry processing and these processed animal by-products PAPs have their place in the system. Fishmeal is also a fish co-product from the fishery industry, salmon and trout can be found in higher end diets for cats. All these animal-based ingredients are invaluable proteins and sources of the 8-10 essential amino acids and also taurine which is so important in the biochemistry of vision in the feline.

I am a firm advocate of using a variety of different ingredients as this would ensure securing a balance of nutrients and meeting with nutritional requirements. We can gain benefit in using complimentary proteins that are deficient in specific amino acids like methionine and lysine individually but have excess of the other to cancel out these limiting levels. The combination of these proteins can allow greater inclusion in the diet of dogs and cats.

I have had a long history of working with the rendering companies and recognise the stringent quality control steps from resourcing to manufacture. PAPs find their way into both wet and dry foods for both dogs and cats as well as the speciality ‘treats’ market. You will often see tuna and other fish and animal by-products such as farmed rabbit in products like wet diets and moist food pouches.

There have been some serious new technologies applied to process animal materials in the last decade with lower temperature drying conditions to conserve volatile nutrients and thermolabile vitamins. This has led to higher digestibility of proteins and preservation of flavours and improved palatability for the fussy pet.

Turning towards novel and more exotic ingredients we see very popular scientific research into the use of insect meal in diets for many animals. In our last issue we explored this topic in more detail but petfood companies are beginning to use insect derived protein in niche formulations without adverse reactions to the animal.

These appear to be healthy and sustainable alternatives to the regular use of soybean, pulses, grains, fish meals and animal by-products. Insect meal can be obtained from a diverse variety of insects such as the more available Black Soldier Fly (BSF) larvae and even crickets and beetle larvae. These are produced in modern and very hygienic facilities where bioconversion of organic plant waste occurs under a strictly controlled environment.

Insect protein can be quite variable in composition but has all the essential amino acids and rich in overall protein content between 40-60 percent dry matter within the ground dried meal. The amino acid pattern is close to that of fish and poultry meals but there is some significant variation.

For example, housefly pupae have a very high amino acid index BV (biological value) and a digestibility just below that of poultry meal while yellow mealworms do not score quite as well for their amino acids but have high digestibility, above even that of poultry meal.

Overall fat content and fatty acid composition is good in terms of energy contribution but not necessarily to meet essential fatty acid levels as we discussed in a previous editorial for cats and dogs. The oil is low in Omega-3 fatty acids and higher in the Omega-6 series and monounsaturated and saturated fats. We see fatty acids such as myristic and lauric acid that may play a role in animal nutrition.

There may be scope to extract the fat from insect meals and develop a protein concentrate much higher in protein content at up to 80 percent. Insect meal contains the structural polymer chitin found in the exoskeleton and is a carbohydrate that may only be partially digested in the large intestine.

It has been suggested that since chitin has very similar properties to other non-starch polysaccharides such as mannan oligosaccharides that have proven prebiotic effects in monogastric animals, chitin may work in a similar manner via fermentation producing metabolites for bacteria.

Such functionality can have beneficial effects on gut morphology, integrity and health leading to improved immunity and positive changes in the important intestinal microbiome. Insects therefore may offer benefit in many more ways than simply being a good source of nutrients in petfood diets.

Obviously much more evidence-based research is needed for validation. There is no doubting that we will see many more examples of exotic ingredients within recipes for cat and dog diets with exciting possibilities for more advanced formulations offering new potential to realise optimal nutrition and health.

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Article contributed by Professor Simon Davies, Nutrition Editor, International Petfood magazine.



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