How long does it take a dog to digest food?
It takes a dog to digest food 8 to 10 hours.
But in some dogs, the digestion may take as little as 4 hours or as much as 12 hours.
It all depends on the dog’s breed, age, diet, health, and more.
But do you really need to know how long does it take a dog to digest food?
Every dog owner should know how long their dog should digest food – it’s critical.
Knowing how long it should take your dog to digest its food allows you to assess your dog’s digestive health.
If your dog digests food in a timely manner and the poop comes out looking solid and healthy, you can be sure that your dog is eating well and receiving essential nutrients.
But if it takes your dog too long or too little time to digest food, its digestive system may be in trouble.
But worry not.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about:
- What factors impact digestion in your dog
- How to promote your dog’s healthy digestion
- When to call a vet
Let’s dive in.
Your dog’s health and happiness rest in your hands.
Factors that impact how long does it take a dog to digest food
Every dog owner should know which factors determine how long it takes a dog to digest its food.
Here are the key factors that affect how long your dog digests food.
SIZE AND BREED
Smaller dogs take around 4 hours to fully digest their food, compared to 8 to 9 hours for larger dogs.
For example, larger dogs may take longer to digest food because they eat larger meals. This is why large dogs have longer digestive tracts, which means more time is needed to absorb and circulate nutrients.
Also, large breed dogs have usually softer stool compared to smaller breeds. This is because larger dogs have larger colons, where food spends more time breaking down. More time needed to dissolve food means more time needed for digestion.
Interesting fact: Athletic and “working” dog breeds digest food more easily and poop quicker than “normal” companion dogs. This is because working dogs need to hunt, guard, or compete in dog sports. This requires a quick metabolism. Athletic breeds include:
- Belgian Malinois
- German shepherd
- Siberian husky
- Border collie
- Labrador retriever
Dog puppies digest food faster than older dogs, in general.
In short, the older the dog, the longer the digestion. Slowing down metabolism is partly to blame. A dog’s metabolism slows with the dog’s age. Slower metabolism, slower digestion.
Also, the digestive system of a dog gets less efficient with age. Just like in humans.
And older dogs may suffer from constipation more often than younger dogs. Constipation can affect your dog’s digestion.
Some also suggest that as dogs get older, their intestinal walls thicken. This can slow down digestion.
But some studies suggest that the dog’s age doesn’t directly affect the speed of digestion. Instead, it is health issues that can slow down digestion in both adult dogs and puppies.
Luckily, there are dog food brands who make first-class food specifically designed for older dogs. One such brand is Orijen, whose food we recently rated as the best dog food for senior German Shorthaired Pointers.
The type of food your dog consumes can significantly affect how long it takes your dog to digest its food.
For example, wet food is easier to digest than dry food. This is because water in wet food helps move food through the digestive system.
Also, foods rich in fiber will pass through the digestive system of your dog faster than low-fiber food. Note that low-fiber foods will not only slow down digestion but may cause constipation.
On the other hand, give your dog too much fiber and you may have diarrhea on your hands – or on your new carpet.
Note that too much calcium in your dog’s food may also cause constipation, which in turn will slow down digestion.
Interesting fact: Raw food has the fastest digestion time. This is because raw food is the most natural food for the gastrointestinal tract (GI) of a dog. Raw food also contains live enzymes that speed up digestion.
Water improves digestion.
Water softens food, makes chewing easier, and increases the secretion of enzymes and acids that help break down food.
Water also softens your dog’s stool. This makes pooping a smoother and quicker affair.
So yes, ensure your dog never dehydrates.
Dehydration will decrease the blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract of a dog. This can lead to painful cramping and will slow the transit of food. Decreased blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract of a dog can cause infection, inflammation, and even obstruction.
Note that dehydration also weakens nutrient absorption.
In short, make sure your dog’s water bowl is always filled with fresh water, especially in summer.
The more your dog walks and plays, the quicker its digestive system will process food. In other words, more active dogs digest a meal faster than less active dogs.
