EP8 : Talking with PetGood, Sweden's insect-based pet food.

In this episode, we continue the conversation about insects...and specifically, the black soldier fly. We shine the spotlight on petgood,  a Swedish company that makes insect-based pet food, and launched here in Australia, last year.

Amanda interviews Dr. Nicki Sluczanowski, an Australian vet who's the head vet at petgood, to learn about her journey into insect-based pet nutrition and the company's mission and products.

They dive into the nutritional and sustainability advantages of using Black Soldier Fly Larvae (BSFL) in pet diets, debunk myths around raw and meat-based diets, and discuss ongoing research on the beneficial properties of BSFL. 

Dr Anna also answers a question about chocolate for dogs - it is Easter, after all! She also unveils one of the simplest food hacks you'll find - honey - and shares why it's good nutritionally. 

Listen on Apple here. 

Here are the headlines and one clip (we had to turn off the camera for bandwidth!):

  • Dr. Nicky, the head vet of PetGood, shares her journey from as an Australian veterinarian joining a startup focused on insect-based pet food.
  • The nutritional profile of BSFL, its high digestibility, well-balanced amino acid profile, and impressive performance as a protein source for pets.
  • Dr. Nicky shares insights from a research paper she co-authored on the benefits of black soldier fly fat in pet diets.  
  • The positive impact of insect-based diets on pets with dietary sensitivities, showcasing how novel protein sources like BSFL can benefit animals with food intolerances or allergies.
  • PetGood's research collaboration with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, focusing on the health parameters and digestibility of BSFL in pet diets. 
  • The Food Hack where Dr. Anna shares a simple tip of feeding dogs a teaspoon of honey daily for potential health benefits.


Have a listen to the show, but if you’re more of a reader, here's the transcript:

[00:00:00] intro: This is the Pet Nutrition Show with Amanda and Dr. Anna.

[00:00:06] ANNA: Welcome to the Pet Nutrition Show. I'm Dr. Anna Sutton and with my co host Amanda Falconer, we're talking nutrition, sustainable pet food and food hacks you can do at home. Now, we've recently started a big series about insects and the role they have in pet food.

[00:00:22] ANNA: In particular, why you use them and who's using them and for what. And this week, Amanda talks with a head vet of a Swedish company, PetGood, who've just launched their first products here last year. But first, time for Q& A.

[00:00:36] intro: Pet Q& A, where we answer what you're wondering about food, moods and poos.

[00:00:43] AMANDA: This week's Q& A is actually inspired by the fact that it's Easter coming up. I certainly love an Easter egg, should our dogs have them too.

[00:00:52] ANNA: Oh, Amanda, that's a good one. My dogs would love to have Easter eggs, and they try very hard to get [00:01:00] them. However, Easter eggs and dogs, and chocolate and dogs in general, by the way, do not mix.

[00:01:06] ANNA: Chocolate contains oxalates, and dogs, unfortunately, can't break oxalates down, so they're toxic to dogs. And so that means when they ingest a truckload of chocolate, it usually means a trip to the vet, especially if it's the dark chocolate kind, which is highest in oxalates. Luckily for my dogs, the Easter eggs they've managed to scarper in the past have typically been the very cheap kind of chocolate with not a lot of chocolate in them.

[00:01:33] ANNA: Thank goodness.

[00:01:33] AMANDA: Good to know. If you're leaving any lying around, make sure they're the cheap ones.

[00:01:38] ANNA: Absolutely best still, don't leave any lying around whatsoever.

[00:01:41] AMANDA: Today, Australia meets Sweden with the recent launch here of Petgood, the Swedish company that's all about insect based pet food. We're talking with head vet, Dr.

[00:01:51] AMANDA: Nicky Sluczanowski. Dr. Nicky, welcome.

[00:01:55] NICKY: Thank you so much for having me here today.

[00:01:57] AMANDA: Pleasure. Now, before we learn more about [00:02:00] Petgood, let's learn a little bit more about you. So how did an Australian vet end up working for a Swedish pet food company?

[00:02:06] NICKY: Yes, I am an Australian veterinarian and I've been practicing here in small animal private practice and emergency medicine for the last 16 years or so, and I am still working clinically.

