Since pet food was first commercialized, rice has been a widely used ingredient. The past decade, or so, there has been a grain-free movement among paraprofessionals such as pet supply stores (both national chain and boutique), breeders, trainers, etc. and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere soon. Well meaning dog lovers have strong feelings about, not just whether or not dogs should eat grains like rice, but can they eat grains like rice?
Potential Benefits of Rice for Dogs
Rice belongs to a group of foods called grains (sometimes referred to as cereals). Grains are seeds of grasses that have been grown and harvested for consumption and also include foods like bulgar wheat, oats/oatmeal, corn, barley, millet, and quinoa. As with human nutrition, in pet nutrition, it is not about the ingredients, but rather the nutrients that are provided by said ingredients. Not all grains are nutritionally the same. Quinoa, for instance, is high in protein. Bulgar is high in fiber. Even corn contributes essential fatty acids and antioxidants.
Brown rice, specifically, is a great source of easily digestible carbohydrates as well as beneficial minerals and B vitamins. Brown rice is more nutritionally dense than white rice due to how it is processed. It is higher in protein, higher in fiber, and lower in starch than white rice. Additionally, because brown rice isn't as processed as white rice, it holds on to vitamins and minerals more than white rice. The high fiber content of brown rice can help aid with constipation. White rice, on the other hand, is more easily chewable and digestible, it cooks faster, is more cost-effective, and it is better for dogs suffering from an upset stomach or diarrhea than brown rice. White rice does have a higher glycemic index than brown rice, though, so white rice may cause your dog's blood sugar levels to rise and fall more than brown rice.
The calories from rice should make up no more than 10 percent of your dog's daily caloric intake. Feeding your dog small, frequent portions of rice may help prevent your dog from gaining extra weight. When preparing, the rice should be boiled in plain water and be free of any spices or seasonings.
Are Grains Harmful to Dogs?
A major point that proponents of grain free dog food like to make is that your dog is descended from wolves. Of course, this means that they are meant to eat meat, and grains are a definite no-no, right?
Domestic dogs are actually omnivores. They can digest meat as well as plant material. Whether your best four-legged friend is a teacup chihuahua or an Alaskan malamute, they are all far enough removed from their wolf ancestors that they require vastly different nutrients. A diet that may be nutritionally complete for a wolf could be lacking in vitamins and minerals for your pet dog.
Dogs can digest rice and can get nutrition from rice, but there is plenty of scientific proof that dogs are capable of digesting all sorts of grains. In fact, scientists have identified 10 key genes that aid domesticated dogs in the digestion of starches and fats better than their wild ancestors. Additionally there is simply no scientific evidence that grains are harmful for dogs (or cats).
Some dogs may do better on a grain free diet, but the vast majority of dogs do just fine on a diet (commercial or homemade) that contains grains, rice or otherwise. In fact, some dogs may actually fare better on a diet that contains grains.
While marketers and pet food store owners are pushing for more grain-free diets, the fact the the matter is, dogs not only can eat rice, they can benefit from it being added to their diet.
How to Prepare Rice for Your Dog
To make rice for your dog, whether brown or white, you will need one cup uncooked rice and four cups water. Before you do anything, you should rinse any and all excess starch off the uncooked rice. You can do this by adding the rice to a sifter with holes that the rice won't fall through and run under cool water until the water runs clear. Once the rice is cleaned, add it and the water to a pot and boil on the stove for 20 to 30 minutes. Once it's cooked, allow it to cool before taking a portion out to mix with your dog's food.
To learn more about how to incorporate rice into your dog's diet, how your dog can benefit from it, and what to believe about the grain-free pet movement, talk to your vet or a veterinary nutritionist.