Regular exercise also promotes quick digestion by improving gut motility and stool regularity. This is why less active or sedentary dogs often struggle with constipation.
But as often happens in life, too much of a good thing can be bad. Meaning, if your dog starts running laps right after a meal, the exercise will wreak havoc on the dog’s digestion. So yes, your dog needs to rest after eating to ensure its gut can digest the food.
Also remember that active dogs usually need extra protein and calories.
Yes, stress can also impact digestion in your dog.
For example, stress brought by factors such as moving to a new place, thunderstorms, or a new family member, can significantly impact the digestive health of your dog. An upset stomach, diarrhea, or inflammation of the dog’s digestive tract can quickly follow.
Digestion will speed up significantly if your dog ingests toxins, such as chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, or garlic.
Also avoid feeding your dog macadamia nuts and other tropical fruits and nuts, such as cashews, papayas, and mangoes.
And make sure your dog’s food doesn’t contain the artificial sweetener xylitol (used in sugar-free candy and gum).
HEALTH AND MEDICATION
Digestion in your dog greatly depends on the dog’s fitness and overall health.
This is why overweight and underweight dogs will digest food and poop at different speed and frequency.
Also, medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency may slow down your dog’s digestion. Liver issues can also affect your dog’s stool.
Other problems that can affect a dog’s digestion include intestinal blockage, cancer, ulcers, gastritis, parvovirus, and colitis. Dogs with diabetes may also experience slower digestion.
Furthermore, dogs after surgery may digest food faster. Dogs recovering from sedatives or anesthetics may also pass stools quicker and looser. This will return to normal after the medication leaves your dog’s system.
Tips for promoting good digestion
Here are our top tips for promoting healthy digestion in your dog:
Promote a healthy diet
Your dog’s daily diet must provide the right amount of:
- Macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates)
- Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and amino acids)
And don’t forget fiber. Note that fiber that comes from plant sources is critical to healthy bowel movements. Your dog also needs fiber from fresh, whole vegetables like sweet potatoes, spinach, green beans, and broccoli.
Promote proper hydration
Water is essential to many aspects of your dog’s health, including digestion.
So ensure your dog has access to fresh water throughout the day, especially during summer.
The amount of water needed depends on your dog’s size, weight, diet, exercise, and other factors. But generally, a dog should get about one ounce of water per pound of its body weight.
Tip: If your dog refuses to drink enough water, check if the water bowl is clean. Also, change the water bowl occasionally to see if this does the trick.
Furthermore, look for dog food packed with water. For example, fresh food provides more water than dry kibble. Also, there is plenty of water in meal toppers, such as watermelon, blueberries, celery, and leafy greens. But make sure meal toppers don’t make up more than 10% of your dog’s daily diet to avoid nutritional imbalance and weight issues.
Promote healthy microbiome
A healthy microbiome can improve your dog’s gut health. Microbiome is the collection of bacteria that live in your dog’s gut.
Prebiotics help maintain healthy gut bacteria.
To be sure, there is still little scientific evidence showing significant health-promoting properties of probiotics. Still, because a healthy microbiome can improve a dog’s gut health, you should consider food that includes probiotics, especially if your dog has a sensitive stomach or gastrointestinal tract.
By the way, there are dog food companies that make excellent food for dogs with sensitive stomachs. One such brand is Hill’s, whose food we recently rated as the best dog food for Poodles with sensitive stomach.
There is also some evidence showing that probiotics can reduce your dog’s inflammatory responses to allergens.
But make sure to talk to your vet if you decide to give your dog any supplements.
Luckily, there are already quality dog food companies that add naturally occurring probiotics to their products. One such brand is Sundays, whose dry food we recently rated as the best dry dog food for Dalmatians.
Promote digestion and digestibility
Digestibility is often overlooked as a factor contributing to the quality of dog food.
This is strange considering that food digestibility indicates how much of food’s nutritional value can be absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream.
