Written by Allison Shalla, Dogly Wellness Advocate & Canine Nutritionist
While rice was once a ubiquitous ingredient in many commercial dog foods, the “grain-free” trend in the dog food industry saw a shift away from grains like rice in more recent years. Not all grains are nutritionally the same, and some are more healthy than others. Brown rice is one of the more nutritionally dense whole grains, providing an easily digestible source of carbs, beneficial minerals, and B vitamins.
Brown rice is a whole grain, meaning that it contains three parts of the grain kernel, including the nutrient-rich core called the germ. Many people don’t realize that brown rice is also a gluten-free grain!
The short answer is, yes - in appropriate amounts, brown rice is a healthy addition for most dogs.
Brown rice is more nutritionally dense than white rice due to its processing. It is higher in protein, higher in fiber, and lower in starch than white rice. Dog owners may have been advised by their veterinarian to feed a bland diet of boiled white rice and lean meat when your puppy has an upset tummy. This is because it is more easily digested than brown rice, which has a seed coat where the nutrients are stored. White rice is considered a refined grain and has that coat missing, making it easier to digest. However, that also results in white rice having less nutritional content. White rice also has a higher glycemic index, so it can cause blood sugar levels to rise. So unless you are feeding rice due to stomach upset, you will probably want to stick with brown rice, which is less processed.
You may have heard statements like, “but dogs are Carnivores, and Carnivores don’t need grains.” However, while dogs may have descended from wolves, they have been domesticated over the last 100+ years, so their digestive systems have evolved too. Fact: in the wild, one of the first parts of a prey animal that a Wolf will eat is the stomach, which includes pre-digested fruits, seeds, and grains. Dogs can digest grains if appropriately prepared and provided in the proper amounts.
Pet parents may also have heard that rice is a “filler” ingredient in commercial pet foods, and this simply isn’t true in the case of brown rice since it is very nutritionally dense.
Lastly, you may have heard the opinion that “dogs don’t need carbs,” but carbohydrates in the form of healthy fruits, vegetables, and yes, even whole, healthy grains offer more than just a source of carbs.
Let’s look at exactly what makes brown rice an excellent addition to your dog’s health.
As mentioned above, brown rice is an easily digestible carbohydrate and provides beneficial minerals and B vitamins. Let’s look at its primary nutritional value:
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a dog’s diet, along with a certain amount of protein and fat. Like us, eating too many carbs can lead to weight gain in a dog. So let’s look at how brown rice can be incorporated into your dog’s diet.
Many commercial dog foods already include brown rice because of the nutritional benefits above. If your dog eats balanced, commercial dog food, adding large amounts of “extras,” even fresh foods, can throw off the balanced diet, particularly things like calcium and phosphorus. Excessive amounts of specific vitamins and minerals can lead to health problems.
A good guideline is to use a 20% rule for human foods as toppers to a commercially balanced diet. What that means is that fresh food “toppers” should not account for more than 20% of your dog’s diet. So, if you feed your dog 2 cups of commercial dog food, you can replace up to 20% of your dog’s meal - 0.4 cups or 3.2oz - with “people foods,” like cooked meats, eggs, fruits, veggies, and grains. Calories from rice should make up no more than 10% of your dog's daily caloric intake. Small portions go a long way with nutrient-dense foods.
Why add human foods to your dog’s kibble? Studies have shown that adding up to 20% fresh food ingredients to a dog's commercial diet can boost nutrition and extend life. Even the most high-quality kibble available on the market is subject to nutrient loss in the high-temperature rendering process. These nutrients need to be added back into the kibble in synthetic vitamins & minerals. Fresh foods often provide a much more bioavailable version of these nutrients.
In addition to the many health benefits, adding a variety of fresh foods to your dog’s diet provides enrichment. Can you imagine eating the same dry pet food regularly? Boring! Adding variety helps your dog get excited about mealtime, provides mental stimulation, and improves satiety.
If you consider adding rice to your dog’s diet to help with diarrhea - check out our other article on white rice, which is a better option for the digestive system when dealing with diarrhea specifically.
It is essential to prepare brown rice properly, to make it easily digestible and lower the risk of high arsenic levels. According to the FDA, studies on brown rice and arsenic levels showed that the amount was not enough to cause concern; however, if we can reduce the amount of potential arsenic, it is best to do so.
When selecting rice, choose a high-quality, organic brand. Before you do anything, you should rinse all excess starch off the uncooked rice. Next, you want to soak the rice for a minimum of several hours (up to 24 hours!). Use a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice when cooking, and drain the excess. Start with hot tap water, and drain and rinse the rice several times throughout the soaking process. Once adequately rinsed, drained, and soaked, cook it VERY well by boiling. Be sure to use at least two parts water to 1 part rice during whole boiling. Grains absorb water when soaking and cooking.
Once the rice is thoroughly cooked, you can mash it or even puree it for maximum digestibility. It should have a very mushy consistency (think “gruel”). If you see solid bits of rice in the stool, you likely did not cook it well enough.
For more wellness advice, join my Community on Dogly. You can ask questions and get 24/7 access to other certified experts across nutrition, training & behavior, and wellness to give you and your dog your best life together.
If your dog could use some digestion help and a healthier gut to absorb and access all the good nutrients you’re feeding, check out Native Pet’s Probiotic, carefully created by their team of nutritionists and veterinarians.
Is brown rice better than white rice?
Yes. Brown rice is rich in nutrients, and therefore, it is better than white rice.
Can brown rice be harmful to dogs sometimes?
No. Brown rice is good except for with intolerant dogs. It is nutrient-rich rice, and you can feed your dogs regularly after balancing the nutrients.
How often to feed a dog with brown rice?
If you follow the 20% rule mentioned in this article, you can feed brown rice to your dog regularly.
Is brown rice helpful in constipation?
When appropriately prepared, white rice is a better option. Brown rice is rich in fibers and, therefore, not the correct type of rice to help relieve your dog.
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