In our house, the most exciting part of the day for our dogs is when it is time to eat their meals. The jumping, running, and sometimes overboard vocalization is a sure sign that Dad is prepping the fur kids’ food.
Have you ever wondered just how the food that your dogs eat is turned into fuel for the body?
Here is a brief explanation of the process of digestion in our dogs:
In a dog, the digestive system is shorter than in humans, and for good reason. A shorter digestive tract will not allow for the formation of bacteria and viruses, as the food does not sit for long. In a typical dog, the digestive tract is 4 to 5 times his total body length. Therefore, a 20 inch dog will have a digestive tract that is 80 to 100 inches.
By comparison, the human body has a digestive tract that is typically around 28 to 30 feet in length. For dogs, because of their shorter digestive tract, this results in a transit time of about 22 hours from mouth to colon. Some factors that can affect transit time are diet, frequency of meals, pregnancy, exercise, stress, and age. In humans, this transit time is around 40 to 50 hours, depending on sex and age.
The two major functions of our dogs’ digestive tracts are digestion and absorption of nutrients.
This journey starts in the mouth, as food is being chewed. Digestion is the breakdown of food into smaller pieces, and absorption is the uptake of nutrients from the process of digestion, into circulation. Once partially chewed food reaches the stomach, the body is set into motion. The stomach is where the mixing of food with acids and enzymes takes place. The stomach also acts as temporary food storage, controlling the flow of digested food into the small intestine. The stomach starts breaking down food into building blocks that our dogs bodies need. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, fats are broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids, and complex carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars like glucose and fructose. The dog’s type of diet and frequency of feeding will affect the transit time.
Once the food is broken down in the stomach, it will move into the small intestine, where further breakdown of the food particles takes place. The small intestine is the most important part of the digestive system, as this is where the majority of digestion and absorption will take place. Intestinal enzymes help to digest proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. In some pets, a breakdown of the intestinal lining interferes with the nutrient digestion and absorption, and will allow for large proteins and toxins to pass through to the blood stream, resulting in a problem called “leaky gut syndrome.” Omega-3 fatty acids, digestive enzymes, and bone broth all are known to help improve this condition.
The last stop on the foods journey through your dog is the large intestine. This is where the absorption of water and electrolytes from the semi-liquid that leaves the small intestine happens to firm up the stool. Beneficial bacteria in the large intestine further helps in the breakdown and absorption of certain proteins, some carbohydrates and fiber. In poorly digestible foods, such as diets high in certain carbohydrates (such as soybean), flatulence is a result.
Monitoring the quality and quantity of your dog’s stool can tell you much about his diet. Large amounts of stool can indicate a diet that is poorly digestible and digested. Diarrhea can result from inadequate absorption of water in the large intestine, and can also be an indication of a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection in the small intestine. Generally, the best dog stool is smaller, well formed, and has very little odor. So… grab a bag and some gloves, the foods journey through your pet is now complete!
John Frierson is founder of LivelyPet, a companion pet health and lifestyle website. LivelyPet is dedicated to consulting pet owners in achieving quality health for their pet through proper nutrition. Working in conjunction with their veterinarian, John’s goal is to help pets and their owners achieve the healthiest and happiest lifestyles possible. He firmly believes that a big part of this starts at home, and most importantly, in the kitchen. Growing up with a diverse collection of pets, some requiring special diets, he developed his passion for nutrition. He is currently working on completing his Certified Pet Nutritionist certification (almost done!), and resides in Cape Coral, Florida with his wife, four children, and three Min-Pin fur kids. John can be reached at livelypet.net. Also look for him on Facebook at facebook.com/livelypet, and twitter @livelypet!