That’s right, it’s not enough for a dog to consume the right amount of nutrients. Nutrients from the food need to be properly absorbed by the dog’s system rather than just simply pass through.
Here is a quick guideline for measuring digestibility:
- Less than 75% of nutrients absorbed (poorly digestible/poor quality)
- Between 75% and 82% of nutrients absorbed (moderately digestible/moderate quality)
- Over 82% of nutrients absorbed (exceptionally digestible/exceptional quality)
So how digestible are some of the most popular dog foods?
Studies show that fresh, lightly cooked dog food has superior digestibility and bioavailability.
Research also shows that the processes used to make commercial dog food significantly reduce bioavailability. For example, the process (extrusion) that shapes kibble into balls, significantly reduces protein quality, palatability, and the amount of heat-sensitive vitamins.
Tip: You may have also come across the term “bioavailable”. This term indicates the proportion of nutrients that enter the bloodstream and can be used by the body’s tissues.
Promote regular exercise
Daily walks and play will keep your dog’s bowels moving. Put this on your T-shirt.
Regular exercise will also increase your dog’s blood flow, heart rate, and muscle contractions. This in turn will improve motility, which is the movement of food through the digestive system.
Furthermore, regular exercise will help manage your dog’s weight and avoid constipation.
Promote stress-free environment
Stress is a common cause of digestive issues in dogs. Stress can cause constipation or diarrhea in your dog.
Many dogs hate big changes, such as relocation, travel, or traumatic events. So make sure to look for signs that may suggest stress in your dog.
These signs may include:
- Barking more than usually
- Other signals suggesting anxiety
- Sudden changes in behavior and body language
Dog digestive system
In addition to understanding which factors impact digestion in a dog, every dog owner should also understand how the dog’s digestive system actually works.
Knowing this will allow you to correctly assess the digestive health of your dog.
What is digestion?
Digestion is the process of breaking food down into nutrients that can be absorbed by the walls of the intestines and the gut.
There are two types of digestion: mechanical and chemical.
Mechanical digestion is the physical breakdown of food into smaller pieces. Mechanical digestion takes place largely in the dog’s mouth. But mechanical digestion also involves the contraction of the stomach, esophagus, and intestines.
Chemical digestion involves acids and enzymes which ensure food is broken into smaller compounds that can be absorbed by the dog’s body. Chemical digestion takes place in the stomach and throughout the digestive system.
Where does digestion take place?
Dog digestion occurs in several locations within your dog’s body and by a number of means.
Digestion starts in the mouth. This is where your dog chews its food and swallows it with the help of the tongue. But note that dogs don’t produce amylase (enzyme) in their saliva, unlike humans. Without amylase, there is no chemical digestion in the dog’s mouth.
Food is chewed by a dog’s teeth. Dogs can only move their jaw up and down, rather than side to side. This up-and-down jaw movement allows dogs crush their food for better digestion.
Dogs use saliva in their mouths to help with digestion. Saliva also kills bacteria, improves taste, and helps with food swallowing.
Once food is crushed into small enough pieces, the food passes through the esophagus and travels towards the stomach.
But note that a dog will sometimes regurgitate food. This is because dogs have a strong gag reflex and will throw up food if it hasn’t been crushed into small enough pieces. The dog will then chew the regurgitated food again. Nice.
Food arriving into the stomach is greeted with enzymes and digestive juices that break the food further. Note that a dog’s stomach produces almost 100 times more acid than a human stomach. All that acid in a dog’s stomach is needed to break down protein and soften dense bone matter.
From the stomach, food moves into the small intestine. Here, food gets mixed with enzymes secreted from the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. The secreted enzymes help the small intestine absorb all the essential vitamins and nutrients your dog needs.
The large intestine is where water and other fluids get extracted from the waste products. All that waste will get stored in the large intestine until it’s time to transport it out of your dog’s body.
What are the stages of digestion in dogs?
Dog digestion occurs in four major stages.
Your dog doesn’t spend a lot of time chewing its food. In other words, chewing and ingestion take less time in dogs than in humans.