[00:02:16] NICKY: But if we go back to the end of about 2019, I saw on a LinkedIn post from one of my good friends who happens to be a Swedish gentleman. And he is a web platform designer by trade that he was involved in what was then a startup of a pet food company selling insect based pet food. And I was absolutely intrigued because at that time I hadn't really heard a lot about this whole area of pet nutrition.

[00:02:43] NICKY: And I wanted to know more. So he filled me in on what he could and said, look, yeah. This seems like an absolutely fantastic protein source from a nutritional point of view, ticks all of the sustainability boxes. It's really picking up in Europe. I'd love to know your opinion. So I went away, [00:03:00] had a look at the literature myself, saw via my own internet research what was happening in Europe in this in this insect based feed arena.

[00:03:08] NICKY: And I was just blown away. I was fascinated. I had a meeting with the CEO of Petgood at that point. And here I am. I've been with the company since 2020.

[00:03:18] AMANDA: And in what seems to be a bit of a theme with our podcast guests, the founder, Penilla Vestergren, was previously an investment banker. So she went from banking to pet food revolutionist.

[00:03:30] AMANDA: Why did she do that? Do you think?

[00:03:32] NICKY: The Petgood Genesis story really is when Penilla, our CEO. Got her first fur baby, a beautiful Labrador called Siri. And this pup was having a whole host of troubles with its gastrointestinal system. And Pranila and her vet went through right on the merry go round of trying to work out what was going on.

[00:03:51] NICKY: It was put down to dietary sensitivities, so then it was a question of which diet is going to suit this pup. this particular pup so that she could be [00:04:00] healthy and happy. And in this process Penelope did learn three things. Firstly, in her quest to find out more about pet food ingredients, she was a little bit concerned about what seemed to be a lack of transparency with some of the big pet food players.

[00:04:15] NICKY: Namely, she had some troubles getting further information about particular ingredients, ingredient definitions, ingredient sourcing, etc. One of the second things she learned is that cats and dogs globally are actually responsible for 25 percent of the traditional meat produced consumption. And this did concern her from, not only from an environmental sustainability point of view, knowing what she knew about traditional meat production and the impacts on our environment, but also from a global food security point of view, this also concerned her as well.

[00:04:50] NICKY: And then thirdly, she learned all about the nutritional and sustainability benefits of insect based pet food because this was this did end up being the diet, it was an [00:05:00] insect based product that Pernilla and her veterinarian settled on for Siri and that Siri responded to, to so well. So Pernilla saw firsthand how well insect based pet food worked for her.

[00:05:10] NICKY: For her problem, fur child and Petgood was born.

[00:05:13] AMANDA: Petgood launched insect based dental sticks in Australia late last year. And so we'll talk about those in a minute, but in Sweden, you sell a broader range of insect based pet food and you use black soldier fly larvae in your formulations, which we'll just call BSFL for short, everybody.

[00:05:30] AMANDA: So how does BSFL stack up nutritionally against other conventional meat based proteins?

[00:05:37] NICKY: Yeah, that's a great question. And absolutely in terms of our European product range, we do have a complete range across the cat and dog products. So we have in terms of our complete and balanced diets, adult cat and adult dog plus kitten and puppy.

[00:05:55] NICKY: formulas. We also have a complete and balanced adult dog [00:06:00] wet food. So this was in response to a lot of market inquiry and demand. And this is a really exciting product actually, because it is using the BSFL puree, which is the whole insect pureed into a wet pet food as opposed to the BSFL protein, which is in our.

[00:06:20] NICKY: dry extruded kibble products. Then we have a range of treats and dental sticks as well for both cat and dog. And you are correct. We only use Black Soldier Fly larvae or BSFL protein. It is the only animal ingredient in our products. So we don't include animal fats. We don't have animal based palatants or anything like that.

[00:06:42] NICKY: Petgoods are extremely confident and comfortable in using BSFL from a nutritional point of view for all of our product range. And this is great. really comes down to it being a high performance protein. There is a very well balanced amino acid profile for BSFL [00:07:00] protein and it has been demonstrated to have really impressive high digestibility factors as well, or numbers as well.

[00:07:06] NICKY: So what this means is that BSFL Protein has the components that the target species require, the amino acids, and it is also in a form that the target species can digest and utilize for their body functions.

[00:07:21] AMANDA: And so you've got this and you've touched on it there, you've got this table on your website comparing insect, meat based and plant based protein across things like protein quality and amino acids.

