Dog Digestive System: How Long Does it Take a Dog to Digest Food?

Updated: 2/12/20242-4 minutes
Dog owner tickles dog’s stomach while dog lays on back

You probably don’t think about it every day, but your dog’s digestive system is extremely sophisticated. There’s a lot that goes into dog digestion, and while you can’t see everything that’s happening inside their system, you can affect it on both ends – at the start with proper nutrition and at the end with monitoring waste elimination. Read on for more information about the digestive system of a dog and how you can stay on top of their digestive care.

What Are the Functions of a Dog’s Digestive System?

Before we go deep into how the dog digestion process works, it’s important to understand the digestive system’s primary functions.

  1. Digest Food
    The most obvious function of the digestive system is to digest food. Our dogs benefit from consistently digesting a highly nutritious diet. It starts by ensuring they eat food that is formulated with precise amounts of the ingredients, vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients they need.
  2. Absorb Nutrients
    While we can’t see inside our dogs’ digestive tracts, the food they eat should break down and include nutrients that absorb into the blood stream. A highly digestible food is one piece of the puzzle that can help ensure nutrient absorption.
  3. Eliminate Waste
    Monitoring waste elimination is critical, too. The consistency of your dog’s poop can be a telltale sign of their health or lack thereof. The size, shape and color of your dog’s waste are also factors that play a role in monitoring the dog digestive system.

How Does a Dog’s Digestive System and Microbiome Work?

There are many parts of a dog’s digestive system and elements that play a key role in digesting food, absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste. Within a dog’s digestive system, there’s also the gut microbiome which consists of many tiny living organisms that contribute to the health of your pet. From the mouth to the large intestine, every phase and function contributes to their overall health.

Mouth

The process starts at the mouth. When your dog takes a bite of food, their mouth, teeth and salivary glands work to break down food into small pieces that can move through the esophagus and onto the stomach.

Stomach

Once the food reaches your dog’s stomach, enzymes and acids work to break down the food even further. Together, they form a pulpy acidic fluid that consists of gastric juices and partially digested food otherwise known as chyme. 

Small Intestine

Once the chyme has left the stomach, the next part of the dog digestive tract is the small intestine. Here is where nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream. The contents then continue through to the large intestine.

Large Intestine

The large intestine is the last stop. Mucus is secreted here, and water and electrolytes are extracted. These functions help to control your dog’s defecation.

Now that you know all the phases of digestion, from beginning to end, let’s talk more about the length of time it takes for dogs to digest food.

How Long Does it Take a Dog to Digest Food?

Some dogs take mere minutes – even seconds – to devour their food, but the time it takes to digest it is much longer. On average, total gastrointestinal transit time in dogs is about one to two days.

Digestive enzymes for dogs are key components in the breakdown and passage of their food. While over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements are available and can occur naturally in food, most dogs do not need supplementation from digestive enzymes unless they have a medical condition where they do not produce enough digestive enzymes from their pancreas (diagnosed with a blood test from your veterinarian). Your veterinarian will help diagnose this condition and provide you with proper treatment recommendations. Dogs with sensitive stomach conditions may benefit from prebiotic or probiotic supplements.

How to Maintain Your Dog’s Digestive Health

Whether you’re proactively trying to keep your dog’s gut healthy or you’re dealing with dog digestive issues, probiotics and prebiotics may help.

Probiotics for Dogs

Probiotics are live bacteria containing many gut health benefits for dogs. If you’re considering digestive supplements for dogs or a probiotic dog food, and your veterinarian approves, you can feel good knowing that probiotics are helping good bacteria thrive. This has exponential benefits beyond digestion, as some probiotics can also benefit dogs’ immune health.

Prebiotics for Dogs

Prebiotics are also available as a dog digestive supplement. However, they differ from probiotics in that they’re derived from specific fiber sources that encourage the growth of your dog’s good bacteria. They can also maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut and provide regulation when it comes to digesting food. 

There’s more you can learn about supporting your dog’s gut health in our article about the differences between probiotics and prebiotics for dogs.

Dog Digestion Facts

Can Dogs Digest Bones?

The truth is, yes, bones can break down with the help of digestive enzymes. For dogs, though, there’s no guarantee that every bone will properly digest. That’s why the safest bet is to discard the bones before they ever hits your dog’s bowl. It’s simply not worth the risk of a bone lodging inappropriately in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.

Rawhide bones are an option for dogs to satisfy their need to chew. It’s important to remember, though, that quality and safety are highly important when considering whether to feed your dog this type of chew treat. Unfortunately, some manufacturers make rawhide bones with subpar quality and safety standards, which could potentially harm dogs by choking, ingesting bad bacteria or causing digestive upset.

Can a Veterinarian Diagnose a Dog’s Sensitive Stomach?

Yes, a veterinarian can diagnose a digestive issue or sensitive stomach in your dog. However, digestive issues are often difficult to diagnose. Dogs’ digestive systems are complex, and it’s often challenging to pinpoint the exact source of the problem given the complexity of the digestive tract.

If a digestive issue is detected, veterinarians and specialists can recommend both food for dogs with sensitive stomachs and natural remedies for dog digestion. A diet tailored to their specific needs along with supplements for dogs such as EverRoot Dog Digestion Supplements could be a helpful combination to get your dog’s gut and overall health on track.

Can Dogs Get Heartburn?

Like humans, dogs can get heartburn. It often stems from acid reflux which occurs when fluids in the esophagus reverse and rise in the throat instead of digesting down. Common symptoms of acid reflux are lip-licking, regurgitating food, drooling and lack of appetite. If you notice your dog experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian. They may be able to provide remedies to mitigate the reflux and a diet recommendation as a preventative measure.

What to Do if Your Dog is Having Digestion Issues

There are signs to look for to determine if your dog is experiencing digestive upset. This can include diarrhea, vomiting, constipation and other symptoms of digestive discomfort. If these symptoms occur, consult your veterinarian, who can properly diagnose and recommend an effective treatment plan.

For more expert tips for the health of your dog, explore our other dog health articles.

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