One of the reasons why dogs ingest food so quickly is because dogs don’t have many enzymes in their saliva to start the digestion process.
This is why dogs get their food to the stomach as quickly as possible where the proper digestion can begin.
It’s in the stomach of a dog that the proper digestion takes place. Here, food is mixed with stomach acids and digestive enzymes. This process takes around 3 to 4 hours.
After this, the food moves to the small intestine, where it’s further broken down by enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver.
The whole digestive stage usually takes around 6 to 8 hours.
Following digestion, the nutrients from food are absorbed through the walls of the small intestine and so enter the dog’s bloodstream.
The remaining waste products are then passed to the large intestine where the waste is stored until a dog defecates.
VIDEO: Dog digestion time versus human digestion
It’s sometimes shocking to watch your dog wolfing down food in seconds, right?
But this is how your dog is supposed to eat.
This is because digestion in dogs doesn’t start in the mouth. Unlike humans, dogs don’t produce amylase (enzyme) in their saliva. Amylase is what begins the chemical process of digestion in humans.
So dogs have no choice but to gulp down their food so that the digestion can begin (in their stomachs).
The second major difference between the dogs’ and humans’ digestive systems is even more fascinating.
Dogs store around 70% of food in their stomachs and 30% in their intestinal tract.
Humans store around 30% of food in their stomachs and 70% in their intestinal tract.
This reversal of food storage ideas partially explains why dogs eat only once or twice a day, whereas humans need several small meals throughout the day.
Unfortunately, such food storage solution makes dogs more vulnerable to digestive issues. For example, it can lead to a stronger reaction to what’s in the gut. So much stuff stored in the stomach (70%) is always asking for problems, right?
Another main difference between dogs’ and humans’ digestion is the amount of stomach acid. Your dog produces around 100 times more stomach acid than humans. This is why dogs can eat bones.
Next, dogs’ intestinal tracts are way shorter than intestinal tracts in humans. This is why food inside a dog has a shorter distance to travel and why dogs digest their food quicker than humans. Dogs may take between 8 to 10 hours to digest food. Humans take up to 72 hours to digest theirs.
By the way, bacteria have less time to multiply in a shorter digestive tract. This is why dogs can eat food off the ground and be fine, usually.
One of the main reasons for the difference between dogs’ and humans’ digestion is evolution. Dogs evolved as carnivores. Humans evolved as omnivores. Dogs’ gastrointestinal tract evolved to extract essential nutrients quickly. Humans, on the other hand, earned the luxury of digesting their (varied) food more leisurely.
Interesting fact: Dogs can suffer from heartburn just like humans. Heartburn is caused by the overproduction of acid in the stomach which can sometimes enter the esophagus, creating a burning sensation in the chest.
By the way, I have extensive experience in helping my dog deal with digestive issues. My male German Shepherd (Max) used to vomit undigested food hours after eating.
Knowing how long it takes a dog to digest food was key when helping my dog get better.
And yes, Max has fully recovered!
This is why this article in not only based on scientific research and expert opinions, but also on my extensive personal experience.
Main causes of digestive problems in dogs
Here are the main causes of digestive issues in dogs.
Your dog has a parasite
Your dog can get parasites even if it received regular warming treatments as a puppy.
Here are the main types of worms that may affect the digestive health of your dog.
- Roundworms: Dogs may become infected with roundworms by sniffing or licking infected feces. Roundworm eggs can also be spread by other animals such as earthworms, rodents, cockroaches, and birds.
- Hookworms: Dogs can get hookworms through skin, oral infection, the mother’s placenta before birth, or through the mother’s milk.
- Heartworms: Heartworms can enter the dog’s system through mosquito bites.
- Whipworms: Whipworms can be picked up by your dog from contaminated soil.
- Tapeworms: Tapeworms can be contracted by swallowing fleas.
- Ringworms: Ringworms can be contracted through contact with the fungus.
