Novel and green human-grade pet food formulation landscape

“Humanization of pets” has a long history as pet owners have been considering their cats and dogs as “family members” for so long. However, “humanization of pet food” is a relatively younger phenomenon. Following this trend, use of human-grade ingredients in pet food formulations is picking up steam, and human health trends are finding their ways to pet food and supplements.

Behnaz Shakersain, PhD
Scientific Affairs Manager
AstaReal Sweden

According to the latest European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) report, today, around half of the households (~90 million) in EU own a pet. It is estimated that around 93 million dogs and 114 million cats have been owned by Europeans in 2021(1). Pet ownership, especially of dogs and cats, became even more popular during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will keep raising.

In animal nutrition industry, pet food has gained a more complex nature and is evolving much faster than other sectors like livestock feed.

Responsible pet owners are paying a closer attention to the link between pet health, nutrition, and sustainability and environmental issues. While positive aspects of interactions with companion animals are being underlined extensively, the impact that pets’ nutritional needs and feeding practices have on the planet’s health should not be overlooked.

Let’s have a closer look to the pet food market evolution:
A wide range of ingredients are being used in cat and dog foods. The most common ones are whole grains, followed by chicken, red meat and bone meal(2).

Today, more and more pet owners are becoming aware of the impact of the animal-based pet food products on environment and their negative contribution to climate change. So, market demand for plant-based and environmental-friendly formulas is growing tremendously.

Another shift in trend in pet food formulations is about stability enhancement.

To increase the shelf-life of pet food products, the use of antioxidants in pet food formulations has become popular. The replacement of traditional synthetic antioxidants with natural alternatives became pressing, mainly due to the health concerns related to the use of synthetic ingredients. Market demands for natural antioxidants have been growing continually, driven by not only the need to prolong the shelf-life of the products, but also because the additional health-promoting benefits of these compounds for pets being further revealed.

Today, more than ever, the informed and well-educated pet parents would like to secure ample and nutritious food with sustainable origins for their animal companions. A growing proportion of pet owners are seeking after novel products and scientifically-backed premium formulas that while are green, sustainable, and clean-labelled, address specific health concerns including inflammation and immune function, dental care, eye and vision acuity, mental and cognitive function, musculoskeletal health, and in general support a healthier pet aging.

Considering the market evolution, one would assume that the time is not far away when the current human-specific nutrition trends (e.g. personalized diets and individually customized food formulas) will dominate the pet food market.

It is worth reminding that not all plant-based are sustainable, and that sustainability is not only about low climate impact. As the global animal health association (Health for Animals) states, humans’ future is clearly intertwined with animals and the environment. All three share “One Health”. What affects one, will affect the others. This is why improving the health of animals can strengthen efforts to achieve the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030(3).

Having such commitment in mind, increasing number of pet owners are providing their companion animals with daily dose of dietary supplements to assure sufficient intakes of nutrients that otherwise are not easily obtained through ordinary diets.

Carotenoids are among the natural ingredients that are attracting growing attention in pet food segment. They are yellow, orange, and red organic pigments with antioxidant properties that are produced by plants and algae, as well as several bacteria, and fungi. Among them, astaxanthin is the pigment that causes the bright orange-to-red color in the shells of shrimp and crab, and in the muscles of salmon and trout(4). In nature, unicellular microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis produces the highest concentrations of astaxanthin. H. pluvialis is found in marine ecosystems, from arctic marine environments to common freshwater rock pools around the world.

Natural astaxanthin is one of the strongest antioxidants known to science. This phytonutrient with a wide array of proven health benefits for both humans and animals offers huge potential for meeting the pet food market needs for novel and sustainable ingredients.

The reasons for microalgae and its astaxanthin being considered as sustainable food and ingredient source are discussed in details in a previous article(5).

Innovations in pet food and supplement manufacturing encompass a shift towards functional formulations based on novel ingredient sources like algae as potential sustainable solutions to better protect companion pets’ health and well-being.

One challenge in incorporating various natural bioactive compounds into food and supplement formulas is that many of these compounds are susceptible to degradation and may interact with other components in the formula, resulting in loss of the bioactivity of the ingredient and reduction of the quality of the final product(6). For similar reasons, ingredients might have limited applications as they cannot stand production processes like extrusion or pelleting.

Therefore, innovative ingredient formats are needed to overcome the challenge and protect the stability of the ingredients and extend their application profile.

Below, we will introduce the recently launched astaxanthin format for pet food by AstaReal that resolves the problem to a great extent and helps pet food manufacturers to take their products to the next level and stand out in the market.

In nature, astaxanthin is known to support animals against harsh environmental conditions. Scientific studies on astaxanthin’s health benefits in animals have proven its potential in strengthening immune defense, eye health, mobility, reproduction and much more.

