For humans, it takes us about 6 hours to completely digest a meal. However, for a dog, undigested food can remain in the stomach for up to 12 hours depending. That’s just a ballpark figure though. The question “how long does it take for a dog to digest food?” is a little more complicated than that. There are several factors to consider.
Some of these factors include the age, breed, and size of your dog, their diet, as well as their exercise routine.
However, before we look at these factors, a general understanding of the overall digestive process that occurs in dogs might help put things in perspective as we seek to answer today’s questions.
What Is The Canine Digestive Process?
The digestive process, as it occurs in dogs, is a little complicated and different than what you have in humans. Beginning at the mouth, you already begin to notice certain differences between you and your dog.
For dogs, there are no enzymes in the saliva, so no digestion took place in the mouth. Instead, food goes directly to the stomach where the digestive enzymes begin to work on the food (including bone) converting it to chyme. From the stomach, the chyme passes down to the small intestine where digestion proper is carried out, and then the nutrients are absorbed by the ileum.
The final stage of digestion takes place in the large intestine from which the waste leaves your dog’s body.
Let’s take a quick trip along the alimentary canal of the dog.
Does Digestion Begin In A Dog’s Mouth?
Digestion for dogs does not begin in the mouth. Unlike humans, dogs have no enzymes in their saliva. So, as you might have noticed, they hardly chew their food. They just pass it down to the stomach almost immediately through the esophagus where digestion actually begins.
The stomach of a dog is highly acidic and also contains digestive enzymes, unlike the mouth. In fact, your dog’s stomach is more than 100 times more acidic than yours, and why’s that? Well, the stomach is designed to digest bone. Yes, dogs can actually digest bone!
That said, the stomach’s function is to work on ingested food converting it into chyme which is a mixture of food, acid, and water.
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3. The Small Intestine
The partly digested chyme formed in the stomach passes on into the small intestine where digestion proper actually commences. This is where your dog begins the careful isolation of its needed nutrients from the food.
This nutrient isolation happens in 3 steps.
In the first step, the chyme gets to the duodenum. Here, the liver and pancreas secrete enzymes and hormones which help to reduce the acidity of the chyme.
In the next step, the less acidic chyme then gets to the jejunum where little probes absorb the needed nutrients, passing them into the blood.
After this, the chyme gets passed to the ileum where further absorption of nutrients occurs.
4. The Large Intestine
Once the food leaves the ileum, it looks more like a pasty substance with some thickness to it which gets passed along to the large intestine.
This is where the final stage of digestion takes place. The large intestine is, well, large and muscular and is the route through which waste passes out of your dog’s body and unto your lawn or wherever your dog chooses to do his business.
Now, because the actual nutrients which your dog’s body requires are tiny in comparison to the volume of food he consumes, dogs usually pass a significant amount of poop. This poop actually comprises 70% water and 30% undigested food.
How Long Does The Digestive Process Take?
Well, the truth is that digested food can remain in the stomach of a dog for as long as 12 hours or as little as four hours depending on the kind of food it is, as well as its quantity. If it’s not a “serious meal,” then it might only remain in the stomach for about 4 to 8 hours. However, for “more serious meals,” food can remain in the stomach for up to 12 hours straight. So, in summary, timing the entire process of digestion from swallowing down to pooping, dogs can take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours to digest food.
However, like we explained, this figure is not set in stone and is affected by a long list of factors. Below are top factors that affect the time it takes a dog to completely digest his food.
What Are The Factors Affecting How Long It Takes A Dog To Digest Food?
The following are factors that affect how long it takes a dog to digest food:
- The size, breed, and age of the dog.
- How much exercise he is getting.
- His diet as well.
1. Size, Breed, And Age
The size of a dog is one of the most critical factors that affects the amount of time it takes a dog to digest his food.
Dogs differ in size according to their size. For instance, an adult Labrador retriever is 12 times bigger than an adult Chihuahua. These two dogs will definitely digest food at different rates.
On the other hand, there’s also age. If you’ve noticed, pups visit the bathroom much more frequently than older dogs. This is because, in pups, the digestive system is a sprint, however, as the dog ages, this sprint gradually slows down into a more venerable marathon.