[00:07:31] AMANDA: And in fact, you're even wearing a t shirt, I think, that I saw at the beginning like meat. But better, I think that's what it says. So is BSFL in some respects better than say a meat based protein? And if so, why?

[00:07:45] NICKY: That's a nice little slogan that we've come up with as part of our marketing, but we truly believe, and it is very well demonstrated that insects is like meat, but better.

[00:07:54] NICKY: Firstly, I think the table that you're referring to does look at various. [00:08:00] aspects of proteins from both a nutritional point of view, but also a sustainability point of view as well. And we do compare insect protein to traditional or conventional protein species to plant proteins as well. In terms of sustainability benefits, it is very well demonstrated and documented that insects primary or commercial.

[00:08:21] NICKY: primary production of insects is a clear sustainability winner here. In regards to the water requirements and the sheer space requirements for commercial insect production, this is far fewer space and water inputs required when compared to some of the traditional protein species and of course primary crop production as well.

[00:08:43] NICKY: In terms of feed inputs for commercial insects, and here I'm referring specifically to Black Soldier Fly Again, we see an incredible resource efficiency of this species that really is not able to be replicated in traditional protein species. [00:09:00] BSFL or Black Soldier Fly lava are what we call the.

[00:09:04] NICKY: Upcyclers of the natural world. So they are fed in terms of our European insects production partners. They are fed on essentially by products plant based organic. byproducts from the human food chain. So these are, this is pre consumer plant based waste that would otherwise be going to landfill or at best, maybe compost.

[00:09:28] NICKY: But the black soldier fly larvae, this is a very natural feed source for them. And so they are able to upcycle this low grade, low value, plant by product into high performance ingredients of protein and fat. And I think that is just such a, such an incredible innovation that we've able to harness this natural ability of this species into a commercial setting.

[00:09:54] NICKY: I agree with you. Oh, it's just, it blows my mind. And actually when when I had the pleasure of one of my work trips [00:10:00] to Europe and had the pleasure of a tour of our insect production partner facility, and our insect partner in Europe is ProTix based in the Netherlands. And they are located in essentially the food bowl of the Netherlands.

[00:10:12] NICKY: They are in very close proximity. And I'm talking like across a car park to some major fruit and vegetable processing plants, such as a potato. processing plant that is making French fries for Burger King and McDonald's, etc. And so a component of the feed substrate for the black soldier fly larvae that go into the PetGood diets is actually potato offcuts and peelings, etc.

[00:10:37] NICKY: from this potato processing plant that is across the road. So just amazing resource efficiency demonstrated there.

[00:10:44] AMANDA: Absolutely. And I'm imagining though too, this is one of the ways in which you achieve nutritional consistency at the output end as well.

[00:10:54] NICKY: Absolutely. Yeah. And this is really important again, and I've already touched on some of the nutritional [00:11:00] aspects, but this is a high quality protein ingredient that is able to be manufactured from, black soldier fly larvae.

[00:11:07] NICKY: And we do consider it an animal protein. It has high digestibility and a really well balanced amino acid profile for companion animal species. That traceability as well, as you say, is really important. All of our insect protein in our European products comes from the one commercial insect farm.

[00:11:26] NICKY: And yes, that consistency of feed substrate allows there to be a really strong consistency of. The insect ingredient output, which in turn has that flow on effect of being a very consistent end product for the PetGoods product range as well.

[00:11:41] AMANDA: What do you say as a vet to the people that say, Oh, gee, I need to raw feed my dog because that's a biologically appropriate diet.

[00:11:50] AMANDA: And I'm just shocked that you would even consider, not feeding them meat and feeding them an insect protein based diet.

[00:11:55] NICKY: Yeah, look, the raw feed movement is strong and I've had lots of discussions [00:12:00] with raw feeders in terms of the client vet kind of setting. I think I really, in, in terms of the overall argument of, insect versus traditional protein, it really comes down to A comparison of the protein forms and when you can demonstrate the well balanced amino acid profile of black soldier fly protein, when you can demonstrate the digestibility percentages that have been shown in research publications, it isn't very hard then to demonstrate to people that this is a suitable alternative.

[00:12:30] NICKY: to traditional protein species.

