According to WDJ (Whole Dog Journal), partially digested food can take 4 to 8 hours in a dog’s stomach. In typical cases, dogs digest dry dog food within 8 to 10 hours. Wet dog food is digested much faster (within 4 to 6 hours). However, many factors can alter the amount of time it takes for a dog to digest food.
How Does A Dog Digest Food? What Are The Different Parts Of A Dog's Digestive Cycle?
To understand how dogs digest food, it’s important to highlight the different parts of a dog’s digestive process. Knowing how the food moves from the mouth to the large intestine is critical in understanding digestion.
Phase 1: Mouth To Stomach
Digestion begins in the mouth. The teeth break down the food, which is mixed with saliva to kick start the digestion process. Dogs take more time chewing food compared to humans. When swallowed, the food moves through the esophagus, which actively pushes food into the stomach. This process takes minutes.
Phase 2: Stomach To Small Intestines
Dogs have highly acidic stomachs. This is critical for digesting raw meat and bones. In the stomach, solid food is turned into chyme (a mixture of water, food, and acid). The chyme is sent to the small intestines where nutrients are absorbed.
When food reaches the stomach, it goes to the duodenum first, where it is acted on by hormones and enzymes from the pancreas and liver, reducing the acid levels. This sets the stage for extraction and absorption of nutrients.
The jejunum (the second part of a dog's small intestine) is responsible for extracting and absorbing nutrients. The jejunum has tiny probes that "pick up" and absorb nutrients into the blood. Phase 2 takes a couple of hours, depending on factors that will be discussed below. Generally, food will stay in a dog's stomach for 4 to 8 hours.
Phase 3: Large Intestine
Once phase 2 is complete, the food moves to the ileum, where any remaining nutrients are absorbed, leaving a thicker pasty substance. It's worth noting that dogs utilize very little of the food they eat. This explains why they produce so much waste.
Given the length of a dog's digestive systems dictates how long digestion takes, it's important to discuss size. Like other animals, the length of a dog's digestive system varies depending on factors like the breed. However, the small intestines of a dog are roughly three times the length of the dog. It's also worth noting that the backend of the dog’s gastrointestinal tract is shorter (approximately a foot long). Digestion is, therefore, faster at this phase than the small intestines.
The large intestines are main components at the back end of the GI tract. The primary function of a dog’s large intestine is to remove water and compact the remaining waste before it is expelled through the anus. Anything that the dog has eaten that can’t be utilized is expelled after being treated (by bacteria) and compacted into a solid “package” (poop).
The entire process (Phase 1, 2 & 3) can take 4 to 10 hours, depending on the factors discussed below.
What Factors Affect A Dog's Digestion?
i. Size, Breed And Age
Size is among the most significant factors in how long it takes a dog to digest food. An adult dog can weigh 5 -120 pounds depending on other factors like breed. For instance, fully grown Labrador retrievers are approximately 12 times bigger than fully-grown Chihuahuas. Breed is the main determining factor in regards to how big a dog becomes. As a result, it's accurate to consider size and breed interchangeably when analyzing a dog's digestion habits.
Age also matters. For instance, puppies and younger dogs digest food faster than their fully-grown counterparts. The fact that puppies and younger dogs relieve themselves more frequently than fully grown dogs shows they have a higher metabolism (digest food faster). What's more, a dog’s metabolism slows down with age.
In a nutshell, large, fully-grown (old) dogs have the longest digestive system. Small old dogs may have a slow metabolism; however, they will digest food faster than their larger counterparts because of their small size.
Exercise also plays a key role in a dog's digestion. Exercise increases the body's rate of metabolism which translates to faster digestion. Exercise also determines digestion time in dogs given the GI tract of dogs is designed mostly for a carnivorous diet. What's more, a dog's stomach can store food for a long time. Such food can be utilized quickly when there is a high demand for energy. This highlights why exercise is crucial for dogs to digest food faster. The higher the energy demands, the faster the digestion.
This is an obvious but commonly overlooked factor. Different foods digest at different speeds. If your dog's diet is predominantly composed of grains, he/she will digest food slower than they would if they were fed more/mostly protein. Dogs crave protein-rich diets. In fact, their digestive system is designed mainly for protein diet.
iv. Food Quality
The quality of food also matters. Dogs which are feed highly processed or commercial dog foods tend to have slower digestive processes. Normal digestion can’t occur if you don’t give your dog healthy foods. Even though processed dog foods have been around for years, dogs are yet to adapt to these type of foods.
v. Stress and Medication
A dog’s stress levels and medication have a negative effect on their digestive system. If your dog has digestion problems, these problems could be related to the medication he/she is taking or stress. A veterinarian should be able to advise on alternative medication and ways of alleviating stress.
So, How Long Does It Take A Dog To Digest Food?
According to PetMD, a dog can digest a meal in 8 to 10 hours. However, the time can vary from 4 to 12 hours depending on a dog's breed, size, body weight, health status, and diet, among other factors like water consumption and health status.
Dogs with illnesses or pre-existing conditions won’t have predictable digestive systems for obvious reasons. Water consumption alongside diet also plays a critical role. Dogs digest wet dog food faster than dry dog food.
Given that a dog eat almost anything, including shoes and furniture, it's important to discuss the time it takes for such items to pass through the digestive system. Foreign objects ingested can take 10-24 hours to be excreted. However, some objects can take longer (even months) to go through the entire digestive process. Foreign objects ingested are excreted, provided they reach the colon. However, if they don't, veterinary assistance is required, especially if your dog is showing signs of discomfort/distress.
In a nutshell, there's no definite answer to how long a dog takes to digest food. There are countless variables involved, some of which aren't discussed above. All in all, an adult dog operating optimally (active and healthy) can digest wet food in approximately four hours and dry food in eight hours.
Dog owners should be aware of their dog's needs, given different breeds require different levels of activity, diet, etc. The importance of veterinary care can't also be overlooked.
It's also important to be acquainted with what your dog's waste reveals about digestion. For instance, undigested food, diarrhea, constipation, overly large/small waste, and too frequent/infrequent waste are all signs of digestive problems. The frequency of waste removal is a key indicator of how fast your dog is digesting food. Monitoring your dog’s general feeding and activity levels is also important given similar dog (in age/breed/diet/activity levels) can still take different times to digest food.
FAQs About Dog’s Digestive System
1. How Much Time Does Food Spend In A Dog's Stomach?
According to WDJ, partially digested food can take 4 to 8 hours in a dog’s stomach. In typical cases, dogs digest dry dog food within 8 to 10 hours. Wet dog food is digested much faster i.e., within 4 to 6 hours.
2. How Long Do Dogs Take To Poop After Eating?
Waste removal is the last stage of the digestive process. Most dogs will poop 4 to 10 hours after eating, depending on the factors discussed above.
3. Is There Any Food A Dog Won’t Digest?
Your dog can take a shorter or longer time to digest, depending on the food given. There are foods that dogs have trouble digesting, which is precisely why dog owners are advised to stop giving their dogs human foods.
For instance, dogs don’t digest corn and bread. If you feed your dog with such foods, they will be excreted as they are in hours. Generally, dogs aren't meant to eat carbohydrates since they don't have enzymes that breakdown carbohydrates. Foods that are potentially poisonous to dogs or hard to digest include; onions, garlic, caffeine, chocolate, dairy products, and some fresh/dry fruits.