We all know how much our furry loved ones enjoy chowing down on their favorite foods and treats. We spend a lot of time, thought, and energy making sure the things they eat help keep our dogs healthy and happy. But rarely do we ask the question how long does it take a dog to digest food?
However, we also spend a lot of time cleaning up after our dogs. We pay close attention to their digestive responses as they are indicators paramount to assessing our dog’s health (although we’re often missing the important questions).
But, once again, what exactly goes into the dog digestion process?
The Canine Digestive System
Wondering how long is a dog’s digestion process? You’re not alone. Understanding how long it takes a dog to digest food helps us promote their digestive system and gain insights into their inner workings. For instance, according to the Innovative Veterinary Care Journal, human beings and dogs have their ingestion storage reversed; dogs contain 70% of their ingesta in their stomach and only 30% in their intestinal tract. Whereas humans reverse that construct and keep 30% in their stomachs and 70% in their intestinal tract.
Facts like these prove we have to look at how our four-legged friends digestive systems work to learn ways to promote their gut health and prevent digestive problems in the future.
Promoting Your Dog’s Digestion
While our pups like to think they can eat anything, truth is they can’t. While there are several things your dog should never eat, there are also a myriad of factors that go into promoting your dog’s digestive health.
As you’ll deduce once we break down the various components of dog digestion, when you promote their digestive health you promote their entire well-being. That mean’s understanding from start to finish the digestion cycle and the factors that go into your dog’s digestion.
Factors That Go Into Your Dog’s Digestion
Each dog is unique. Just as each pup has their own personality and traits, each dog breed has a myriad of factors that affect their digestive system. In fact, according to PetMD, the canine digestive system takes anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to digest a meal fully, but it can take as long as 12 or as quick as four depending on your dog’s breed and the type of food consumed.
Even with these varying digestion cycles, we still find that there are key digestive factors you can monitor that are ubiquitous across dog breeds:
- The size of your dog – The size of your dog is one of the most significant factors that go into how long it takes your dog to digest food. Depending on your breed, a full grown adult dog can range from a chihuahua of 5lbs to an anatolian shepherd of 120 pounds.
- Breed of dog – Breed is the single most affecting element to any variance in dog traits. That being said, while sizes are interchangeable, dog breeds are not. Understanding what weights are typical for your dog can help protect their digestive health before any problems become significant.
- Age is the x-factor – Since the size of your dog and the breed of the dog are connected biologically, age is the x-factor in determining the characteristics that go into your dog’s digestive health. Just as puppies tend to use the restroom more often, and the aging dog’s metabolism wanes, age is the key variable in understanding the length of the digestive process. Generally, the older the dog, the longer the process (just like us!).
- The role exercise plays – Exercise is an important factor to your dog’s overall health and well-being. But it affects the digestive process of your dog as well. The more energy your dog expends, the faster their body will take the energy stored in their stomach and send it through their intestinal tract. There, it’s burned into caloric energy supplemental to the output of physical strength. Always keep a close eye on managing their energy input and output. Just like you; if you’re not active and yet you’re eating your weight in calories, your digestive system isn’t going to be happy. Yet, if you’re extremely active, you’ll need the proper caloric intake for balance.
- What they are eating – While this might seem obvious, different foods digest at different speeds. For example, larger amounts of grain are digested slower than those meals full of protein. A dog’s digestive tract will crave certain foods based on where it is in the process. Take an extra look at your feeding strategy. It could make all the difference.
The Dog Digestion Process
When it comes to dogs, it’s more than just what goes in and out of their mouth. The reality is, while your dog’s stool can tell you a lot about their current digestive health, understanding the digestive process ensures you’re up to date with any possible symptoms affecting these areas. While the dog digestion time is dependent on a number of different factors, here are the stages within the gastrointestinal tract.
- The Mouth – Just like human beings, the very first step in the digestive process is chewing the food. It can be the first area where a digestive problem occurs. This is also where you can first identify foods that may affect your dog’s digestive cycle.