In general, worms suck nutrients from its host, which can lead to a range of unpleasant symptoms:
- Coughing, which is a sign of advanced heartworm
- Vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with worms or blood
- Bloated belly, particularly in puppies
- Weight gain or loss
- Change in appetite
- Dull coat
- Irritated, itchy skin
- Scooting across the floor to relieve itchy skin
- Visible worms in the fur or feces
Your dog has an obstruction
Your dog ate something too big to pass through the digestive tract. This could be a foreign body. Catching this early may save your dog the need for surgery. If your dog is constipated for days with stomach pain, there is a chance that an inedible object may be obstructing its gastrointestinal tract.
Your dog has an infection
- Colitis is an inflammation of the large intestine. Colitis can be caused by parasites, bacteria, trauma, kidney issues, or allergies.
- Dysbiosis can occur when there is an imbalance of good bacteria and bad bacteria in your dog’s gut.
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency occurs when your dog can’t produce essential enzymes.
- Gallbladder disease can occur as a result of cancer, infections, genetic defects, or physical trauma.
- Inflammatory bowel disease causes chronic inflammation and upset of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Liver disease occurs when a damaged liver fails to secret enzymes that break down the food.
- Megaesophagus is the dilation of the esophagus and the inability to release food to the stomach.
Your dog has a chronic condition
- Gastric dilatation-volvulus (bloat) occurs when the stomach of a dog fills with gas, food, or fluid and subsequently twists.
- Gastroenteritis is commonly known as a stomach bug, stomach flu, or food poisoning. The condition is caused by viruses, bacteria, or toxins.
- Megacolon is a dilated colon and it can occur when your dog suffers from chronic constipation. Some dogs are also born with this condition.
When to consult a vet
Call your vet if your dog is experiencing severe constipation or diarrhea.
It’s also recommended to contact a vet if you observe changes in the consistency and content of your dog’s poop. For example, reddish poop indicates digestive issues.
Also look for a distended abdomen (bloat), dry heaving, or vomiting.
Note that dog vomiting can be normal to a certain extent. But if your dog is throwing up food continuously or frequently, it’s time to see a vet.
Other signs to watch out for include pain in the dog’s abdomen or straining to poop. These signs suggest a physical obstruction in the dog’s gut.
Some dogs may also suffer from food sensitivities or allergies. If your dog experiences chronic digestive issues after eating certain foods, it’s time to visit a vet.
By the way, there are already dog food manufacturers that make first-rate food for dogs with food allergies. One such brand is Royal Canin, whose dry food we recently rated as the best food for Dobermans with allergies.
Here are a few symptoms that may require vet intervention:
- Abdominal pain
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Dog is vomiting frequently or continuously (can’t stop throwing up)
- Vomiting large quantities at once
- Vomiting white foam
- Reduced eating
- Refusal to drink water
- Vomiting blood
- Bloating and gas
What will happen at the vet
Here is a quick list of what may happen at the vet:
Your vet will usually start with feeling your dog’s stomach and intestines.
Such physical examination can help your vet determine if there is a foreign body in the stomach or intestines of your dog.
The vet may decide to create a complete blood count biochemistry profile and/or thyroid profile.
The complete blood count biochemistry profile will help determine if your dog is suffering from any metabolic diseases.
The thyroid profile will confirm or exclude other conditions.
In general, blood tests will help decide if your dog has any underlying medical conditions, such as kidney failure, liver disease, and gastrointestinal tract issues.
Barium Swallow Test
The Barium Swallow Test will help determine if your dog has any esophageal issues, such as megaesophagus or upper blockage. During this test, your dog will be asked to swallow barium to see if this liquid can make it through the gastrointestinal tract normally.
Barium ingestion will be followed by a series of X-rays. This will allow the vet to see how the liquid passes through the dog’s esophagus, stomach, and intestines.
Your vet may order X-rays to see if there are any foreign bodies in the gastrointestinal tract of your dog.
The vet may also use X-rays if the vet suspects aspiration pneumonia.
Ultrasound is great for assessing the stomach of your dog, intestines, and other internal organs.
