A Comprehensive Guide to Pet Food and Cultured Meat

What Is The Best For Your Pet?

For a conscientious pet owner, the question of what to feed your furry friend is one of the most important. Some say a pure kibble diet is perfectly fine — others suggest that pets should primarily eat meat, like their ancestral forefathers.

So which is it — and what does science have to say about it?

To answer that question, we have to take a journey back in time to visit the history of how dogs and cats came to be humanity’s friends.

Photo by Michael LaRosa on Unsplash

Prehistoric Roots & Modern Differences

Dogs first diverged from wild wolves more than 30,000 years ago to live alongside humans. This evolutionary split is much wider than that of domesticated cats and that’s why dogs eat different food than wolves. While wolves hunted in packs to take down even large animals like moose and deer, dogs adapted to eat the leftovers humans had. The modern dog, if left to fend for itself in the wild, would probably eat rabbits and other smaller creatures.

While the domestication of dogs changed not only their behaviour, but physical traits like having smaller bodies, teeth, and muzzles — the DNA of modern cats is much closer to their ancestors. Since mice and rats were attracted to human crops, cats likely followed these rodent populations and humans kept them around because they enjoyed their help in pest control.

A wild Eurasian lynx | Source

Though these two animals have different origin stories, one thing is important to note — their wild counterparts never evolved eating the farmed animals that are almost ubiquitously included in pet foods today. The question then becomes, why are we feeding our pets food they wouldn’t otherwise eat in the wild?

The answer: convenience.

Animal Agriculture and Pet Food

We’d like to believe that the meat our pets are getting comes from healthy, high-quality animals. Unfortunately, the reality is that this is often not the case — and the real culprit? Economics.

A term commonly used in animal agriculture is 4D meatwhich stands for dead, dying, diseased, and disabled meat. This type of meat is deemed unfit for human consumption but is acceptable to be made into pet food.

Photo by Jakob Cotton on Unsplash

The reason for this is that it costs to process 4D meat. Not only do companies lose out from being unable to sell the 4D meat to supermarkets, but they have to pay for the carcasses to be disposed of as biohazardous waste. Even so — are you willing to feed your animal 4D meat knowing that it has been contaminated or its quality otherwise compromised?

The other problem is that the main allergens for dogs and cats come from bovine and poultry products. These allergens can cause problems from topical issues (itchy skin) to gastrointestinal issues. Intuitively, it makes more sense to feed our pets a protein source that is better metabolically tolerated by their biochemistry.

Don’t Forget About The Fish Too!

Contrary to popular belief, cats don’t catch fish in the wild. Most cats don’t fare well swimming and the deep water where most fish are found would be inaccessible to the typical wild cat.

Moreover, eating large amounts of fish can actually be detrimental to your pet’s health. That’s because fish has a lot of histamines — the compounds released by white blood cells to ward off inflammation. Though usually a good thing, histamines are also responsible for some of the most annoying allergy symptoms.

Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Having a diet consisting of histamine-rich fish can put your cat at risk of an allergic reaction — that’s why fish is considered by veterinarians to be one of the most allergy-inducing food sources despite also being one of the most popular for cats!

Since fish also swim in increasingly polluted rivers and oceans, they could be potentially picking up toxins (PCBs and pesticides) and heavy metals like mercury and magnesium. Larger fish species are so reliably contaminated with these heavy metals that human doctors advise women of childbearing age not to eat them.

So — armed with this newfound information, is there anything we can do for our furry friends? The answer is: yes!

How Cellular Agriculture Can Help Your Pets

Cellular agriculture is an emerging technology that combines tissue engineering, biotechnology, and molecular biology to grow meat outside of an animal — without the need to slaughter livestock. Currently, this is being done in laboratories, but eventually, it will be grown in large vats called bioreactors, similar to the way beer is brewed.

Source

Using this process, cells are first extracted non-lethally from the animal and then allowed to divide in a lab using growth factors and sometimes a scaffold. This method of growing meat is projected to use 95% fewer global greenhouse gas emissions, 98% less land use and up to half as much energy (Forbes). You can read more about how the technology works and its global impacts here.

Cultured Pet Treats from Because Animals

Because Animals is a cellular agriculture and pet food company based in Philadelphia that makes 100% animal-free pet foods, treats, and supplements. Though they already have numerous products such as probiotic supplements and organic dog cookies, their latest product in development is cultured mice for pets.

This product is non-GMO and contains no additives or preservatives. The meat is essentially the exact same as meat from a mouse, but instead of needing to slaughter mice, it is grown in a lab.

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

They started by harmlessly taking a piece of tissue from the ear of a mouse and isolating it to extract the stem cells. This step was important because a stem cell can differentiate into any tissue type. For meat, we are particularly interested in muscle and fat tissue.

In an animal, the blood vessels provide the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that the cells need to grow. However, in the lab, these stem cells use something called a growth medium, which contains these nutrients instead. You can think of the growth medium as a power smoothie for the cells which provides the resources that the bloodstream would in a live animal.

Source

Because Animals has been able to create an animal-free growth media by producing the ingredients recombinantly using micro-organisms like bacteria. This means that once they extract that first cell from the mouse, their meat production process is completely independent of animals! The best part is that they plan on pricing their cultured pet food at the same price as premium pet foods.

Advantages of Cultured Pet Food

  • Free from biological and chemical contaminants. Multiple times a year, the FDA recalls pet food due to bacterial/chemical contamination of the food. However cultured pet food is grown in a clean, sterile environment where contaminants like fecal matter never have the chance to come in contact with cultured meat.
  • No harmful chemicals are used in cultured pet food. Traditional pet food can sometimes contain traces of euthanizing agents — these are lethal chemicals used to put down animals. In cultured pet food, none of these chemicals are used and the production process is rigorously monitored.
  • Nonexistent or significantly reduced antibiotic usage. Agriculture accounts for approximately 82% of all antibiotic use in Canada — largely the result of the cramped and dirty conditions present in industrial farming. This is a problem because this practice can cause the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These bacteria are a serious public health issue because people and animals alike can be infected with bacteria that are immune to even our strongest antibiotics.
  • Much lower environmental impact. Animals are extremely inefficient at producing meat (beef is 3% efficient). They lose a lot of energy in body heat and invest many resources in producing things like hair, hooves, and lungs. That’s not to count the environmental impacts of farming itself. Cellular agriculture can greatly reduce the deforestation, chemical runoffs, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the animal agriculture industry.

Should You Buy Cultured Pet Food?

Though cultured pet food is still currently in the research and development phase, companies plan to make it widely available in a couple of years — once they reach scaled industrial production. When it finally does, cultured pet food could present a healthier and more environmentally sound source of food for your pets.

One that is friendlier not only for their metabolism but for animals everywhere — whether they be your pets or on a farm.

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

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