When it comes to pet reptiles, mealworms are one of the most popular feeds. Considering the nutritious profile of mealworms, it is not uncommon for dog owners to wonder whether mealworms are suited for dogs. Are they safe and healthy or harmful and risky?
So, can dogs eat mealworms? Yes, as long as your pup can digest mealworms, they are safe to feed. In fact, when used adequately, mealworms can be a beneficial addition to a complete and nutritionally balanced canine diet.
In this article, we will talk about mealworms for dogs – the benefits, the risks, and the different mealworm types. We will also answer some popular topic-related questions and discuss the mealworm’s nutritional profile.
MEALWORMS – TYPES AND NUTRITIONAL VALUES
Before discussing the suitability of mealworms for dogs, we should say a word or two about this popular insect.
The mealworm (Tenebrio Molitor) is a darkling beetle species and belongs to the family of holometabolic insects. Originally, mealworms were considered a pest because their larval stage feeds on grains.
Mealworms are cheap and very easy to breed. They are also highly nutritious, and because of these features, today, mealworms are popularly used as feeder insects for various pet animals.
Basically, there are three different types of mealworms, and each type has a different nutritional profile. To be more precise, each type corresponds to a different developmental stage. Here are the mealworm stages:
- Regular mealworms
- Mealworm beetles.
Stage number 1: REGULAR MEALWORMS
The regular mealworm is the most commonly found type on the market and consequently the most popular one. Regular mealworms are exceptionally small – only 2 inches long but have a very robust chitin layer which makes them hard to digest. These mealworms are very rich in fats and have low protein content.
The nutritional profile of regular mealworms
To get a better understanding of the nutritional attributes of mealworms, let’s review the different nutrients and their content:
- Protein: 27%
- Fat: 72%
- Cholesterol: 150 mg
- Moisture content: 44%
- Ash: 57%
- Calcium: 133 ppm
- Phosphorus: 345 ppm
Stage number 2: SUPERWORMS
Superworms, just like the name suggests, are much bigger than regular mealworms. They are created by adding special hormones that support their growth to one point and then stunt their development, trapping them in the current stage and preventing progression into the next stage – the mealworm beetle. Because of their size, superworms are even higher in fat but also in proteins than regular mealworms.
Stage number 3: MEALWORM BEETLES
The beetle is the final developmental stage of the mealworm. From a nutritional standpoint, mealworm beetles are the best option – they are low in fats and exceptionally rich in proteins. However, from a digestion point, they are the worst option because instead of a thin chitin layer, they have a thicker one and are very hard to digest.
CAN DOGS EAT MEALWORMS?
Yes, dogs can eat mealworms. In fact, dogs eat an array of different bugs on a daily basis. Dogs are naturally curious, experience the world through their mouths, and have low food standards.
However, not all bugs dogs eat are of the same safety level and quality standards. The good news is that mealworms are both safe and beneficial. Unlike certain insects, mealworms are neither toxic nor harmful to dogs.
DO DOGS LIKE MEALWORMS?
As mentioned, dogs do not have delicate taste buds and are willing to eat just about anything. And when it comes to mealworms, they are not that bad tasting. Mealworms have a pleasant and mild umami flavor with a soft, nutty aftertaste.
However, every dog is different and has different food preferences. Therefore, although most dogs like the mealworms taste, some dogs may find it unattractive.
WHAT HAPPENS IF MY DOG EATS MEALWORMS?
If you caught your dog feasting on mealworms (in the basement or stole your bearded dragon’s lunch), do not worry – the only thing your pup got is an extra dose of protein and fat.
The truth is dogs eat insects without you knowing, and most insects have poorer nutritional profiles than mealworms. Therefore, you can purposely feed your dog mealworms and expect various benefits associated with the additional protein boost.
CAN DOGS GET SICK FROM EATING MEALWORMS?
Basically, any food has the power to make a dog sick if used in excess amounts or too frequently, and this applies to mealworms too. Mealworms are not directly toxic or harmful for dogs.
However, if consumed excessively, they can cause digestive upsets. This is because the chitin layer can be hard to digest. Such digestive upsets are more likely to occur in dogs that overate on mealworms and dogs that have never consumed this insect before.