[00:12:33] AMANDA: You've also co authored a research paper that looked particularly at black soldier fly fat in both dog and cat diet. So what

[00:12:41] NICKY: did you find there? I did. And this was a literature review in collaboration with the Technical University of Munich. What we really did was assess all the available literature that was looking at the lipids as a feed inclusion for We did identify whether there were three main areas of [00:13:00] potential functional benefits of the black soldier fly.

[00:13:04] NICKY: fat for companion animal species. And when talking about BSFL fat, it's important to, to define one of the major components of the fatty acid profile of black soldier fly fat. And that is a compound called lauric acid. And lauric acid is what's called a medium chain triglyceride. And this just refers to the number of carbons in the chain lauric acid.

[00:13:27] NICKY: Has really well demonstrated potent antimicrobial properties, and this has been demonstrated both in an in vitro laboratory type setting and also in an in vivo or live animal type setting as well. And there's particularly, it seems to be particularly high efficacy against the gram-positive bacteria, so the staphylococcus, STRs, et cetera.

[00:13:46] NICKY: The second finding that we identified was the relationship between medium chain triglycerides and brain health. There's been quite a little bit, quite a bit of research into this area in terms of human health. So looking at medium [00:14:00] chain triglycerides as a dietary supplement to help human patients that have various neurological conditions such as epilepsy and met quite a wide range of neurological conditions actually.

[00:14:12] NICKY: And it is an ability of the brain to actually use one of the breakdown products of these medium chain triglycerides, which is ketones, and the brain's ability to use these as an energy source, which is why there is this particular connection. There's also been a number of studies that have looked at the dietary supplementation of medium chain triglycerides in dogs.

[00:14:35] NICKY: An interesting study. Looked at canine epilepsy patients, giving these patients a supplement of medium chain triglycerides and showed that there was some really positive benefits in terms of reduction of seizure frequency, reduction of seizure length, etc. for the group that was given the medium chain triglyceride supplement.

[00:14:55] NICKY: There was also a very interesting study that looked at the cognitive abilities of [00:15:00] senior dogs and comparing a control group to a group that had a medium chain triglyceride supplement and again, the test group with this supplementation performed far better in terms of various cognitive ability tests to the control group, so showing that there could be some really promising applications of BSFL lipids for our senior dogs and their cognitive abilities.

[00:15:24] NICKY: The last insight that the study deduced was there could also be some antioxidant benefits of using black soldier fly fat in companion animal feeds. Again, the lauric acid has been demonstrated to help improve intestinal immunity for monogastric animals and a lot of this work has been done in production animals, so pig and poultry, that it's been demonstrated that these types of triglycerides can positively modulate both intestinal morphology as well as the barrier function of the intestine.

[00:15:53] NICKY: So this antioxidant activity that we know is possible, it could be a really exciting area of [00:16:00] application for pet feed formulations in the future.

[00:16:03] AMANDA: And coming back, to the furry prompt for the business in the first place, Siri. Did her issues clear up as a result of going on to this insect or this black soldier fly based food?

[00:16:17] NICKY: Yeah, that's right. And look, I think she had a host of issues, it was her gastrointestinal function was the big one. I think she was having a lot of trouble with her digestion. So yes, when Siri was on her BSFL base pet pet food, she certainly had a resolution of those.

[00:16:32] NICKY: Gastrointestinal symptoms, this is a really interesting aspect again of this protein source being a novel protein source. When we talk about novel protein sources for pets, and I think a lot of pet parents listening will be familiar with this type of marketing and labelling, the single protein diets, et cetera.

[00:16:50] NICKY: And when we use the word novel, it really is meaning new to that particular individual. So for novel protein. [00:17:00] diets. These diets can be very useful for pets that have either suspected or diagnosed food intolerances. or dietary sensitivities or true feed allergies. And this is quite a large range of potential clinical diagnoses that we do see in veterinary practice.

[00:17:21] NICKY: We do certainly know that some of the biggest Food allergy culprits can be chicken, beef and wheat in companion animals. And and I'm sure a lot of your listeners are familiar with either friends or family's pets that have a suspected sensitivity to potentially one of these ingredients. So novel protein diets can be really useful for these animals because it is not containing some of those more commonly used traditional protein species ingredients certainly with our.

