Increased awareness of nutritional needs and food allergies has prompted dog food companies to produce foods with a variety of new ingredients. Many manufacturers, who traditionally used rice as a staple carbohydrate source, are offering foods with a whole host of new carbohydrates. As these new foods are made available, you may want to know what these rice substitutes mean for your dog’s diet.
First, it’s important to understand the role that rice, a carbohydrate, plays in dog food. Much debate exists among dog nutrition experts about how much, if any, carbohydrates dogs need. Some experts say dogs do not benefit at all from added carbohydrates like rice because, ancestrally, dogs only ate meat. They may have ingested some plant material that had been eaten by their prey, but it was only a very small percent of their diet. Other experts say dogs benefit from the glucose and some vitamins and minerals gleaned from carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates like brown rice provide fiber, but because the digestive system of dogs is short, fiber isn’t needed in the way it is for humans. However, some dogs appear to do better with some fiber in the diet.
All carbohydrates have the potential to cause an allergic reaction in dogs. Dogs with food allergies tend to develop sensitivity to foods they’ve been fed over a lengthy period time. Because rice has been a staple ingredient in dog foods for some time, it can be a common allergen. Frequent scratching and feet licking are the most common symptoms of a food allergy, but some dogs experience vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. If you suspect your dog has an allergy to rice, it’s best to conduct a food elimination trial under your veterinarian’s guidance. Your vet can also do allergy testing, but it isn’t as reliable as allergy testing for humans.
Dog food manufacturers use starchy ingredients to hold both dry and canned foods together, and carbohydrates like rice are used in dog food mainly because they are cheaper and more plentiful than protein sources like meats. Carbohydrates do provide energy, and because dogs are naturally scavengers, they can often adapt to whatever food is available. They can subsist on a high carbohydrate diet, and some dogs may even do well on them, but most dogs are healthier on a diet consisting mostly of protein and fats.
Foods that can be used as a substitute for rice include potatoes, sweet potatoes, tapioca, yams, amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, whole grain oats, whole peas, quinoa, rye, taro, whole wheat and beans. According to Whole Dog Journal, mussels, oysters, some organ meats and even yogurt and cheeses serve as good sources of carbohydrates. Whole Dog Journal advises consumers to stay away from lower quality rice substitutes, often used as filler in commercial dog foods, such as beet pulp, oat bran, pea fiber, soybean hulls and wheat.
- The Whole Dog Journal: In the Dog 'Zone' - Best Canine Nutrition
- The Whole Dog Journal: Carbs Contribute the Bulk of Your Dog's Kibble (Even Many Grain-Free Foods)
- Animal Planet: Should I buy grain-free dog food?
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine: Food Allergies: The Truth about Lamb and Rice Mixes
- Dog Food Advisor: Dogs and Carbohydrates — A Surprising Secret Revealed
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