- The Esophagus – The esophagus is the designated pathway where food and water pass from the mouth to the stomach. Keep a close eye for any problems occurring in this area. They generally need to be treated by your veterinarian immediately.
- The Stomach – The stomach is where partially-digested food is stored. It is also where your dog’s body produces acids and digestive enzymes to break these foods down. Sometimes, as your dog ages, they need help from supplements or additives in your dog’s diet to digest their food properly.
- The Intestines – The intestines are a connection of small and large organs where food is broken down and digested as absorbable nutrients.
- The Colon – The unsung hero of all digestive tracts, the colon is where pet food and waste become fecal matter, stored there until the doggy bag comes out. Inspecting your dog’s stool is paramount to understanding if they currently have a healthy digestive cycle. Picking up after your dog might be a chore, but it’s the least of your worries when it comes to the colon.
- Dog Digestive Cycle – It’s important to take a look at your dog’s digestive cycle as a whole. The process not only has an affect on your dog’s overall health and well-being, it is something that has to be monitored and nurtured over time. Your dog’s digestive needs will change based on their age, breed, and exercise routine. Be prepared to help promote their health by understanding their digestive needs.
Facts Specific to Your Dog’s Digestive Health
The gastrointestinal tract is a canine’s primary digestive organ. Below are a few facts that will help you further understand your dog’s digestive process.
- Dogs also suffer from heartburn
- Dogs hardly chew as their teeth are more for “ripping”
- Pet food moves through a dog’s GI tract three times as fast as us
- Dogs can’t chew side to side
- Cholesterol doesn’t impact a dog’s health
- Dogs were domesticated to digest and absorb carbs (naturally carnivorous… like their wolf predecessors!)
Always Consult With Your Veterinarian
It’s always prudent to consult with your veterinarian when starting your dog on a new diet. If you see any signs or symptoms of dog indigestion, consult with your veterinarian immediately. Although there are effective ways to help treat indigestion in dogs overall, it’s probably best you seek the advice of a professional.
Dog Vitamins and Supplements to Support Digestive Health
One of the most effective ways to promote a healthy digestive cycle in your dog is through vitamins and supplements. Vitamins and supplements aid your dog’s digestive system. That’s their whole purpose. Adding a digestive aid to your dog’s diet can help improve indigestion, allow him to digest food more easily, and keep the gi tract moving how it should.
While some vitamin and supplement companies would have you believe “more, more, more,” overuse of supplements won’t provide your pup with the vitamins and nutrients they need, but will instead overboard their system with unabsorbable leftovers.
The key is to find the perfect, all-in-one supplement for your companion.
Take Vetericyn’s All-In supplement for example: it’s age-specific, and supports your dog’s immune system, joints, mental health, gut health, and more. It’s a multivitamin that promotes several anatomical systems in one go. The Vetericyn All-In Life-Stage supplement is designed to be nutrient heavy and fully absorbable, so your dog reaps the benefits but isn’t overloaded by the contents.
How Long Does it Take a Dog to Digest Food?
The simple answer? Depends on your dog. With breed, age, exercise, diet and the organs that make up a dog’s digestive cycle, the digestive tract is one of the hardest areas to monitor in our furry friends.
- Generally, for small dogs and puppies, it’s four hours or so.
- For larger dogs, about eight.
Now that you’re armed with this information, you can begin to take preventative measures to ensure optimum gut health in your dog!
- AKC.OG . Breed Weight Chart.
- Vet Med. Digestive System of the Dog.
- IVC Journal. Understanding Pet Digestion. https://ivcjournal.com/understanding-pet-digestion/
Dr. Melinda J. Mayfield-Davis, DVM, WCHP-AH, brings over 20 years of experience in veterinary medicine. She is the Technical Services Veterinarian with Innovacyn, Inc., parent company of Vetericyn Animal Wellness. She received her DVM from Oklahoma State University and now resides in Southeast Kansas with her husband, two children, four dogs, and six horses. Prior to working with Innovacyn, Dr. Mayfield owned and operated the Animal Care Center in Columbus, KS.