Even though we think of our dogs as members of the family and treat them accordingly, it is important that we never lose sight of the fact that humans and dogs are different species. We both have different anatomies and bodily processes.
The dog digestive system is a good example of this. Just as dogs need different types of foods and nutrients to stay fit and healthy, dog digestion is different to that of us humans too.
In this blog post, we will run through all of the organs and functions that make up the dog digestive system, from head to tail, to help you understand how your dog digests food!
The structure and layout of your dog’s teeth are designed to cope with the type of foods that dogs naturally seek out and have evolved to eat over millennia. This is why dogs have large canine teeth to bite, grip and tear up food, and chew and break down meat and bones. Adult dogs have around 42 teeth in total, compared to 32 for adult humans.
A dog’s digestive process starts in the stomach. This differs materially from humans. We use our teeth to grind our food and moisten it with saliva containing digestive enzymes, in particular amylase to aid the digestion of starches and lipase to digest fats. It is estimated that in humans 30% of starch digestion takes place in the mouth and that 60-70% is digested within half an hour. The digestive process in humans is well and truly underway by the time the food hits the stomach.
This is not the case with dogs who do not have any amylase in their saliva and don’t chew their food. Instead they gulp their food with a view to getting it to where the action takes place (the stomach) as quickly as possible. The stomach starts to produce the digestive protease enzymes (pepsinogen, trypsin and chymotrypsin) and stomach acid to break food down protein into smaller amino acids that can be absorbed and used by the body.
Gastric lipase is also produced in the stomach to start digesting fats.
When your dog swallows their food, it passes through the oesophagus, or gullet. Strong muscles along the length of the oesophagus help to push the food down into the stomach, as part of the chewing process.
When food reaches the stomach, the real process of dog digestion begins. Your dog’s stomach contains acid which is 100 times stronger than in humans. This unfolds the proteins and activates the enzyme pepsinogen to release amino acids. The acid also softens bone matter…..
The small intestine
When your dog’s stomach has broken their food down sufficiently enough to allow it to enter the next stage of the digestive process, the resulting mushy liquid passes through into the small intestine. This is where your dog’s body absorbs the nutrients that they need from their food, leaving the remaining waste products to be expelled from the body.
The large intestine
Any food that isn’t used by the body and absorbed in the small intestine passes right through the large intestine, which consists of a long, muscular tube. This is the final stage of the digestive process, which allows your dog to pass stools to eliminate waste products from the body.
Did you know?
· It only takes around eight to nine hours for your dog to completely process a meal, from the time that they eat it to the time they pass the remaining waste. The dog digestive system has the shortest total processing cycle time of any mammal.
· Different types of foods can lead to vastly different levels of stool production in your dog, even when comparing food like-for-like by volume. The dog digestive system isn’t designed to process grains like wheat and other bulking agents that are commonly used in commercial dog food diets, which leads to a greater volume of stools.
· Grains like wheat have virtually no nutritional value for your dog, and will be eliminated from the body through the stools. Whilst feeding a natural diet that your dog has evolved to eat, like the BARF or raw food diet, will produce a smaller quantity of stools, because your dog’s body can make meaningful use of more of the nutrients within such a diet.
· Dogs naturally seek a varied diet, and they are not obligate carnivores like cats. Dogs are omnivores, who will both hunt and scavenge for food in the wild, and eat a combination of meat, bones, and sometimes, fruit and veg too.