Rice is the world’s most widely eaten staple food. But just because something is good for people, that doesn’t mean it’s good for cats. So can cats eat rice? If not, what’s wrong with it?
Can cats eat rice? They can, since it isn’t poisonous. But it’s also far from the best snack choice. That’s because it doesn’t contain enough protein and fat, and contains lots of carbohydrates instead. It doesn’t contain complete proteins, which your cat should have, and also doesn’t have the vitamins and minerals that cats need. Since there are snacks that do offer these things, and which cats love, you should feed these instead. Any snack made from meat of some kind would be a good choice, the less processed the better. If you are going to feed your cat rice as a snack anyway, offer it in small amounts (one tablespoon) and irregularly (once a week). Don’t feed your cat rice as a meal or a core part of its diet.
The guide below first addresses whether cats can eat rice or not—and whether they even like the stuff. We’ll also look at the specific nutritional content of plain white rice to detail precisely why it’s nutritionally unsuitable for cats (and that includes white rice, brown rice, long-grain rice and short-grain rice, fried rice and any other kind of rice you can think of). We’ll also make some recommendations on how much rice you should feed your cat if you’re going to do so anyway.
Can Cats Eat Rice?
Cats can eat rice but it’s far from the best choice. You should feed your cat something that offers complete nutrition, either because it’s naturally that way (like many kinds of meat) or because it’s made that way by a manufacturer. There are snacks that cats love which provide them with the nutrients they need, so there’s no logical reason to feed rice instead.
To be clear, this applies to cooked rice. You shouldn’t feed your cat uncooked rice because it’s essentially inedible. Not only would your cat not be able to chew and swallow it easily, but your cat’s gut isn’t set up to break down tough plant fibers.
Do Cats Like Rice?
Even though it’s not your average cat food, there are definitely cats that like eating cooked rice. Cats can like the strangest things like fruits and vegetables, bread, and yes, rice.
This can be confusing because cats are described as ‘obligate carnivores‘. But that doesn’t mean that everything a cat eats has to be meat. Rather, it means that the cat needs to have meat in its diet to get the nutrients it needs when it’s in the wild. It doesn’t mean that cats can’t digest carbohydrates or the grain- or vegetable-based additives you find in some cat foods, although cats are inarguably better at digesting meat. You can therefore feed a cat whatever you like so long as a) it eats it, b) it can digets it and c) it has all the nutrients that a cat needs; it’s theoretically possible to feed a cat a plant-based diet (although current manufacturers leave a lot to be desired).
What this means is that your cat can eat non-toxic plant-based foods like rice with no ill effects. Rice won’t give your cat an upset stomach, and your cat is capable of absorbing the energy from it. That being said, rice still isn’t a good choice because it doesn’t have enough of certain nutrients.
Is Rice Poisonous to Cats?
Rice is not poisonous to cats. It doesn’t contain anything toxic that will harm your cat.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that rice is always fine to eat, though. If you were to serve your cat a little rice when it’s freshly cooked, that wouldn’t be a problem. However, uncooked rice contains spores of a bacteria called Bacillus cereus. These spores can survive cooking, and if the rice is left standing at room temperature afterwards, these spores develop into bacteria. These bacteria produce toxins that cause food poisoning. This is something to bear in mind when you cook rice for yourself, too!
Rice could be bad for your cat if you add things to it, though. Cats can have digestive issues if they eat onions and garlic, or citrus, both of which are commonly added to rice and rice-based dishes. Bear that in mind if you’re going to offer your cat rice.
Why Shouldn’t Cats Eat Rice?
On balance, rice makes a bad choice for a cat snack. Let’s take a look at why that is with reference to the nutrients you find in regular white rice.
Nutrients in Rice
The table below uses data from NutritionValue.org. That’s a website that lists the nutritional values (obviously) of lots of common foods, both branded and unbranded. The data below are for cooked white medium-grain enriched rice; there are lots of different kinds of rice, of course, but the rough ratios of say protein to carbohydrate hold true in all kinds of rice. These data are presented alongside the average cat’s nutritional requirements taken from the AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials.
|Nutrients||Amount per 100g||Cat RDA* per 100g|
|Carbohydrate||29g (0g sugar)||Variable**|
|Protein||2.4g||26-30g dry matter|
|Fat||0.2g||9g dry matter|
The table above should make it clear that rice is nutritionally unsuitable. Let’s take a look at each of these nutrients (and the calorific content of rice) in turn to find out exactly why this is the case.
