Rice is a cereal grain. It’s a simple carbohydrate with few calories and no fats, salts, or cholesterol. Commercial dog food manufacturers have embraced it as a low-cost alternative to traditional grains that helps them offer the grain-free foods that some pet parents look for. But can your dog eat rice as safely as humans can?
The answer is yes! Our domesticated dogs have evolved from their carnivore ancestors, who required strict animal protein diets. We consider today’s dogs omnivores, which means they can eat grains and plants in their diets as long as their diet consists of at least 75% animal proteins. For this reason, many pet foods include both white and brown rice in their formulas.
Let’s take a closer look at rice – and see why it can boost your dog’s overall health.
Rice is a staple food for over 100 countries around the world. It’s also one of the oldest cereal grains, originating over 5,000 years ago. In many households, at least one meal a day includes rice. There are over 40,000 different varieties of rice, and many fall into one of two categories – white or brown.
For dogs, the most common varieties in dog food are white, brown, and wild rice. There are many other common varieties of food, but they’re expensive and not often used in dog foods.
We create rice from seeds and call them cereals or grains. Bulgur wheat, oats, corn, barley, millet, and quinoa are similar.
The nutritional value of rice depends on how it’s milled. The milling process removes the husk or hard outside coating of the seed, leaving the thin bran or hull. In brown rice, the hull or bran remains and contains the nutrients. However, it’s also harder to digest, so dogs with digestive problems could have issues like diarrhea or constipation if they eat brown rice.
Removing the hull or bran leaves the sticky, starchier endosperm we know as white rice. Removing the bran also removes most of the nutrients. However, this white rice is ideal for dogs with gastrointestinal issues or diarrhea because it’s much easier for them to digest.
Types of rice
White rice is an excellent source of carbohydrates – or starch – and can soothe an upset stomach. Starch doesn’t get digested until it reaches the small intestines, feeding useful bacteria that promotes regular bowel movements and bulks up loose stool.
White rice is high on the glycemic index, with ⅓ of a cup containing 70 calories. It’s a fast-burning carb that can raise blood sugar levels. Dogs with diabetes or overweight dogs may not tolerate it as well. Dogs with candida or yeast issues may not be suitable for white rice either. Candida and yeast feed off sugars produced from carbohydrates.
Brown rice is more nutritious because of the bran, giving it a higher fiber content, but it’s also harder to digest. It’s a complex carb and burns more slowly, stabilizing blood sugar for longer. The higher fiber allows overweight dogs to feel full for longer and can help treat constipation.
There is a belief that the phytic acids in brown rice hinder mineral absorption. Phytic acid is present in seeds and provides the energy a seed needs to sprout. As the seed grows, its phytic acid turns to phosphorus. There are two sides to the phytic acid story, and studies have shown it to reduce the risk of some types of cancers as well.
Basmati rice is long-grain white rice that’s rich in carbohydrates. It’s excellent for treating diarrhea and gastrointestinal upsets.
Jasmine is a long-grain, softer rice from Thailand. It’s less starchy, so it isn’t as sticky as some short-grain rice.
Wild rice is the most nutritious type of rice and is packed with fiber and antioxidants. It’s pleasing to dogs because of its nutty flavor.
Health benefits of rice
Since rice is a carbohydrate, we don’t consider it to be nutritious. But, rice provides many health benefits for your four-legged friend. Here are the health benefits of feeding rice to your dog:
- It’s low in fat
- It’s low in sodium
- It contains antioxidants that protect against disease and cognitive dysfunction in aging pets
- Its calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels support healthy bones
- It soothes gastrointestinal upsets
- Its probiotic action feeds good bacteria found in the small intestines
- The fiber in rice supports regular bowel movements and improves digestion
- Its high carbohydrates boost energy levels and improve cognitive function
Since the bran of rice contains its nutrients, brown or wild rice is rich in vitamins and minerals and is the healthiest addition to your dog’s diet. Brown or wild rice contains:
- Vitamins D, B1, and B6 that support your dog’s heart health and metabolism
- Niacin for healthy skin, nervous system, and digestion
- Calcium for strong bones, teeth, and ligaments
- Phosphorus that works with calcium to strengthen bones, teeth, and ligaments
- Thiamine, aka vitamin B1, which supports cell production and metabolism
- Magnesium that supports muscle movement and energy production
- Selenium, which is essential for thyroid function, reproduction, and protecting against cell damage from oxidation
- Manganese, which protects your dog’s body against free radicals that can damage cells
Rice and allergic reactions in dogs
Some dogs can show allergies or intolerances to rice and other foods as well. If your dog suffers from allergies, it’s always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian before you introduce a new food. Yeast allergies can be especially problematic when you wish to feed your dog rice.
Signs of intolerances or allergy to rice are:
- Itchy skin
- Inflamed paws or incessant licking of the paws
- Dry skin
- Skin rashes
- Hair loss such as hot spots
How much rice can my dog eat?
Dogs require a complete and balanced diet. Most dog foods contain the correct daily amount of calories and nutrients that your dog needs for optimum health. That means rice can only comprise 10% of their daily caloric intake. Give them more than that and you risk weight gain or diabetes.
Large dogs can eat about ⅓ cup of rice two or three times per week. Smaller dogs should eat much less. Remember, these recommended amounts are for dogs on balanced dog food, with rice being served as a treat or an added ingredient in their daily meals.
Offer tiny amounts at first, then gradually increase the portion size if your dog shows no signs of digestive trouble.
Ways to serve your dog rice
Vets will recommend a bland diet of white rice (with no seasonings or fats) and boiled chicken for dogs with gastrointestinal issues. White rice is easy to digest and helps their digestive system relax and regain its balance so your dog can eat their regular kibble again. Most veterinarians will not recommend brown rice for dogs with stomach or digestion issues.
Any time you want to prepare rice for your dog, you should rinse it to remove excess starch prior to cooking. Then use a rice cooker or boil it in plain water until tender. Don’t include any seasonings or fats that can upset your dog’s tummy. You can use broth with no sodium or fats in the water, but most dogs will gobble down the plain rice.
Healthy dogs may enjoy fresh veggies and various types of healthy meats added to the mixture, too. Adding some broth and healthy, dog-safe veggies makes for a warming winter soup.
Fried rice is not appropriate for dogs. The soy sauce, fats, seasonings, and added onions or garlic can cause serious trouble for them.
Beans and rice are healthy for dogs, provided they contain no additional seasonings or fats. Beans provide vitamins A and C, potassium, iron, protein and fiber, all of which are terrific for your dog’s health. But you may find that beans can make your dog gassy, so go slow if you want to add this treat to your dog’s bowl – or he may clear rooms!
Cook beans until tender and never offer them to your dog raw. Stick to black beans, kidney beans, and legumes like green beans.
Now for some tasty recipes with rice!
Most people think of rice when making their own dog food. Homemade dog foods can provide excellent nutrition for your dog. There are a plethora of dog food recipes online, but different dog breeds and your dog’s age and health require different nutritional needs. Always check with your veterinarian before you start your dog on a homemade dog food recipe.
Here are a couple of treat recipes:
The bottom line on dogs and rice
Rice is one of the most popular food staples in the world, and we love sharing our food with our four-legged friends. So, rice is a great food for sharing, as long as it’s plain with no seasonings or fats.
This low-calorie, low fiber grain provides plenty of carbs to soothe an upset stomach or tame a nasty bout of diarrhea. It’s an easily digestible carbohydrate that can help your dog’s immune system stay healthy with its probiotic properties.
Keeping it simple will please both your dog and your vet. Start out with small amounts and increase the portion according to your vet’s advice and your dog’s health needs.