So, as you might have deduced, the older and larger a dog gets, the slower the digestive process.
The way the alimentary canal of a dog is designed, it can continue to store large quantities of food for a long time in the stomach. As energy is needed by the dog, the digestive system works on the food to release energy commensurate to the energy demands of the dog.
This is why exercise is important for your dog. If your dog is active and exercises regularly, the body digests food faster to produce energy, which, in turn, means that food digests much quicker.
This much is obvious, different foods digest at different rates. For instance, grains take a much longer time to digest than proteins. This is because your dog’s digestive system is designed to work with a protein-rich diet. A protein-rich diet is your dog’s body’s favorite because it supplies the high level of calories that your dog requires for his active lifestyle.
Also, between dry and wet food, of course, wet food is digested much faster than dry food for obvious reasons.
Other factors that determine the amount of time it takes your dog to digest food include:
- Prevailing health conditions.
- The amount of water your dog consumes.
- Existing diseases.
- Your dog’s weight (is your dog underweight or overweight?).
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To conclude, dogs typically pass out poop at least once or twice a day. This shows that all is A-okay in the gut. If he isn’t pooping at all, or is pooping much more than twice a day, then it might be time to call your vet. According to PetMD, abnormal poop might be a symptom of a far more serious systemic disease.
To learn more about what your dog’s poop says about his health, click here to read our article on low-residue dog food.
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Digest Food? — Related FAQs
How Long Does It Take For A Dog To Poop After Eating?
This will depend on the age of the dog. Generally, though, for most dogs, pooping will occur within 30 minutes of eating because the stomach and colon are connected such that the colon is triggered to eliminate waste once the stomach is full.
For dogs with fast metabolism (typically healthy and young dogs), they will poop immediately after eating as the nerves trigger the colon once the stomach is full.
Dogs with a slow metabolism (typically seniors), it might take about 30 minutes after food for the dog to poop. You’d need help such dogs stimulate their digestive system by taking them on walks about 10 to 15 minutes after food. Within 15 minutes of the walk, the dog should pass poop.
How Long Does It Take For A Dog’s Stomach To Empty?
It takes between 8 and 10 hours for a dog’s stomach to empty completely. This is possible because, unlike humans, dogs have a pretty simple alimentary canal.
Digestion begins in the stomach and passes to the small intestine where further digestion and absorption of nutrients take place. Once that is done, the food moves to the colon from where the waste gets eliminated. All of this takes a few hours and once the stomach is empty, it sends a signal to the brain triggering a hunger response.
How Long Does Raw Dog Food Take To Digest?
Raw dog food takes about 4 to 6 hours to digest which is about two times faster than kibble. Kibble, on the other hand, takes about 8 to 10 hours to digest.
For this reason, most raw feeding experts advise not to mix kibble and raw food when feeding your dog as this will keep raw food longer than necessary in the system. Raw food rots much faster than kibble hence it should not remain in the system for a long time.
Mixing raw food and kibble for your dog often leads to a digestive disaster with bouts of diarrhea and vomiting.
How Many Times A Day Should A Dog Poop?
Most dogs will poop between 1 and 5 times every day. However, the number of times your dog should poop would depend on his size, level of physical activity, age, and how often they take walks.
Seniors and puppies take many small meals during the day, so, they tend to poop more times in the day. Sick dogs, on the other hand, depending on what the illness is, might poop more or fewer times in the day.
Do Dogs Stop Eating When They Are Full?
Most dogs will stop eating once their stomachs are full. However, there are some cases where some dogs might eat to the point of throwing up.
Some people have said that, if left, a dog can eat itself to its death. However, as a general statement, this is not true. True, there have been cases where some animals (not just dogs) have eaten themselves to death but these are extremely rare cases.
What Is The Easiest Meat For Dogs To Digest?
Muscle meats are the easiest to digest in dogs with a digestibility of 92%. Muscle meats include beef, lamb, and chicken.
Muscle meats are followed by organ meats which have a digestibility of 90%. Organ meats include liver, heart, and kidney.
In contrast, proteins from eggs are 100% digestible while plant-sourced proteins are about 54 to 75% digestible.