Poor Hershey is having a rough weekend and, as a result, your own weekend is about to get a lot more interesting. There is a stench coming from his exam room that promises to clear out your clinic’s waiting area. He’s already managed to create a Jackson Pollock painting on the exam room wall using his very own Hershey squirts.
His mom is beside herself and your most compassionate technician tries to comfort her while cleaning the freshly painted wall mural. Hershey is a 2-year-old chocolate lab with a penchant for waste disposal management (i.e. his mom puts waste in a “pet-safe” garbage canister and he MANAGES IT like a boss). The tenacity for his work would be endearing if his poor mom’s bank account wasn’t so drained from treating the explosive diarrhea that comes with Hershey’s dedication to his day job.
Typically when Hershey presents, a physical exam, in-house blood work, and x-rays are performed. His mom has been lucky so far and he has always managed to pass whatever he has ingested (food wrappers and a few chicken bones.) In the past, he has responded well to medical management including the recommendation to feed a “bland diet.” His mom typically cooks him some boneless, skinless chicken breast and makes some white rice in her rice cooker for him for about a week and then starts to transition him back to his dry food.
What’s the big deal? Chicken and rice won’t hurt . . .
Chicken and rice is not complete and balanced. For many dogs with sudden onset, uncomplicated diarrhea it won’t be harmful to feed chicken and rice for a few days, BUT we can offer so much more to help the pet’s GI tract heal. Just like any other cell in the body, the cells of the GI tract need nutrients to heal and function optimally. This is why “bowel rest”- i.e. fasting the gut- is no longer recommended.
Just how nutrient deficient is chicken and rice?
Feeding only cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breast and cooked, long-grain, white rice is deficient in many nutrients. Even if we add corn oil to supply energy and linoleic fatty acid (an essential omega-6 fatty acid for dogs), this combination of ingredients is deficient in 17 nutrients for adult dogs. Yes, I said 17 nutrients!
Which ones you ask? Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, riboflavin, Vitamin B12, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium, copper, iodine, iron, selenium, zinc, and choline.1
Keep in mind, dogs don’t store water-soluble vitamins like riboflavin, so they need to be part of the diet. And more importantly, riboflavin is needed for metabolism of carbs, fats, and proteins. This is just one example of why vitamins are kind of a BIG DEAL!
Dogs with diarrhea can also lose electrolytes like potassium from their GI tracts, so it becomes important to replenish potassium through either the diet or fluids. This is just another way a complete and balanced diet offers so much more to patients with sudden onset, uncomplicated diarrhea!
What about fibre?
The other concern with feeding chicken and rice is the lack of dietary fibre (ed note: this is how Canadians like Dr. Parr spell fiber, so no need to email us). Fibre is amazing! Especially for dogs with large bowel diarrhea (i.e. colitis). In 100 grams of cooked, long-grain, white rice there is under 1 gram of fibre!2
Adding fibre can help provide form to the stools so the pet can go from Hershey squirts to stools the owner can actually pooper scoop. It can also help regulate the movement of the gut. Additionally, some fibres can be fermented by the bugs in the GI tract (i.e. the microbiome) to produce energy for the cells of the GI tract. Feeding the cells of the gut is a good thing.
Now there is also a time and place for highly digestible (i.e. lower fibre diets) when dogs have diarrhea, so determining if there are any complicating factors (e.g. a growing puppy, a dog with pancreatitis or malabsorptive small intestinal disease, etc.) and if it is small, large, or mixed bowel diarrhea is a good place to start. For an extensive review on fibre, check out the American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) Nutrition Notes from Today’s Veterinary Practice!
What else could go wrong with chicken and rice?
When pet owners feed an unbalanced homemade diet, like chicken and rice, they often underfeed. While this may not be a concern if done for a day or two when the dog has an ideal body condition, keeping a dog with GI upset in negative energy balance for more than three days is not going to be in the best interests of the pet.
To put this into perspective, a 60 lbs. (27 kg) adult Lab, like Hershey, would needs between 1085-1335 kcal/day to meet his daily energy needs. If we aim for 1335 kcal/day, this means his mom would need to provide approximately 515 grams of cooked, long-grain, white rice2 and 405 grams of cooked, boneless, skinless chicken breast3 to meet his energy needs.4 That’s almost a kilogram of food to make daily!
What can be done to help Hershey?
Ideally Hershey, and other dogs with sudden onset, uncomplicated5 diarrhea should receive a complete and balanced diet and the type and amount of fibre in the diet should be carefully considered. Hershey’s mom can focus on small, frequent meals (typically 3-4 per day) and make sure Hershey has ample opportunity to go to the bathroom after meals. Also, Hershey should not be receiving any other foods. Consistency will be key for helping his GI tract settle down.
As far as monitoring goes, you can provide Hershey’s mom with a fecal scoring chart, aka a poop chart, to have her track his progress. Each day she can record his fecal scores and the number of bowel movements he has. This will help you assess the progress Hershey is making.
Once Hershey’s stools have returned to normal, his mom can gradually transition him back to a complete and balanced adult maintenance diet over 7-14 days. And of course together you will need a plan to keep Hershey from making “garbage disposal” his day job!
Until next time! Keep it balanced and keep it factual!
- Nutritional analysis performed using software provided by www.BalanceIT.com; 2. USDA Nutrient Database: 20445, Rice, white, long-grain, regular, unenriched, cooked without salt; 3. USDA Nutrient Database: 05064, Chicken, broilers or fryers, breast, meat only, cooked, roasted; 4. Calculations performed using a 50:50 mixture of chicken and white rice; 5. Uncomplicated by conditions such as pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, food allergies, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, etc. that would require further nutritional assessment.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.