For instance, natural astaxanthin supplementation in both dogs and cats could enhance immune defense and improve immune response(7,8). In dogs, astaxanthin supplementation has shown a significant effect on muscle recovery(9). Moreover, in another study on dogs suffering from an inflammatory eye condition, a diet containing astaxanthin for 60 days could significantly increase the eye’s tear production and to clinically ameliorate the inflammation status in the eyes in these dogs that were initially poorly responsive or unresponsive to immune-suppressive therapy(10).

Aging pet population represents a missed opportunity.

With veterinary care advancements, and improvement of families’ socioeconomic status alongside the modern lifestyle trends, higher number of pets are accompanying humans till older ages. Natural astaxanthin opens up huge opportunity to address the nutritional needs of the ever-growing aging pet population.

AstaReal as the global pioneer and expert in microalgae cultivation, natural astaxanthin production, R&D and clinical science is an authority in both animal and human food supplements. It is the only brand of natural astaxanthin backed by over 70 clinical studies.

Originated from the rock pools in Stockholm (Sweden) archipelago, AstaReal’s microalgae are being cultivated in closed indoor photobioreactors under fully controlled conditions. This cultivation system assures the highest purity and quality of the final products.

AstaReal AB (Sweden) offers its well-studied natural astaxanthin products for animal nutrition in different formats including NOVASTA® biomass and NOVASTA® EB15. These astaxanthin-rich natural microalgal products are intended for mixing into animal feed/food to provide additional health and well-being support.

NOVASTA® biomass is the crushed and spray-dried aplanospores of the green microalga Haematococcus pluvialis, and comes with different astaxanthin concentrations, from 4.5% to >5% w/w, to meet consumers’ varied needs.

AstaReal’s newly released product NOVASTA® EB15, is encapsulated algal meal (32%) in fully hydrogenated rapeseed oil (66%) with at least 1.5% natural astaxanthin. This new solution boosts the astaxanthin resilience against food processing effects and provides further opportunities and processing flexibility for incorporation of natural astaxanthin into rather “open” formulations (such as pellets, meal mixes and soft chew treats) that are exposed to air at ambient temperature with less concern about the product stability and quality.

NOVASTA® EB15 contains 83% fat, while NOVASTA® biomass contains 42% fat. These products are soluble in fat, and the choice of astaxanthin source is dependent on the final product.

AstaReal NOVASTA® are suitable for use in feed/food products for pets, livestock, competitive animals like racehorses, and in aquaculture.

Pet parents’ ongoing pursuit of health-promoting and highly efficacious food products with high quality ingredients is now focusing on new aspects of novelty, sustainability and vegan-friendly. Be up for the commitment to a better pet care.

Let’s, together with our companion animals, live a life in balance with nature and environment!

1. European Pet Food Industry Federation (FEDIAF) Annual Report 2022- Facts & Figures 2021. Available from:
2. Pet Food Production and Ingredient Analysis [Internet]. 2020 Mar. Available from:
3. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – The Value of Healthier Animals [Internet]. HealthforAnimals (global animal health association); Available from:
4. Nishida Y, Nawaz A, Hecht K, Tobe K. Astaxanthin as a Novel Mitochondrial Regulator: A New Aspect of Carotenoids, beyond Antioxidants. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 27;14(1):107.
5. Shakersain, Behnaz. The promising future of animal nutrition in hands of microalgae! Feed & Additive [Internet]. 2022 May 10; Available from:
6. Augustin MA, Sanguansri L. Challenges and Solutions to Incorporation of Nutraceuticals in Foods. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2015 Apr 10;6(1):463–77.
7. Chew BP, Mathison BD, Hayek MG, Massimino S, Reinhart GA, Park JS. Dietary astaxanthin enhances immune response in dogs. Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2011 Apr 15;140(3–4):199–206.
8. Park JS, Mathison BD, Hayek MG, Massimino S, Reinhart GA, Chew BP. Astaxanthin stimulates cell-mediated and humoral immune responses in cats. Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2011 Dec 15;144(3–4):455–61.
9. Zanghi BM, Middleton RP, Reynolds AJ. Effects of postexercise feeding of a supplemental carbohydrate and protein bar with or without astaxanthin from Haematococcus pluvialis to exercise-conditioned dogs. Am J Vet Res. 2015 Apr;76(4):338–50.
10. Destefanis S, Giretto D, Muscolo MC, Di Cerbo A, Guidetti G, Canello S, et al. Clinical evaluation of a nutraceutical diet as an adjuvant to pharmacological treatment in dogs affected by Keratoconjunctivitis sicca. BMC Vet Res. 2016 Sep 22;12(1):214.