Rice Isn’t Nice

By Margaret Gates

Feline Nutrition Foundation

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I’ve been noticing something when I walk down the pet aisle at the supermarket – just to get kitty litter mind you, since I don’t feed my cats anything sold there – a lot of those cans and bags are touting the fact that they contain rice. It seems rice is the new “in” filler. Wheat has gotten a bit of a bad reputation lately, mostly because it turns out some people have trouble with it, and pet owners are getting the message that corn is bad for cats. Pet food companies seem to be left with rice.

A lot of people buy pet food based on how the name sounds to them. I don’t make a judgment; in the past I too fell for the pet food marketing strategies. Rice is easy to market, easier than other grains. All those meats sound so appetizing paired with rice: “Tender Turkey Tuscany in a Savory Sauce with Long Grain Rice and Garden Greens.” Sounds like something I would eat for dinner. Now, if my cat could read labels, this is more like what she would find appealing: “Raw Brains and Heart in Fresh Blood with a Crunchy Chopped Grasshopper Garnish.”

Cats have no nutritional requirement for grains of any sort.¹ If there is rice in it; it’s a filler, plain and simple. A study by The American Society for Nutritional Sciences showed that dietary rice decreases the amount of taurine in whole blood and plasma in cats, and that despite the routine supplementation of commercial feline diets with taurine, cats continue to be diagnosed with taurine deficiency. The presence of rice in the food affects the content of fat and fiber, which in turn could affect the metabolism of taurine. To quote from the study: “Diet formulations with normally adequate taurine supplementation may actually be deficient in taurine if rice bran or whole rice is included as an ingredient.”²

White rice also has a high glycemic index, meaning it will cause a rapid increase in blood sugar.³ Eating carbohydrates such as this is not a good idea for any obligate carnivore and can lead to a variety of health problems including obesity and diabetes.

As if whole rice wasn’t bad enough, many products contain brewer’s rice, which is “the small milled fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from the larger kernels of milled rice (AAFCO definition).”⁴ Brewers rice is used because it’s the lowest quality by-product of the milling process and is therefore cheaper. And remember, the massive 2007 pet food recall involved foods that contained imported rice protein and wheat gluten adulterated with melamine.

Then, there are all those foods with wild rice. I think they just love to get that word “wild” on a cat food label. Conjures up all those big cat associations. You know, stalking prey in the jungle and all that. But that cat is not looking to pounce on the elusive wild rice plant. Wild rice is still a filler in cat food, and is not any better for your cat.

So, if you read a cat food label and it sounds good enough to eat, it probably is not good enough for your cat.

Margaret Gates is the founder of the Feline Nutrition Foundation. If you would like to learn more about feline diet and health, please visit FelineNutritionFoundation.org. We have a wealth of information on how to feed your cat a healthy, bio-appropriate diet. We especially welcome raw diet beginners!

1. Kymythy R Schultze, CN, CNC, Natural Nutrition for Cats, The Path to Purr-fect Health, Hay House Inc, 2008, 145.

2. M Stratton-Phelps, RC Backus, QR Rogers and AJ Fascetti, “Dietary Rice Bran Decreases Plasma and Whole-Blood Taurine in Cats,” The Journal of Nutrition, No. 132, 2002, 1745S–1747S. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/132/6/1745S.full.pdf

3. “Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load for 100+ Foods,” Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods

4. “Brewers Rice,” Association of American Feed Control Officials, definition at Wikipedia.