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    Understanding Dog Digestion

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    You know dog digestion happens: Your dog eats their favorite kibble, it moves through their digestive system and ends up needing to be picked up in the yard—but you probably haven’t thought much about the actual biological process. Let us break it down for you.

    Dog digestive system

    Your dog’s digestive system handles digesting food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste. Several body parts are involved in the digestive process:

    • Mouth (teeth, salivary glands)
    • Esophagus 
    • Stomach
    • Small Intestine
    • Large Intestine
    • Pancreas
    • Liver 
    • Gallbladder

    Each part of your dog’s digestive system plays a crucial role in digestion.

    Parts of a dog's digestion system

    Mouth: Your dog uses their teeth to crunch their food into smaller pieces. Chewing activates the salivary glands, which release enzymes that help further break food down. 
     
    Esophagus and stomach: Once food is swallowed, it travels down the esophagus into the stomach where chemical processes continue breaking down the food. The stomach is a holding area that controls how much food is released into the small intestine.

    The volume of a dog’s stomach depends on their weight: smaller dogs have a stomach volume of around 0.5 liters compared to eight liters for larger dogs, which means that smaller dogs can’t eat as much food because their stomachs lack the volume to hold it.

    Small intestine: Food continues breaking down in the small intestine. This is also the part of the digestive system where nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins, are absorbed. 
     
    Liver and gallbladder: These organs play two roles in digestion: the liver produces bile to help digest fat and the gallbladder stores the bile. 
     
    Large intestine: In addition to absorbing water and nutrients, the large intestine is made up of the colon and rectum that are responsible for absorbing water and forming solid waste (feces) for elimination. 

    How long does it take for a dog to digest food

    Bigger dogs have longer digestive tracts. Research shows that, on average, a dog that weighs 70 pounds has a digestive tract that measures more than 20 feet while the digestive tract of an 11-pound dog is almost eight feet.

    Regardless of the length of their digestive tract, it takes an average of eight to 12 hours for dogs to fully digest their food. There are a few things that affect the speed of digestion:

    Age: Puppies digest food faster than senior dogs because digestion slows with age.

    Hydration: Water helps speed up the digestive process. The more water your dog drinks, the speedier their digestion.

    Food type: It takes dogs longer to digest kibbles than wet food.

    Activity level: More active dogs digest food more quickly than sedentary dogs.

    Dog digestion problems

    If part of your dog’s digestive system isn’t working properly, it can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, bloating and abdominal pain. 

    Stress, infectious diseases, parasites, gastric ulcers and foreign bodies that get stuck along the digestive tract can interfere with your dog’s digestion.

    To diagnose a digestive disorder, your vet will do a thorough physical exam and may recommend x-rays, ultrasounds or an endoscopy, which involves inserting a tube with a camera into the digestive tract to look for abnormalities. The treatment for digestive disorders can include medication, intravenous fluids or surgery. 

    If you suspect your dog has a digestive disorder, call your veterinarian. Getting the right treatment to get your dog’s digestion back on track is the best way to help them feel better.


    More knowledge on raising dogs

    Our dog food meat guide explains what to consider when choosing the best meat for your dog, including information about salmon, chicken, beef, venison, duck and lamb dog food.
    Find the perfect sensitive stomach dog food for your pup with digestive issues. We’ll help you find the right food for your pup by understanding symptoms and potential causes.