There is one more risk related to dogs eating mealworms. Live mealworms have powerful jaws and do not hesitate to use them in defense. Therefore, it is possible for mealworms to bite the dog. The bite is not poisonous, but like any other bite, it is painful or at least uncomfortable.
CAN I GIVE MY DOG DRIED MEALWORMS?
Yes, you can give your dog dried mealworms. The truth is, dried mealworms are a much better option than live mealworms. They have a better nutritional profile (often considered to be nutritional bombs) and cannot attack, thus preventing the risk of painful bites.
Dogs can also eat other mealworms feeding versions such as canned, freeze-dried, and powdered mealworms. However, before giving your dog such commercial options, read the labels carefully and ensure there are no additional ingredients that are harmful to dogs.
CAN DOGS BE ALLERGIC TO MEALWORMS?
Yes, it is possible for dogs to be allergic to mealworms. Allergies develop as a reaction to certain proteins. Considering that mealworms contain proteins, allergic reactions are an option.
The good news is not all dogs are allergic to insect proteins. Plus, food allergies in dogs are not nearly as common as often presented and marketed by hypo-allergenic dog food manufacturers.
ARE SUPERWORMS GOOD FOR DOGS?
Yes, superworms are safe for dogs too. However, whether your dog needs superworms or regular mealworms depends on its individual needs.
Keep in mind that mealworms have different nutrient values than superworms. It is also worth mentioning that superworms are juicier – a factor most dogs find more attractive.
CAN PUPPIES EAT MEALWORMS?
No, puppies should not eat mealworms. Of course, if your pup finds a mealworm and snacks on it, there is no reason to be worried, but feeding mealworms to pups on purpose is not something we recommend.
This is because puppies have extremely sensitive tummies and are very prone to digestive upsets manifesting with explosive diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, gassiness, appetite changes, abdominal pain, and dehydration.
To avoid such issues, it is best to keep mealworms off the menu, at least until the pup is 12 months old and more likely to successfully process and digest unusual food sources.
MEALWORMS IN DOG FOOD
At the moment, there are no commercially available dog foods featuring insects as protein sources. This is because the current AAFCO regulations do not allow such formulas. However, insect-based dog foods are of particular interest and are widely researched, meaning they might be the future of the dog food industry.
In the meanwhile, you can safely feed your dog regular commercial food and occasionally add mealworms to the menu. This is the safest approach while waiting for official approvals and commercial insect-based food formulas.
SUMMING UP: ARE MEALWORMS GOOD FOR DOGS?
All in all, mealworms can be a good addition to the dog’s menu – they are rich in protein and fat and, when used adequately, can be beneficial for the overall health. Mealworms are a cheap nutrient source and can be grown at home.
However, keep in mind that the modern dog is an omnivore and needs various foods combined in a well-balanced diet. This means that although mealworms are safe and healthy, they are not a staple food and should not be the only item in the dog’s food bowl.
Is it normal for dogs to eat bugs?
Yes, dogs are naturally curious creatures and love to experience the world through their mouths. In most cases, eating bugs is harmless. However, that does not mean you should encourage the behavior.
Are all insects good for dogs?
No, definitely not. Just because mealworms are safe, it does not mean that dogs should eat different kinds of bugs. In fact, certain insects can be particularly dangerous to dogs. The group of dangerous insects includes fireflies, crickets, Asian lady beetles, stink bugs, ants, love bugs, boxelder bugs, Monarch caterpillars, cockroaches, venomous spiders, wasps, and bees.
Can I feed my dog wild-caught mealworms?
Generally speaking, feeding your dog anything wild-caught is not a good idea, and mealworms are no exception. Mealworms are readily available and incredibly cheap, meaning there is no need to risk with wild-caught options.
Can dogs eat Earthworms?
No, dogs should not be allowed to eat Earthworms. This is because Earthworms eat dirt, and more often than not, the dirt can be contaminated with bacteria and parasites. These pathogens can cause harm to the dog in case of ingesting an infected Earthworm.