Dogs digest food much more quickly than humans. It only takes 6 to 8 hours on average for a dog to digest food. However, this can be affected by many factors, including size, age, and underlying health problems. Knowing what is normal and what are signs of serious health concerns will help you catch problems early and keep your dog healthy and living their best life.5 minute read time
While eating and going to the bathroom are natural processes for our dogs, they aren’t necessarily something we spend a lot of time thinking about - but they should be.If we know what a normal digestive cycle is for our dogs, we are in a better position to know when things are going wrong. Like many animals, dogs don’t like showing when they’re feeling poorly, so it’s up to us pet parents to catch any signs early.In addition, knowing how to properly support your pup’s digestive system helps support their whole body and keeps them feeling great and living happy, healthy lives.So what exactly is going on when your dog has his daily meals?
Your Dog’s Digestive SystemYour dog’s digestive system includes all of the organs that allow them to take in, process, and use food. The process starts in the mouth, where your pup’s saliva and chewing begins to break down their food. This breakdown continues in your dog’s stomach. Broken-down food moves on into the small and large intestines, where vital nutrients are absorbed. Finally, any waste is eliminated. All in all, your dog’s digestive system includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus.Given all that your dog’s digestive system is doing, it’s not surprising that it might take your pup some time to process their food. But really, how long does it take for a dog to digest food?
How Long Does It Take for Food to Pass Through a Dog?On average, it takes about 6 to 8 hours for food to pass through a dog. For comparison, humans take a day or two to process their food.During the majority of this time (4 to 6 hours), your pup’s food is in their stomach. This is also very different from us humans. Our food only stays in our stomachs for 45 minutes to 2 hours.But why does knowing your dog’s digestion speed matter? It’s important to know because keeping an eye on their poop is a key factor in understanding your dog\'s health and learning how to optimize it.You may notice we said “on average” it takes about 6 to 8 hours for a dog to digest food. That’s because there are a lot of factors that can affect your dog’s digestion speed.
What Can Affect How Long It Takes Your Dog to Digest Food?There are many factors that can affect how quickly food moves through your pup’s system. These factors include:
1. Your Dog’s SizeMultiple studies have shown that larger breeds of dogs take longer to process their food and that they also generally have softer stools. Those same studies showed some large breed dogs taking as long as 41 hours for their food to leave their system!
2. AgeAs our pups get older, their metabolism slows down. This means your dog may take longer to digest their food than when they were young.
3. Activity LevelIf your pup is very active, they will digest their food more quickly. High activity means high energy needs, so your pup burns through their food and needs food more often.
4. Their Water IntakeIf your dog spends a lot of time outside in summer or in other hot environments (or if they just don’t like drinking their water), they could become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to many problems, including constipation. You can encourage your dog to drink more water by:
- Keeping their water bowls clean.
- Providing several water bowls in different locations.
- Using a dog water fountain.
- Feeding them wet food or adding some water to their dry kibble.
5. The Type of Food They EatThe more digestible a food is, the better and more easily it will move through your dog’s digestive system. If the food includes a highly-digestible protein like egg, lamb, chicken, or beef, that can help overall digestion.As mentioned earlier, large breed dogs generally have a slower digestion speed and softer stool than small breed dogs. That means that if you have a large-breed dog, providing food that is highly digestible is especially important since it can ease the burden on their system and improve their stool.
6. Health ProblemsThere are a large variety of gastrointestinal problems that can affect the time it takes your pup to digest their food. These include:
- Canine parvovirus
Signs of Digestive Problems in DogsThis is where knowing your pup’s normal digestive cycle can be a huge help. If you notice your pup’s normal digestive time or the quality of their stool changing drastically, there may be a serious health problem causing it.According to the MERCK Veterinary Manual, the signs that may indicate an underlying digestive problem in your dog include:
- Straining to defecate
- Vomiting or regurgitation
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Excessive drooling