There are a lot of factors that determine how long it takes for a dog to digest food, but a general rule of thumb is somewhere between 4-8 hours from the time of ingestion. In this article, we’re going to give you an overview of exactly how your dog’s digestive system works, including a variety of factors that can influence their digestion.
How Does My Dog’s Digestive System Work?
A dog’s digestive system is overall fairly similar to humans.
Dogs chew their food less than humans and more than cats - just look at the differences in dentition. Humans have 12 molars total, whereas dogs have 10 molars (some are very small) and cats only have 4, and like dogs, some of their molars are very small and not very useful for grinding food. Dogs and cats also have specialized teeth called carnassial teeth that are thought to have developed from molars. These teeth are specialized for tearing and shearing of meat.
Dogs produce a large amount of saliva as compared to humans, but interestingly, their saliva does not contain enzymes to break down starches like in humans.
The baseline gastric pH is more acidic in humans than in dogs, but once a meal is consumed, a dog is able to produce more stomach acid as compared to a human.
How Long Does It Take for My Dog to Digest Their Food?
The timeline for digestion can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. These include your dog’s age, size, activity level, hydration, and most importantly, the digestibility of their food.
When you have a puppy, it may seem as though everything they eat and drink goes right through them in a matter of an hour or two. This is not completely true, although their GI transit times are faster than that of adult dogs. As they mature, dogs’ digestion slows down and they may be adequately fed with two meals per day.
Another important factor in your dog’s digestion is their activity level. The more active your dog is, the more quickly they will digest their food. Remember to always feed your dog based on their ideal weight - not their current weight.
The amount of water that your dog drinks will also influence their ability to digest their food. If they haven’t had enough water, their bodies will have a harder time passing food through their systems and digesting it.
Make sure your dog always has access to fresh water in their bowl to drink when they’re thirsty.
What is Food Digestibility in Dog Food?
The digestibility of your dog’s food is the percentage of food that can be broken down and utilized. For example, if they eat 150 grams of kibble and then eliminate only 15 grams of stool, that would mean 90 percent of the food they ate was “digestible.”
The digestibility of the food is the percentage that your dog can actually turn into nutrients and absorb into their body.
High digestibility is preferred, as that means your dog can receive the same amount of nutrients while eating a lower volume of food. In addition, the easier the food is to digest, the less work their digestive system has to do.
This leads to a healthier gut for your pup. Not to mention, their fecal production will be a great deal lower as there is less waste product with a highly digestible diet.
What Makes a Dog Food More Digestible?
The digestibility of a dog food is dependent on the ingredients, production method and to a lesser extent if there are digestive aids added to the food.
One study found that some meals were more digestible than their fresh protein sources, but this only accounted for digestibility and not necessarily actual nutrition content. Most meals like chicken meal are made up of leftover parts from the animals and may or may not contain the protein and nutrients that the fresh protein source would.
Another important element in determining digestibility is the way the food is processed. Traditional kibble is produced through a process called hot extrusion in which ingredients are heated to a very high temperature and formed into kibble under high pressure (the same way Cheetos are made). This results in the loss of many vitamins and minerals and may also affect digestibility. The digestibility to most kibbles is around 70-80%.
Sundays is gently air-dried to ensure that we retain as many nutrients in our food while ensuring that we’ve removed all pathogens. Due to our gentle production method, the digestibility of Sundays is around 90%.
Lastly, many high-quality dog foods have ingredients that are meant to help dogs digest the food and get all of the available nutrients from it. For example, in Sundays Food for Dogs, we use pumpkin and ginger.
Both of these are all-natural ingredients that are great for your pup’s stomach--they can even ease indigestion.
Probiotics and ingredients with high fiber are also things to look out for, as they will help keep your dogs stomach and bowels in check. Especially for dogs with sensitive stomachs or sensitive skin, digestive aids can be extremely helpful to their bodies.
What If My Dog Eats Something He Can’t Digest?
As closely as we watch our pups, once in a while our dogs may eat something that they cannot digest (whether it be food or an object). Sometimes, they might defecate out the object undigested but it may become stuck and cause an obstruction.
How your dog does his business can tell you a lot about your dog’s gut health. If your dog has diarrhea, is going more than usual, or is constipated and is having trouble eliminating, these can all be signs that something is wrong.
If you notice something off with their bowel movements, be sure to contact your vet.
Is My Dog Digesting His Food Properly?
As long as your dog is happy, healthy, and their bowel movements are formed but not overly firm, you should have nothing to worry about. Although there are general timelines for dog digestion, it can vary wildly from dog to dog. Some dogs eating the same food will defecate multiple times a day, whereas others might not even defecate every day (more common with a more digestible diet).
If things start differing from what you are used to seeing, that is when you may want to contact your vet.
If the issue seems to be with your dog’s diet, consider swapping out their food for something that will make digestion easier for them.
We built Sundays to be the best dog food with ingredients designed to be nutrient-dense and highly digestible. Give it a try. Our dogs love it, and we think yours will too.