Carbohydrates & Fiber in Rice
Aside from water, rice contains more carbohydrates than any other nutrient. Carbohydrates are combinations of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen (hence the name!) formed into sugars that can be broken down and used in the body for energy.
Carbohydrates aren’t necessary in a cat’s diet. Wild cats eat their prey whole, but even then, they only get very small amounts of carbohydrates in what they eat. Meat from an animal is made of protein and fat instead. So, the fact that rice contains lots of carbohydrates isn’t good for your cat, even if it isn’t bad.
Rice also contains small amounts of fiber, at 0.3g per 100g. That’s not much. But again, cats don’t need lots of fiber in their diets, so this isn’t a problem.
Protein & Fat in Rice
Protein and fat are the two most important nutrients in any cat’s diet. That’s because your cat is adapted to eating foods that are high in both. When a wild cat eats its prey, the two nutrients it’s getting more than any others are protein and fat; there are no carbohydrates in meat. Cats adapted to this in several ways, e.g. by developing a gut that’s better at digesting meat than plants, and by developing lots of lithe muscle mass using all the protein they eat. This is a long-winded way to say that when you feed your cat any food, the first things you should look for are its protein and fat content.
Unfortunately, this is where rice is unsuitable. The table above shows that 100g of plain cooked rice contains 2.4g of protein on average, which isn’t much. Cats should ideally get ten times as much, at least, from their food. This means that if you fed your cat nothing but rice, it would lose its muscle mass because it’s not getting enough protein to maintain it.
Besides that, there’s another problem with the protein in rice that’s less obvious. Being predators, cats get their protein from meat. But not all proteins are equal. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds: complete proteins and incomplete proteins. A complete protein contains every amino acid that cats need to function, amino acids being the building blocks of proteins. Cats need to get eleven amino acids from their diets, including the well-known taurine. The proteins found in meat are complete proteins, while those found in plants are incomplete proteins. To be clear, plants contain all the same amino acids as meat, but no one plant contains them all (which is why a varied diet is necessary if you don’t eat meat). This means that if your cat relied on rice for its protein, it would quickly become deficient in certain amino acids, and the consequences are severe: a lack of taurine can cause blindness (feline central retinal degeneration) and stop your cat’s heart from working properly. That’s why you can’t feed a cat on nothing but fruit and vegetables.
The lack of fat in rice is less serious, but still present. Rice contains almost no fat at just 0.2g per 100g cooked, while cats need somewhere around 9g per 100g of food. This fat is important because cats are better at digesting fat than carbs, so it’s a useful energy source.
Water in Rice
Cooked rice contains lots and lots of water at around 68g per 100g overall. That means that cooked rice is mostly water.
You might think this is a problem for your cat, but it’s actually not. Cats prefer getting their water from their food rather than drinking it, which is why you rarely see cats drinking from their water bowls. It’s the same with cats in the wild. Meat contains a surprising amount of water at about 60% on average, although cooking in certain ways can take some of that water out. This means that rice contains roughly the same amount of water as a cat would like to get from its food.
While rice is unsuitable in lots of ways, this would therefore be a good reason to feed it as a snack. This is especially the case if you feed your cat dry food. Cats that eat dry food struggle to get enough water in their diets, so much so that they can develop kidney issues later in life. Rice would prevent that. That being said, there are still far better snack choices you could offer to your cat, so rice should still be off the table.
Calories in Rice
Rice contains a reasonable amount of calories. It’s energy-dense, although it’s made less so with cooking. NutritionValue.org state that rice contains around 130 calories per 100g, but this can vary based on the kind of rice you use, how long it’s cooked for, and whether it’s had anything added to it. This is a good amount for a cat food or snack to have, although it’s maybe on the ‘lighter’ side of the menu. It’s certainly not more calorific than a cat’s regular cat food.
What this means is that feeding your cat rice shouldn’t make it gain weight in a real-life feeding scenario. There are two possible outcomes. One is that your cat constantly begs you for rice as a snack and gains weight by eating too much, although this applies to any snack, not just rice. The other is that your cat can self-regulate its food intake, meaning that it eats less of its normal food because it’s filled up on a snack. The problem with this isn’t that your cat is eating extra calories. Rather, it’s that your cat is eating empty calories, because rice doesn’t offer it the protein, fat, vitamins and minerals it needs.
Vitamins & Minerals in Rice
Rice contains some vitamins and minerals. Fortified rice contains some that are added by people when the rice is processed. The table below again uses data from NutritionValue.org:
|Vitamin/Mineral||Amount per 100g|
This rice has been fortified, so it has more vitamins and minerals than normal rice. But even that doesn’t mean you should feed it to your cat.
