One of the important things we do for our canine companions is making sure they eat right. The food you give your dog depends on their stage of life. When they’re a puppy, you want to be sure they have dog food packed full of the nutrients needed to support your rapidly growing dog’s body.

When dogs reach their senior years, the type of pet food they require changes again. Many of our older furry friends benefit from a weight management formula if they’ve become less active.

Aside from these considerations, the best food for your pooch is generally one that supports their overall health and digestive system. Gut health is critical for proper nutrient absorption. For sure, it can be confusing to decide on the best pet food for your dog.

This is particularly true if they’ve developed some digestive problems. You may be wondering, for example, if they have new food sensitivities and a change to a raw food diet or another brand of dog food might help.

Before switching to another food, or calling the vet, it’s good to know about the inner workings of the dog digestive system and ways to maintain their digestive health. Let’s start with the digestion process.

How a Dog’s Digestive System Works

How a Dog’s Digestive System Works

Dogs have a digestive tract that can be compared to a long muscular tube. From the moment food enters a dog’s mouth until waste products are expelled, there are a number of organ systems involved in the process of digestion.

Each has a critical function that contributes to breaking down the food, extracting the nutrients that a dog’s body needs and getting rid of the leftovers. Here’s how the dog digestive system works.

The Mouth

Digestion begins in the mouth. Dogs use their teeth to break food into smaller pieces and, with the help of enzymes in their saliva, food is broken down further. The food then moves from the mouth to the stomach through the esophagus.

The Stomach

When food reaches your pup’s stomach, digestive enzymes contained in this organ work with the stomach muscles to break down specific proteins. The quantity of canine stomach acid produced is almost 100 times more than humans. This means that dogs are quite effective at ingesting grizzle and other tough substances.

Small and Large Intestines

The stomach contents travel along the dog digestive system to the intestine system. This is where an important process takes place.

Most nutrients available in the food are absorbed by the small intestine. Two other organs have a supporting role in readying the nutrients to be absorbed though the walls of the small intestine and carried in the blood stream to nourish the dog’s body.

Specifically, the gallbladder contributes bile that neutralizes any stomach acid, and pancreas enzymes support the chemical reactions involved in digesting food and absorbing nutrients. Finally, the liver metabolizes the nutrients from food.

When the large intestine becomes involved, most of the nutritional components have already been absorbed by the dog’s body. Any water that remains in the food is absorbed with the help of the large intestine, and waste products are moved on through the digestive system.    

The Rectum

The rectum is the last stop on the dog digestive system. This site is where waste products from food are stored until they’re ready to be expelled as feces. When the production of waste is completed, the dog has an urge to defecate.

How do Dogs Digest Differently?

We’ve already mentioned that dogs have considerably more stomach acid that humans, and this assists them to break down even the toughest food products.

There are a few other differences between dogs and humans when it comes to digestion – as well as some things we share.

Chewing abilitySomething you’ve probably noticed is that Lassie or Lola has teeth that are very sharp and pointier than yours. A dog’s teeth are made for tearing up and chewing food efficiently. Plus, dogs have 42 teeth in their mouth while humans have 32.

Saliva production A dog’s salivary glands produce saliva that’s doesn’t have one of the components that ours has. This is amylase, and it’s one of the enzymes that a human’s digestive system uses to begin to break down food.

Meat and plant dietDogs and people both eat a diet of meat and plants. In other words, we’re both omnivores. That’s one similarity.

Heart burn symptoms Something else you share with your pooch when it comes to digestion is heart burn. As you may know, this takes place when the stomach produces too much acid.   

Symptoms of Indigestion

Dogs normally digest a meal in about six to eight hours. This depends on their breed, age, size, and underlying health conditions. Another factor influencing digestion time is the type of dog food Fido eats.

You might already expect that your pup can digest wet food faster than dry food. However, pet food with high-quality digestible ingredients moves faster through your pooch’s digestive tract.

Any components of food that can’t be digested properly means that some nutrients aren’t absorbed by the dog’s body. These substances are expelled as waste. Having said that, fiber is one material that can’t be broken down but is crucial for digestive health.

Your dog’s feces can help you determine their gut health. For instance, if you see some pieces of vegetable matter that’s a good thing as it’s one helpful source of fiber.

If your doggo is having food digestive problems, you’re apt to see some particular behavioral symptoms. Perhaps you’ve observed them straining when trying to relieve themselves. If they seem constipated or have diarrhea or bouts of vomiting, indigestion could be the cause.

Some other symptoms are dehydration, breathing difficulty, low energy, obesity, or white gums. These could certainly be as a result of other health problems. Nevertheless, take note and bring your dog to the veterinarian to have their gut health checked out if problems persist.

Common Diseases of a Dog’s Digestive Tract

dog drinking water

One of the reasons for involving your veterinarian is that your canine’s digestive issue could point to a much bigger health concern. It could be anything from colitis to parasites in the small intestine to another problem entirely. While you’re deciding whether to make a veterinarian appointment, here’s some information on common digestive tract diseases.

