We trust the information we find on the Internet, and more so if we’re told it’s “backed by science”, but guess what?
I Googled “Can a cat eat rice?” and the top two results were pet food companies who sell rice-based foods for carnivorous cats.
Think about that for a second.
Of course they’ll say your cat can eat rice. They want you to buy their products.
My opinion is this: Just because your cat can eat rice, doesn’t mean they should.
Let’s discuss, and we can figure this out together.
Why do cats eat rice?
Try giving your cat a bowl of rice – white or brown – and see how enthusiastic he is about it.
My guess is he may nibble it out of hunger, but won’t be overly enthusiastic about it.
Now mix the rice with beef or chicken mince – raw or cooked – and see how enthusiastic he is then.
My guess is much more than before?
Cats are very instinctive, which is why they’ve survived in nature for millions of years. They know what food they need to eat to keep them healthy, and they know what foods they don’t need.
When you feed your cat a kibble made of meat and rice (which usually means mostly rice, and some meat), your cat will eat it. This is because your cat will eat to satiate.
If you feed your cat raw meat, organs, or raw meaty bones, they will eat just enough to satiate their appetite. In fact, the cousins of cats, such as lions and tigers, will never get fat when fed a prey diet like nature intended.
Domestic cats on the other hand are often fat. Ever considered why?
If you feed your cat a kibble of mostly rice and some meat, they will likely eat more to satiate on the lackluster meat content.
Not only does this excessive intake of grains and carbohydrates cause them to gain weight, it can also cause numerous health conditions from itchy skin, excessive scratching, to renal failure. Did you know renal failure is one of the biggest killers of domestic cats?
Cats don’t understand nutrition. Good nutrition or bad. They merely understand they need to eat animal matter, and whatever else comes with it.
Ask yourself if that’s why cats eat rice.
Are there benefits of feeding a cat rice?
Rice is a source of fibre, protein, Vitamin B1 (thiamine), Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), iron, and magnesium.
Pet food manufacturers will use those reasons to suggest rice is beneficial to your cat, but what they won’t say is how beneficial rice is compared to meat-based products which are much more expensive to include in their pet foods.
The other thing they won’t tell you about feeding rice to your cat, is whether it can cause long term harm.
The short digest system of a cat means starches and carbohydrates are hard to digest, which links us back to renal failure. Combine that with your cat’s natural instinct to eat meat, and you should have an answer based on nature, and nature often knows best.
If you research pet or feline nutrition to any extent you’ll find research hazy, but often gift wrapped to suggest something which isn’t really proven.
To give you an example, a recent study by Griffith University in Queensland was widely publicised as if it proved cats can be healthier on vegan cat food. Even The Guardian picked this up and ran with it, and I’m sure many readers read it as fact.
However, if you scratch beneath the surface of that convincing research you find vegan cat foods were compared to meat-based cat foods, and most cat foods aren’t actually meat-based – they’re grain based.
What that means is the research proved very little, although it did suggest many of the cats in the study, whether fed vegan or grain-based cat food, suffered a whole range of health conditions.
You can read more about this study into vegan food for cats here.
The conclusion we can draw from this is a cat may benefit somewhat from having some rice in the diet, but is it optimal, necessary, or may it also cause harm?
Why is rice in so many cat foods, despite cats being obligate carnivores?
I’ve never encountered a kibble which didn’t have some form of carbohydrates from grain or grain-free ingredients, with the argument being the kibble wouldn’t bind into those hard little balls without it.
But did you know most cat foods are around 50% carbohydrates, and quite often more?
Given a cat is an obligate carnivore. Meat eater. Prey hunter. Just like their big cat cousins. Don’t you think that’s a lot of carbohydrates for them?
That’s what I think, so why do we find so much grain in so much cat food.
I recall a conversation I had with the director of a global pet food company way back in 2015, in a cafe looking over the Swan River in Perth.
The director spoke of why pet food came into existence, and the problem it solved. The problem wasn’t how we feed our domestic pets, it was about the monolithic costs of dealing with waste from the human food industry.
To give an example, once upon a time chickens would go through a production facility, and breast meat, legs, and thighs would be cut off and packaged up to be sold to us.
The rest had to be disposed of, and this cost money.
Another industry was hemorrhaging money disposing by-products, and this was the grain industry.
Pet food offered a fantastic opportunity to turn that waste from a cost into a profit.
A big profit.
To this day, this is the reason so many pet foods are made from cereal by-products from all kinds of grain, or meat carcasses ground and cooked into meat meals. These are very cheap ingredients, and when compared to meat, even whole rice is a much cheaper inclusion.
It doesn’t matter if rice is healthy or not. You can bet bottom dollar the most significant reason rice is so common in cat food, is because it’s cheap, and makes a great deal more profit.
What about giving a cat chicken and rice when they’re sick?
First question is why was your cat sick in the first place, as this can often be a result of feeding grains to a carnivorous cat.
Cat food induced sickness is rarely considered, by you as the cat owner or your vet as a professional, which is why the following situation is very common:
A cat (or dog) will suddenly become sick while being fed a commercial pet food. The owner will take their pet to the vet, and the vet will prescribe a prescription food or a week or two on chicken and rice. Both solutions will likely work, because they’re different from the pet food which was previously being fed.
Many health conditions in cats build up over time, including from diet, which means the pet will become sicker and sicker until the symptoms become obvious. Feeding something for a while resets the symptoms, and they go back onto the old food until it happens again.
Bad batches are another possibility when it comes to commercial pet foods, which means a bout of sickness may occur, but new bags of the same product don’t have the same effect.
I’ve dealt with many Australian pet owners who have failed to realise a commercial pet food was causing the sickness until they reintroduce it after a stint on chicken and rice only to find the pet becomes sick once again.
So should you give your cat chicken and rice when they’re sick?
Personally I would stick to the chicken. Boiled if you prefer. But only until they recover (1 to 2 weeks max). During that time you can research your current cat food, and alternatives which may be better for the health of your cat in the long term.
Below you will find research papers on feeding rice to cats, along with an annotation.
- National Library of Medicine – Rice protein concentrate is a well-accepted, highly digestible protein source for adult cats – Note section 2.1 which states “This study was conducted with the approval of Hill’s Pet Nutrition Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)”. Also note this study aims to find benefit of feeding a cat rice protein concentrate, which differs from rice commonly used in pet foods, and I quote “The use of rice protein concentrate (RPC) as a protein source in cat food is uncommon”.
- ScienceDirect – Dietary carbohydrate source affects glucose concentrations, insulin secretion, and food intake in overweight cats – A study of carbohydrates in feline diet concluding “a sorghum and corn blend is a superior carbohydrate source than rice for overweight cats with glucose intolerance and reduced insulin sensitivity”. Also note “When compared with the sorghum/corn-based diet, cats fed the rice-based diet consumed more energy and gained more weight in response to free-access feeding. Cats fed the rice-based diet also tended to have higher glucose concentrations and insulin secretion in response to a glucose load or a test meal.”