Even though cats have the ability to digest a little rice, that doesn't mean you should add it to your feline's food dish.
Growing up we all learn that sharing is caring. So it's only natural that you want to give your kitty a taste of what's on your plate. But can cats eat rice safely like we can? Even though it seems harmless, some human foods are dangerous for pets to eat. Read on to find out if your food-curious feline can safely eat rice in their diet.
Is Rice Good or Bad for Cats?
A small amount of rice won't hurt cats, says Ann Wortinger, a veterinary technician specialist in the field of nutrition. "Cats produce the enzyme amylase that breaks down amylose and amylopectin, which are the two components of starch found in rice. Cats can digest rice as long as it's not a substantial component of their diet," she says.
Imagine your little hunter in the wild (or your backyard). Your cat would eat birds, mice, and other small animals. A cat's digestion is geared to break down meat, but it can also handle the plant-based contents found in whole prey. So a healthy cat should have no problem eating a little bit of rice.
Is There Rice in Cat Food?
All dry foods contain carbohydrates and many use rice as their source in kibble formulas. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, cats are carnivores who depend primarily on the nutrients in protein. But they can also benefit from the vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in rice.
Concerned about the contents of your cat food? It's best to check cat food labels for a nutritional guarantee statement from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). They create guidelines for how much of each nutrient to include in cat food to meet minimum requirements for good health.
How Much Rice Can Cats Safely Eat?
Rice should be a rare treat for cats, since too many carbohydrates in a cat's diet can cause diarrhea, bloating, and gas. There's no specific measurement for table scraps—but an occasional nibble or two shouldn't hurt. It's when a cat's daily diet is more than 35 percent carbohydrates that you'll see gastrointestinal (GI) upset, says Wortinger.
What Kinds of Rice Can Cats Eat?
There are thousands of different kinds of rice. Cats can eat all varieties, as long as they're plainly cooked (without salt, oil, butter, or seasoning). Here's a look at some of the types of rice you might be wondering about:
Cats can eat brown rice but the outer layer of bran makes it a little more difficult to digest than white rice, says Wortinger.
Cats can have white rice and it's the easiest for them to digest, since it's stripped of its more fibrous parts.
Have a stash of rice cakes in the pantry? Don't bother getting them out for your kitty, says Wortinger. "It's unlikely a cat would believe that rice cakes are a suitable treat." Instead, give your furry friend a treat made specifically for cats.
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Avoid feeding fried rice to cats. It's made with onions, which destroy red blood cells in cats and dogs.
Does Rice Help Cats With Diarrhea?
Although you may be used to reaching for bland foods when you have digestive woes, rice isn't the best option to help cats with diarrhea. "Because cats are carnivores, it's unlikely that a sick cat would willingly eat boiled rice," explains Wortinger. "If you add butter or gravy to the rice to make it taste better for your cat, it'll increase the fat content. Fat is the slowest nutrient to leave the stomach and is more challenging to digest than proteins or carbohydrates—not ideal when you're trying to give the GI tract a break."
What she does recommend is a commercially available, therapeutic intestinal diet. These over-the-counter and prescription foods are formulated for the nutritional needs of cats with diarrhea. Plus, according to VCA Animal Hospital, these foods often contain fiber to feed the good bacteria in your cat's gut and get your feline's digestive health back on track.
The bottom line: If your cat wants a bite of plain, boiled or steamed rice, it's OK to give her some once in a while. But if you're prepping the rice cooker because your little tiger isn't feeling well, hold up. Too much rice can actually make your cat sick. And, diarrhea and vomiting can indicate something serious like intestinal worms or that your cat ate a toxic substance. If your cat is ill, it's best to contact your vet to see if you need to go in and find out exactly what to feed your sick kitty at home.