Note that your vet may refer your dog to a specialist ultrasound assessment.
During endoscopy, the veterinarian will use a tiny camera to examine your dog’s esophagus and intestines.
Still, endoscopy is usually insufficient to diagnose all digestive problems in dogs. So endoscopy may be followed by small biopsies.
Referral to a specialist
In more complex cases, the vet may refer your dog to a specialist clinic.
Frequently asked questions
How long does it usually take for a large dog to digest its food?
Large dogs usually take longer to digest food than smaller dogs. It can take as long as 10 to 12 hours for a large dog to digest its food.
How long does it usually take for a small dog to digest its food?
Small dogs usually digest food faster than larger dogs. It can take as little as 4 hours for a small dog to digest dog food.
How long does it usually take for a dog to digest a foreign body?
If your dog ingests a foreign body, such as a toy or your sock, it may take longer to digest it. But note that your dog may not be able to digest a foreign body at all. Always call your vet if your dog ingests something foreign and can’t digest it.
What are the digestion times for different dog breeds?
The digestion time depends on the age and size of your dog.
Here are digestion times for different dog breeds and ages:
|Large dog breeds (Great Danes, Labradors, German Shepherds, North American Mastiffs)
|Small dog breeds (Jack Rusell Terriers, Dachshunds, Chihuahuas)
|Medium Dog Breeds (Cocker Spaniels, Border Collies, Pit Bulls)
How long does it usually take for dogs to digest medicine?
Dog medicine given orally is usually absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream within 20 to 30 minutes. But note that pills with a thicker coating can take longer to digest.
Why does my dog poop right after eating?
Don’t worry if your dog poops right after eating. This is because your dog is not pooping what it just ate. Your dog is simply pooping out the food it ate some hours ago.
Interesting fact: When your dog consumes its meal, a natural reflex kicks in. As new food enters the stomach, the large intestines receive a signal to push out any existing waste. This is called the gastrocolic reflex.
What to do if you find undigested chunks of food in your dog’s poop?
A small amount of undigested food in your dog’s poop is not always a cause for concern. For example, fiber in foods like whole fruits and veggies isn’t fully digested.
But if you see a lot of undigested food in your dog’s poop, it’s time to visit a vet to check if your dog is suffering from some digestive issues.
What happens to food that can’t be digested?
Not everything your dog consumes can be digested and absorbed by the dog’s body.
For example, you may often see bits of vegetables in your dog’s stool. But this of course doesn’t mean that your dog didn’t benefit from eating veggies. Instead, this simply means that the usable nutrients have been absorbed and the non-digestible fiber has exited your dog’s body.
In short, any food your dog can’t digest will travel through the gastrointestinal tract (GI) and the large intestine will turn it into poop. Any undigested products will remain more or less whole when pooped out.
Can I speed up digestion in my dog?
Yes, you can help your dog poop to prevent constipation, for example.
Just feed your dog insoluble fibers, such as wheat bran, carrots, potatoes, beans, cellulose, and broccoli. This should do the trick.
How many times a day should my dog poop?
Healthy adult dogs poop at least once a day. They usually poop 12 hours after their last full meal. But in general, a healthy dog will have 2 to 3 bowel movements a day.
A puppy can poop 5 or more times a day.
Can my dog swim after eating?
No, your dog shouldn’t swim after eating. This is because swimming with a full stomach may increase the risk of bloat or gastric torsion in your dog.
Always wait at least two hours after your dog has eaten a full meal before your throw that stick to a lake.
How long does it take a dog to digest food? Final word
You wanted to know: How long does it take a dog to digest food?
As discussed in this article, it takes a dog to digest food 8 to 10 hours.
But note that in some dogs the digestion may take as little as 4 hours or as much as 12 hours.
It all depends on factors such as breed, age, diet, health, and more.
By the way, you’ll be delighted to know that it’s your job to monitor your dog’s poop and pooping habits.
This will help you monitor the digestive health of your dog.
If you notice any dramatic changes in the digestion time of your dog, call your vet.
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