Why I don’t recommend chicken and rice (and you shouldn’t either!)

We all know how it goes; your pet has diarrhea, you call the vet and you get told to feed chicken and rice for a few days to clear up the diarrhea. But did you know, this recommendation could be doing more harm than good?

Chicken and rice was originally recommended as an alternative to fasting or resting the gut for 24 hours, and feeding a bland diet however this recommendation is outdated; a bland diet still has its place, but bland shouldn’t mean unbalanced or deficient in nutrition! We now have better options when it comes to treating acute cases of diarrhea, that are available over the counter and are far cheaper (both in the short and long term) than cooking chicken and rice.

So why don’t I recommend chicken and rice?

1. It’s not complete and balanced: Chicken and rice is deficient in 17 essential nutrients! The diet itself lacks a fat source and if using just chicken breast, the diet is very deficient in protein and calcium. Those who recommend chicken and rice state it’s fine in the short term, however, it’s important to remember this is a compromised patient! Feeding a deficient diet to a patient recovering from illness can prolong the illness  and fails to replace the nutrients lost in diarrhea; chicken and rice contains almost no vitamin B12, has no electrolytes or a prebiotic fibre source. These key nutrients need to be replaced or supplemented to support the pet’s recovery.

The nutrient profile of a chicken and rice diet; 17 essential nutrients are deficient (Source: BalanceIT.com)

2. It lacks energy:
Chicken and rice also lacks in energy. To meet the requirements of a 10kg dog, you would need to feed two chicken breasts and 1.5 cups of rice…If you compare this to feeding I/d, a 10kg dog would only need 1.5 cans of I/d per day and as this diet is complete and balanced, it will support the body to recover and provide all the necessary nutrients the pet needs. It’s also worth noting when pets are unwell, they may lose their appetite which if you need to feed more to meet their energy requirements, they are unlikely to eat as much as they would require normally causing them to be in a negative energy balance if only eating chicken and rice.

3. It’s costly to make:
As mentioned above, you need to feed more chicken and rice to get the same amount of energy – this means, more cost to the pet owner both in money and time. One serving of chicken and rice is approx $7.30 (based on local pricing), compared to one can of I/d at approx $4.20 a can* therefore feeding chicken and rice, per serve, is more expensive than purchasing a few cans of a gastrointestinal diet and of course has the added benefit of virtually no preparation time and it’s nutritionally balanced.

*Please note: Hills Prescription Diet I/d is used for comparison and demonstrative purposes only. There are a variety of gastrointestinal foods that are suitable for pets with diarrhea, as mentioned, and your veterinarian or nutritionist is best placed to provide a recommendation as to which diet is suitable for your pet. For examples of other GI foods, read on.

4. It can make the problem worse:
Chicken is one of the most common food allergens in pets – although food allergies are rare in comparison to environmental allergies, a cause of GI upset is food sensitivities and should always be considered particularly if the pet has regular flare ups. Therefore, feeding a diet that contains chicken is likely to cause further gastrointestinal distress and prolong the recovery time of the pet. More often than not, I have pet parents report their pet didn’t improve on chicken and rice and is continuing to have diarrhea, which is where you would suspect a food sensitivity.

5. It can cause long term issues:
Many pets will actually like the taste of chicken and rice, so much so that they refuse to eat anything else! This is why it’s not really a good idea even to offer it in the short term as if pets only want to eat this diet, they are eating an unbalanced diet and it becomes almost impossible to transition them back. I’ve had patients who have been eating it for years after a short bout of diarrhea and the owners haven’t been able to get them to eat anything else. Eating chicken and rice long term can cause severe deficiencies, the main ones being calcium which can have severe consequences to the pet’s health. The other concern, is the underlying cause of the diarrhea is not being addressed; the pet may bounce between regular food and chicken and rice diets off and on as the issue is never actually investigated or resolved, so there may be more serious issues that are being masked by this diet.

So what do I recommend instead?

1. Probiotics and Prebiotics:
Dysbiosis, an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in the gut, often occurs alongside or causes diarrhea. One way dysbiosis is remedied is through the addition of good bacteria, to out-compete the bad bacteria and induce a healthy balance, through the use of probiotics. It’s important to use a veterinary product that has been clinically proven to support your dog or cats unique microbiome, not a human or DIY product. The other way we can remedy dysbiosis is through prebiotic fibre; this has a two pronged affect, both adding fibre to bulk and bind the stools and adding prebiotics to selectively feed the good bacteria in the gut (and starving the bad). Some probiotic supplements will also contain a prebiotic, so check your labels. Some products I recommend are FortiFlora, Protexin, Pro-Kolin or SynBiotic DC. There’s many others, so always seek your vet’s recommendation when looking for a veterinary probiotic supplement. Switching to a diet that contains prebiotic fibre is also worth considering, particularly if your pet is experiencing other issues associated with a lack of fibre (anal glands issues, constipation, etc) – for this, I recommend Hills Gastrointestinal Biome or Royal Canin High Fibre, which both contain the perfect blend of soluble and insoluble fibre to feed the good bacteria in the gut.

2. Gastrointestinal diets:
In place of chicken and rice, I recommend using a commercially available gastrointestinal food that is both complete and balanced aswell as formulated to target gastrointestinal upsets. They contain the key nutrients lost in diarrhea, aswell as a high energy density to help promote recovery. These diets are designed to be fed both short and long term, so if you can’t transition off the food or prefer not to, your pet is still get perfectly balanced nutrition. Some examples of diets that can be used are Hill’s Prescription Diet I/d, Royal Canin Gastrointestinal and ProPlan EN. It’s also important to note that Hills I/d and Royal Canin Gastrointestinal (wet) and ProPlan EN are safe for growth, so if you have a puppy (or kitten) with diarrhea, it will be suitable for them also. You can also use recovery foods such as Hills Prescription Diet A/d, Royal Canin Recovery or ProPlan CN however some of these aren’t indicated for long term feeding – I tend to use these more in the case of pets who are refusing to eat all together while experiencing an episode. Some over the counter diets may also be suitable for short term feeding, such as Royal Canin Digestive Care or Hills Sensitive Skin and Stomach.

3. No treats and feed regular diet:
I advise owners to stop all treats and feed only the pet’s regular food if they prefer not to purchase a commercial GI food. This tells us one of two things; if they improve quickly, the addition of treats (either new treats or too many) was the culprit but if they do not improve at all or become worse, we need to consider a diet change in the long term as the pet’s current diet may be the cause (or there may be more than one cause, see below).

4. Investigate the issue:
Rarely do pets have diarrhea for no reason – common causes of diarrhea can be a sudden change in diet, the addition of a new treat or supplement, stress, food sensitivities, dysbiosis, a lack of fibre in the diet or parasites. Less common but still important to consider is inflammatory bowel diseases, food allergies or medical conditions so it’s important to try and determine the cause of the diarrhea with your vet before reaching to self-medicate. I typically offer to book an appointment with the veterinarian in conjuction with my recommendations and if the pet’s symptoms resolve before we see them, then they can cancel if they choose.

Vets! Do you still recommend chicken and rice? Why or why not? Did this post change your mind? Let us know your thoughts below!

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New ideas for the dietary management of gastrointestinal tract disease – feeding through with novel protein GI food

Nutritional care of Acute and Chronic Diarrhoea as well of Parvovirus infected dogs – using novel protein homemade diet or GI food and why

Patients given probiotics recovered faster:

Probiotics vs Antibiotics, patients recovered faster on probiotics

Dogs with IBD responded better to hydrolysed diet than hamburger & rice diet

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