[00:17:52] NICKY: customer base in Europe. We've had many reports over the years from both customers, but also from [00:18:00] veterinarians of animals whose whose clinical symptoms of either gastrointestinal disturbances or dermatological disturbances. These are the two areas where we often see the clinical signs of feed allergies have improved once they have gotten their pet onto our insect based products.

[00:18:17] NICKY: Yeah, certainly these products are formulated for all pets healthy pets but can be in particular useful for these pets with dietary sensitivities to traditional protein ingredients.

[00:18:29] AMANDA: And speaking of further research, you lead research and product development at PetGood, but I know that you're doing a research project with Wagan Inin University, if I've said that correctly.

[00:18:40] AMANDA: Are you able to share any more about that particular research project?

[00:18:43] NICKY: Yes. Yeah. So we have we have conducted a collaborative study with Wageningen University and they're based in the Netherlands. And that's been a very exciting project because certainly their animal nutrition group is a global leader in both agricultural or production animal and also companion animal [00:19:00] nutrition as well.

[00:19:01] NICKY: The manuscript for that study is actually currently under development. under peer review with a leading European journal, which is really exciting, but does mean that I'm a little bit a little bit restricted in what I can reveal at this point. We are fingers crossed, we are hoping for publication Q3, Q4 this year.

[00:19:19] NICKY: And once that is published we will be. Certainly, very happy to share that transparently far and wide and with your listeners as well. What I am able to say at this point, that was a feeding study using BSFL as an inclusion ingredient in a complete and balanced diet. And we looked at factors such as general health parameters, digestibility and fecal microbiota as well.

[00:19:42] AMANDA: Oh, very exciting.

[00:19:43] NICKY: Absolutely.

[00:19:44] AMANDA: Back to Australia, you started with dental sticks here. What was the gap that you saw? Why did you choose those?

[00:19:50] NICKY: I think pet parents are becoming increasingly well educated and increasingly involved in their pet's nutritional inputs, and rightly and I tell you [00:20:00] what, it makes my job as a veterinarian easier a lot of the time, so I think that's wonderful.

[00:20:04] NICKY: But what that can also mean is the conversion from a complete and balanced diet of one brand to another. Can be a big step for a lot of pet parents. And then when you're asking them to convert, not only from a label, they know that to a product that's using a really quite a novel in all senses of the word protein source.

[00:20:23] NICKY: And that can also be quite a big step as well. So in terms of the strategy for Australia we decided to launch with a, what's called a complimentary. product. So we thought this would be a really nice way for Australian pet parents to dip their toe into the water, so to speak, of the world of insect based pet nutrition without having to make that full commitment of a changeover to a diet, the purchasing of large bags of kibble, et cetera.

[00:20:48] NICKY: A really other interesting point as well that's come up, and this has come up once we started retailing the product, there are a lot of pets out there with either suspected or known dietary sensitivities to some of the major [00:21:00] traditional protein species.

[00:21:04] ANNA: It's always super interesting to hear what veterinary nutritionists have to say, especially about novel ingredients. Now it's time for the Food Hack. It's time for Home Food Hacks with Dr Anna. Now, I've got to say, I stole this food hack from Instagram and it was a simple one. It was just give your dog a teaspoon of honey every day and five good things will happen.

[00:21:26] ANNA: It'll help with allergies, help with better digestion, help itching, help stinky ears and help with rubbing and scratching. Now, look, I'm not sure really if honey can do all of those things, but certainly there is some data to support that the properties of honey do have antimicrobial, anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

[00:21:48] ANNA: So you know what? They're not going to do any harm and they may well support with allergies in some context.

[00:21:54] AMANDA: That's the simplest thing you could do this week.

[00:21:57] ANNA: That's right, Amanda. Pull out the honey jar. Worst [00:22:00] case scenario, the dogs will love it.

[00:22:02] AMANDA: Thank you very much for listening to the Pet Nutrition Show.

[00:22:06] AMANDA: As always, we would love to hear from you and hear your questions. So please Follow us on Facebook or Instagram or YouTube and ask us a question there. See you next time.

[00:22:18] intro: The Pet Nutrition Show is proudly presented by Planet A Pet Food, bringing dogs a flexitarian diet that's good for them and the planet.

Join us in future episodes of the Pet Nutrition Show as we dig deeper into topics like the ideal protein content for pets, the importance of gut health, and the role of pet food in waste management. Let's create a sustainable and healthy future for our pets and the environment.

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