Surprising Meats Found in Pet Foods

By Dr. Patty Khuly

ThinkstockWould you feed your pets oddball sources of proteins in search of a solution to what ails them? I would. In fact, I do. They've cycled through long periods in which I fed duck, then venison, and later rabbit -- all in service of my French Bulldog Vincent's changing dermatologic health needs. All of which finally culminated in this week's newest protein: kangaroo.

Yes, kangaroo.

It's a common enough scenario in dogs: By the time Vincent was only a year old, his ears had become intermittently red, itchy and infection-prone. He started licking at his feet (and occasionally other parts). It turned out to be a classic case of food-related allergic skin disease.

SEE ALSO: 10 Human Foods Dangerous for Pets

The Feeding Trial

Almost invariably, cases like Vincent's are both diagnosed and treated by altering their diets. More specifically, we undertake a test called a feeding trial.

This simple test (conducted for a minimum of 12 weeks) requires feeding a diet that contains completely different proteins and carbohydrates than these pets have ever been fed. Which, of course, often means that strange-ish kinds of protein must sometimes be sourced.

Even medications (such as heartworm preventives) must contain different ingredients if we're to be sure the pet isn't exposed to a potentially irritating protein during the course of the trial. Treats and rawhides are verboten for the same reason.

If the pet's symptoms improve by the end of the trial, it's assumed that the original diet was, in fact, the cause of the allergic reaction. The pet is then maintained on the novel-protein diet.

Even then, dogs can become increasingly allergic to the proteins and carbohydrates they eat. Which explains why Vincent has been on at least four different specialized diets over the past seven years.

See Also: Salmonella and Pet Food Recalls

The Search for Offbeat Proteins

But Vincent is by no means alone. Plenty of pets suffer from allergies and intolerances that require they seek out increasingly arcane protein sources. Hence, why kangaroo meat must now be flown in from the Australian outback (where it's generally hunted but sometimes farmed), to help keep a few Australian specialty restaurants humming but, mostly, to keep dogs like Vincent from suffering their skin diseases.

Yet duck, fish, rabbit, goat, venison, ostrich or bison, for example, are not the only game in town. Other, more esoteric meats are starting to make some headway in the pet food market. And, increasingly, it's not always because pets are allergic to or otherwise intolerant of the other proteins. In some cases, it's because the new proteins are considered more environmentally conscientious.

Even kangaroo meat, which you'd think might take a lot of heat for the requisite hunting down of Roo in the wild, got lots of traction after some animal welfare and environmentally minded Aussies promoted the benefits of Kangatarianism, a term to describe a diet that includes kangaroos as the only source of all animal protein.

Sit for an Alligator Treat?

Sure, it's weird. And so is eating alligator meat. Currently a by-product of the alligator pelt industry (quite small) and some harvesting by avid hunters, alligator meat is a tasty Florida specialty I've had plenty of occasion to consume ("alligator bites" are popular here in South Florida).

But so far the industry is rather small, and the still-recovering alligator population in the Everglades and elsewhere is not yet as capable as the wild kangaroo population to serve as a novel protein source for pet diets - not without damaging their habitats too extensively (or so we currently assume).

Yet alligator meat for commercial treats is already on offer. In fact, you can buy Louisiana Jerky Treats on or pick up some Whimzees Alligator Treats for Dogs at your local Petco.

And why not? As long as these animals were raised in the wild and hunted through traditional methods, these protein sources are usually far more humane and environmentally sustainable than their domestic counterparts. Sure, some are farmed, but these don't seem to comprise the majority - definitely not for kangaroos and probably not in the case of alligators, either.

See Also: 7 Foods to NEVER Feed Your Cat

A Creepy, Crawly Protein Source

That brings me to my final point, which is to offer that none of these options seems sustainable enough given future global population pressures. At some point, none of these sources are likely to be used by anyone but humans. There will simply be too many of us living on this planet to consider allocating so many of our traditional animal proteins to our future pets.

Hence, why I predict that insect protein will be the wave of the future in the pet industry. This, along with laboratory-grown meats (think: petri dishes), will be our top choices. After all, growing huge volumes of insects is easy and inexpensive. Moreover, recent studies show that insect protein may be even more bioavailable than that of cows, pigs or chickens.

Who knew?

But first, of course, we've collectively got to get ourselves over the "ick" factor. After all, feeding a not-so-appetizing protein to treat a pet's illness is one thing; feeding it because it's the only thing available is quite another - especially if that protein source happens to have six legs and offers a distinctly unpleasant crunch.

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