Infected Salivary Glands

These glands can become inflamed due to a virus, trauma or, less commonly, a tumor. This makes it harder for dogs to chew their food and they may avoid eating.

Esophagus Issues

There are several different diseases of the esophagus. It can also become inflamed due to ongoing vomiting, or as a reaction to drugs or anesthesia. One thing that’s more common is that foreign matter becomes stuck in the esophagus.

Disease in the Stomach and Intestines

The stomach, small intestine or large intestine can become inflamed. You may be familiar with gastritis. That’s when the stomach is affected. Enteritis is when the swelling occurs in the intestines. A number of viral illnesses can also be implicated such as distemper, parvovirus and, coronaviral gastroenteritis.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Along with Leaky Gut Syndrome, IBD compromises the immune system and food nutrients can’t be absorbed properly. These illnesses happen to a human being as well as an animal. These aliments require treatment from your vet.


Parasites, microorganisms and other nasty problems can invade any part of a dog’s digestive tract.

Gastrointestinal Tumors

Actually, these are fairly rare but worth mentioning since they can interfere with proper food digestion. The severity and location of gastrointestinal tumors varies.

Anal Sac Issues

Anal sacs, that are just below your dog’s anus, can be prone to infection or abscess, or becoming impacted. This is more common with smaller dog breeds.

Maintaining Dog Digestive Health

Maintaining Dog Digestive Health

The overall health and well-being of your doggo depends, in large part, on their digestive health. Making sure your dog’s digestion is supported with high-quality digestible food is necessary.

With the right food, your dog’s gut will use less energy trying to process food and extract the nutrients their body needs for growth and optimal functioning. You’ll see a dog with more spark in their step and a firmer stool. Sally’s or Snoopy’s gut health may also show in a shiny coat and nice skin.

Here are a few other ways to help maintain dog digestion:

Increase Vitamins and Minerals

When you read the ingredient list on your pet’s food, you’ll see a number of vitamins and minerals included. These are extremely important substances for your dog to ingest daily in sufficient quantity.

If you believe your dog may be deficient in vitamins or minerals, providing these in a nutritional supplement added to dog food is a good idea. Veterinary medicine covers what amounts of vitamins and minerals dogs need at different life stages, so ask you veterinarian for advice.

Switch Protein

Protein digestion depends on the type of protein in food. Some kinds are easier on a dog’s digestive system, and your pup is able to process and absorb more nutrients from the food. This is because some meats are more digestible when compared to others.

The main proteins found in dog food are poultry, lamb, and fish. Of these, fish and poultry offer higher quality protein as well as more essential nutrients.

Therefore, you could switch dog foods to see if it improves your canine’s tummy troubles. When a dog’s diet is high in protein and low in fat helps a dog’s digestion. Take note that adding human food is not the answer! 

Incorporate Probiotics

Probiotics are important for dog digestion. Animals and people already have these helpful bacteria living in their gut. They assist with absorbing amino acids and other nutrients, so you may have heard them referred to as ‘good’ bacteria. Probiotics can be added to your pet’s food as a supplement.

Try Turkey Tail Mushroom

Turkey tail mushrooms are another idea to consider. This fungus can be helpful to your pet, when given with their food, for several reasons. It contains a wealth of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.

When it comes to assisting with your dog’s digestive health, turkey tail mushrooms behave like a probiotic and give your furry friend’s immune system a boost. It’s readily available as a supplement to add to your dog’s food.

Exercise Routine

A dog’s digestive system can store a large amount of food for a long time. This is turned into energy as they need it, depending on their activity level.

The more Charlie or Coco runs and plays, the more energy they require and the faster their digestive tract will work to produce this. If your dog’s exercise routine has changed, take care to match their food intake accordingly.

Our Final Thoughts

all hands together with dog paw

There’s definitely a lot to know about the canine digestive system and the process of dog digestion. You know your pup’s toilet habits so you’re bound to see if they’re behaving differently in this area.

Remember, the good news is that troublesome symptoms aren’t always an indication of a more serious health problem. Just pay attention to anything that seems out of character, investigate the cause and make any food and other adjustments to support their digestive health. You can always book an appointment with your vet to put your mind at ease.   

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for things to go through a dog's digestive system?

Dogs normally digest a meal in abut six to eight hours.

What is good for a dog's digestion?

Pet food made of high-quality digestible ingredients moves faster through a canine digestive system.

How do you know if your dog has digestive problems?

Your dog could be having indigestion if they’re constipated, have diarrhea or are vomiting.

How can I clear my dog’s digestive system?

Dog digestion is helped by switching proteins, increasing vitamin and mineral intake, giving probiotic supplements, and matching food with activity level. If symptoms like diarrhea or constipation continue, ask your vet for advice