What Is Kelp?
Kelp is a large brown algae type of seaweed that grows in oceans all across the world. If you want to picture Kelp, think of the large seaweed “forests” you may have seen in certain films or documentaries.
While its not common in most cultures, Kelp has been harvested from the oceans for generations for various uses. However, most of the Kelp that is harvested today comes from countries like China.
One of the primary uses of Kelp was industrial as kelp ash could be used to produce products like Soap and Glass, and it was heavily utilized for this purpose in the 1800s.
However, Kelp can also be used in foods as a thickening agent and is sometimes found in human foods such as Ice Cream, Jelly, Salad Dressing, and Toothpaste.
However, in the last decade or two, select pet food brands have chosen to include small quantities of Kelp in their recipes.
Why Is Kelp In Pet Food?
While there are many confusing and misunderstood ingredients in pet food, Kelp is actually surprisingly uncommon, and the vast majority of pet food recipes will not contain it.
However, for those that do, there are two main purposes, the first of which is as a binding agent or thickener.
Kelp can be processed into a product known as Alginate, which can then be mixed with foods to help them stabilize and form a consistent texture and appearance.
While this may seem like a strange requirement, is it important for large-scale pet food production, and without thickening agents or stabilizers, the ingredients of the food may separate or form an inconsistent texture.
However, while Kelp can do this task, it is not a common choice, and most brands tend to stick to alternatives like Carrageenan, Guar Gum, Agar-Agar, Xanthan Gum, or starches like Potato Starch & Tapioca Starch.
The second purpose of Kelp in pet food recipes is as a minor ingredient to provide nutrition, especially beneficial vitamins, and minerals.
Firstly, Kelp is actually 25% protein which means that a small portion can boost the overall protein proportion of a recipe, even if it is plant-based.
It also contains several minerals such as iodine which is important for thyroid function and Iron which is important for blood and circulation.
Other potential benefits from Kelp include helping to reduce symptoms from skin allergies such as itching and inflammation and high fiber content to aid digestion and regulate stools.
Is Kelp Bad For Pets?
While we have to give mixed answers to this question for many ingredients that we discuss on this site, we are happy to say that Kelp is almost certainly not bad for pets.
There is a study from 2017, which looked into the use of Alginate in animal feeds and pet foods, and it showed that it was safe for cats, dogs, and other animals.
The only negative conclusion was that it could be a minor irritant to the eyes, but we hope that most pets are not running their eyes into their food.
If even if this study missed certain factors, we think that Kelp is extremely unlikely to be harmful, especially given the small or tiny quantities of Kelp that is found in commercial pet food recipes.
However, if, for some reason, you were to feed your pets high volumes of Kelp outside of a traditional pet food diet, then they may experience some issues.
The quantity of fiber in Kelp could cause digestional issues, and sustained feeding of high volumes of Kelp could cause other health problems.
However, Kelp by itself is not particularly appetizing, so it’s unlikely that a dog or cat would want to eat large quantities of it.
Pet Foods Brands That Use Kelp
As we mentioned earlier, there aren’t many pet food brands that utilize Kelp, but there are some notable examples.
The best example of a pet food brand that uses Kelp is Ziwi Peak which is an ultra-premium pet food brand based in New Zealand.
Ziwi Peak specializes in air-dried pet food and also produces a range of wet/canned foods. Ziwi Peak adds small quantities of Kelp to their recipes for its health benefits and nutrition rather than its binding properties.
You can see an example of the ingredient list of a Ziwi Peak air-dried Lamb recipe where Kelp features as a minor ingredient.
You can learn more from Ziwi Peak about why they use Kelp and its various benefits in their dedicated article on Kelp.
Sadly the portion size in the recipes from these brands is far smaller, and pets are less likely to get any noticeable benefit.