Dog lovers often humanize their four-legged friends. We communicate with them, treat them with care, and our companionship runs deep!
But when it comes to the health of our pups, it’s important to understand the fundamentals of their biology to make the best possible choices regarding your dog’s nutrition and your dog's diet.
That means we should learn about things like the canine digestive system because there are some major differences between ours and theirs that may not be super obvious.
In this article, we’re going to ask an important question that doesn’t get a lot of airtime: how long does it take for a dog to digest food? The more we know about our dogs inside and out, the more we can ensure they live long, healthy and happy lives.
So, let’s get into the need-to-know details you may be missing, and see how your dog’s digestion impacts all areas of well-being.
Dog digestion basics
Despite massive variation between breeds, let’s not forget that dogs are all the same species of animals, and their gastrointestinal tract (or GI tract) pretty much have the same plumbing.
According to a blog article from the Innovative Veterinary Care Journal, the dog digestive system is pretty much opposite from ours.
For us humans, the stomach does only about 30% of the work in the digestion process, while the intestinal tract does the other 70% and does most of the heavy lifting.
Dogs’ stomachs play a much bigger role in their systems, as 70% percent of their ingesta is processed there, while the remaining 30% is taken care of in the small intestines (duodenum, ileum, and jejunum) and large intestines.
That explains why humans eat a few small meals per day and chew slowly, while dogs only eat once or twice and “wolf down” their food faster than we can believe!
Also recognize that a dog’s mouth is filled with all kinds of saliva that we may find kind of gross, but it plays a big role in quickly lubricating and breaking down different foods without as much chewing, or breathing.
An article from Dogster also points out that canines have super strong muscles in their esophagus, which forcibly directs food down into the dog's stomach.Once the meal hits the doggie stomach, things get serious in the dog's digestive system! This area is filled with extremely acidic fluids in the stomach acid, as well as digestive enzymes that aggressively break down food into a semi-liquid substance called chyme.
At this point, the majority of the nutrients your dog needs have been isolated, while the remaining material is sent along to the intestine for the final goodbye.The doggie intestinal tract is usually three times as long as the animal itself, and its main function is to remove water from the chyme and prep it for departure.
Now that you know the essentials, let’s get talk variables!
Different breeds, different speeds
Generally, larger dog breeds take longer to digest their food than smaller ones.
This is because they eat bigger meals, require more nutrients, and simply have a longer digestive tract through which the food travels. It also takes longer for the nutrients from the food to be absorbed and circulated throughout the dog's body, which also adds some amount of time to the total digestion process.
As an article from Vetericyn tells us, small dogs and puppies usually digest their food in about four hours, while bigger breeds can take as long as six to eight hours.
Even though a spaniel will eat an only slightly smaller meal than a Great Dane, the bigger guy is going to take more than twice as long to complete the digestion process as the little one.
More athletic breeds will also have a speedier digestion process than domesticated breeds since they are closer to their ancient relatives and have faster metabolisms.
Age also plays a part in digestion speed for dogs.
You’ll notice that as your puppy becomes a full-grown dog, its digestion time will slow down. As the aging process continues, it takes even longer to digest food due to slowed metabolism.
While digestion times may change by only an hour or two, that’s a lot of time in dog years! That’s why you’ll find that young pups have to go to the bathroom more frequently, and often in places that you don’t expect.
You can do your part in optimizing your dog’s digestion by making sure they have the right type of food for its breed, age-range, and level of physical activity.
Hydration, exercise and more
A few more significant factors come into play to determine the speed and effectiveness of dog digestion, according to the Dogster blog.
Every human knows that hydration is key to overall health, and the same goes for nearly every mammal.
Lack of water in the system slows down digestion and also weakens nutrient absorption throughout the body.
Make sure that the water bowl is always filled to the brim with fresh water, especially during the summer months and after a long walk or playdate in the park.
Speaking of exercise, it’s clear that active dogs have a much healthier digestive process, and their bodies use the food they eat far more efficiently. Just another reason to make sure you take your dog out frequently and have a blast!
A few other things to keep in mind when monitoring your dog’s digestive health:
- Watch out for weird eating behaviors like hesitance to eat or slow eating
- Make sure there is a healthy amount of saliva in his/her mouth
- Try to track the frequency of bathroom trips for poop regularity
- Keep an eye on the quality of stool and ensure consistency
- Avoid throwing scraps to your dog from the table, however much you want to
- Prevent them from licking/eating any weird stuff at the park, if you can
If you stick to the basic doggie commandments you learned long ago, there should be no problems. Just don’t hesitate to ask a vet if something suspicious shows up!
Food quality is critical
We touched on the food type a bit earlier, but we should explore it in more detail now.
You may not realize the drastic variation that exists between types of dog food, and how it affects the digestion and overall health of your pup.
For example, food with moisture is almost always considered preferable for any dog, as opposed to the dried bits and pellets you may be familiar with.
All it takes is one look at the nutritional information panel of typical grocery store dog food to see that the real-food components are vastly outweighed by unpronounceable chemicals.
Just like the IVC Journal says, every little factor makes a difference when it comes to food: “moisture, processing, balance, structure, sourcing, amount, frequency of meals, and even how it is served.”
With that said, it can be tough to get great fresh food for your dog. You do have a life, after all. If money or time didn’t exist, we’d probably be cooking individual meals for our pups every morning and night!
At Ollie, we make it easier than ever before to feed your dog the best possible food. No matter your dog’s age, breed, level of activity, or allergies, our plans are customized to perfection, and ready to change with any new developments.
What kind of food are we talking about here? Our recipes are the real deal:
- Beef with sweet potatoes and peas
- Chicken with rice and spinach
- Turkey with lentils and pumpkin
- Lamb with kale and butternut squash
Each vet-formulated recipe is designed to optimize every area of your dog’s health.
Packed with omega-3 fatty acids for heart and brain health, protein for muscle maintenance, and fiber for digestion, each meal is perfectly balanced.
We also ensure that zero unnatural preservatives make it into our recipes, and since they are shipped to your door, they’ll always be fresh instead of collecting dust on the shelf.
No more guesswork, just the best possible quality ingredients for your dog’s best life.
Every dog is unique
You may have just learned more about dog digestion than you ever thought you needed, but we’re glad you did! You’re now a more knowledgeable, thoughtful, and a responsible pup parent.
The key takeaway here is that no two dogs have the same dietary needs, even if they were born in the same afternoon.
Every dog has a unique set of needs, and it’s up to you as an owner to make sure they’re met.
And as they age and things change, you need to be able to adapt fluidly and on the fly. We’re here to make that process super simple and stress-free.
If you think it’s time to level up your dog’s nutrition plan or you are about to get a new puppy, consider getting started with Ollie today!
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.