The reason for that is that your cat should get all of the vitamins and minerals it needs from its core diet. If you’ve ever seen a cat food advertised as ‘complete’, that means it contains every macronutrient and micronutrient that cats need. A cat could therefore theoretically live on that food and nothing else for its entire life, if the food is, in fact, complete as it suggests. This means that your cat doesn’t need to find nutrients in its snacks that it doesn’t get from its core diet.
Even if your cat doesn’t eat a complete food, rice should still be very low down on your list of options. Options you should consider before that include:
- Switching your cat to a complete cat food you find at the store
- Feeding your cat a snack that’s as close to a ‘complete’ snack as possible, e.g. something made from dried meat
- Talking to your vet about complete cat foods they can recommend
- Talking to your vet about supplements that are suitable for cats
If none of these options are available, then yes, feeding rice or similar staple foods like bread should be considered. But until then, it’s best for your cat’s health to pick something else, even if rice does have a reasonable amount of vitamins and minerals.
So, Why Is There Rice in Cat Food?
This is an excellent question. Both wet and dry cat foods can contain rice, rice flour, or some other grain similar to rice. So if rice isn’t good for cats, why is it there?
There are a few reasons why. One is that rice does contain energy that your cat can use. Even though your cat is better at digesting meat than plant-based foods, that doesn’t mean it can’t get energy from the rice in its food. You could hypothetically replace some of the fat in your cat’s food with carbs, and the carbs in your cat’s food with fat, and your cat would be fine either way.
Another reason is that rice is cheap. Pet food manufacturers need to make their product cheap because the vast majority of people wouldn’t want to spend more than they already do to feed their pets. Rice is a staple for a reason: it contains lots of energy per cent spent on it. Besides that, rice is readily available everywhere, so no matter where a manufacturer makes their pet food they can find rice to put in it.
There’s nothing wrong with feeding your cat a complete pet food that has rice or similar ingredients in. There’s also nothing wrong with feeding your cat organic meat-only foods, so long as they’re nutritionally complete too. What you should account for no matter what you feed your cat is whether it’s getting enough water, because dry cat food can lead to kidney problems later on in life.
Can Cats Eat Brown Rice?
Brown rice is broadly the same as white rice, at least in this context. It’s slightly lower in calories (112 vs. 130), higher in fat (0.8g vs. 0.2g per 100g), and higher in fiber (1.8g vs. 0.3g per 100g). What this means is that your cat can eat brown rice in the same way it can eat white rice: it’s not going to hurt your cat, but it’s not particularly good for it either. It’s therefore best avoided in favor of more nutritionally suitable snacks and foods instead.
Can Cats Eat Fried Rice?
Fried rice is cooked rice that has been left to cool and then fried. Because it’s fried with lots of oil (frequently saturated fats), soy sauce and spices, it’s worse for your cat than normal rice. It won’t be poisonous unless you add something to it that’s toxic to cats, like raisins, which you occasionally find in fried rice. What you’re more likely to find are onion and garlic which definitely aren’t suitable for cats. So, no, don’t feed your cat fried rice.
How Much Rice Can Cats Eat?
For all the reasons described above, you shouldn’t feed your cat rice. It’s not nutritionally suitable and will take up room in your cat’s diet that otherwise would be used for more nutritionally appropriate cat foods.
What you certainly shouldn’t do is feed your cat rice as a ‘staple’ in its diet. Rice might make a good staple for people, but it doesn’t for cats. It’s good as part of a person’s balanced diet because it provides lots of useful carbohydrates for energy and lots of water, and brown rice contains more fiber than white rice which makes it even better. Unfortunately, these aren’t things that cats need (apart from water, anyway). Any staple food your cat eats should have lots of protein and fat, which rice doesn’t.
If you’re going to feed your cat rice despite all that, at least limit the amount that you food. Only feed your cat a tablespoon of rice at most. Only feeding a small amount like this will mean that your cat isn’t significantly put off the rest of its food.
How Often Can Cats Eat Rice?
Again, it’s best if you limit the amount of rice that your cat eats. You can do this both by limiting portion sizes and by limiting the frequency with which you feed it. Don’t feed your cat rice as a snack any more frequently than once a week. Infrequent feedings mean that any nutritional deficiency your cat experiences from eating an unsuitable snack will be offset by the food it eats in the rest of the week.
Should Cats Eat Rice?
The short answer is ‘no’. The long answer is no, pick a snack that’s nutritionally suitable made from something like meat instead.