Ever wondered how long it takes for a meal to move through your dog’s body? The short answer is … between 4 and 8 hours, depending on a number of factors. For your own dog, you may be able to guess based on her pooping schedule and how fast she gets hungry. Read on to find out how long it takes for a dog’s stomach to empty, what factors affect this, and how you can make sure your dog’s digestive tract is healthy.
How Do Dogs Digest Food?
A lot happens between the time your dog chomps her food up from her bowl to when it’s time to take her out for a poop. All the processes along the gastrointestinal tract are crucial to make sure she gets all the necessary nutrients from the food she eats.
From the moment your dog begins chewing on her food, the digestive process has started. The food is broken down into smaller pieces by the teeth, then moves down the esophagus and into the stomach. Here, the food is digested by stomach acid called hydrochloric acid and enzymes. Natural enzymes break the food down into nutrient components that can be easily absorbed by the body.
As the food moves out of the stomach and into the intestinal tract, the walls of the intestines absorb essential nutrients and water into the bloodstream. More enzymes from organs like the liver and pancreas help this digestion process.
Finally, whatever undigested food or waste is left over after the nutrients have been absorbed is formed into feces in the large intestine. And you know what happens after that!
What Happens to Food That Can’t Be Digested?
Not everything your dog eats can be absorbed by the body. When food is broken down, the nutrients your dog needs are absorbed through the intestines, leaving behind fiber, some water, bacteria, and inorganic matter.
If you feed your dog raw food like vegetables, you will likely see signs of these vegetables in your dog’s stool. That doesn’t mean your dog hasn’t benefitted from eating these veggies. It means the usable nutrients have been absorbed in the digestive tract, and the non-digestible fiber has exited the body.
Fiber itself is an important part of keeping the digestive system healthy, as it helps regulate the water content of stool. There are several factors that affect how long it takes for a dog to digest food and poop it out … aka the digestive cycle.
RELATED: Find out the best sources of fiber for dogs …
5 Factors Affecting How Long It Takes a Dog to Digest Food
1. Size, Age And Breed Of Dog
It’s generally thought that smaller dogs and puppies need less food and take less time to digest it compared to larger dogs. The digestive process usually takes around four hours for small breeds and puppies, compared to around eight hours for large, adult dogs. One study found that larger breeds digested more slowly. However, a French study found that puppies’ GI emptying times were shorter, but the breed size was not a significant factor.
This is similar in humans. As any parent knows, babies and young children eat more frequently and poop much more often than adults.
Age also affects digestion. Metabolism slows with age. As older dogs get less energetic, they also require fewer calories. The digestive system, like the rest of the body, may also get less efficient with age. This means older dogs may take longer to digest smaller amounts of food.
Your dog’s breed also plays a role in how long it takes your dog to digest food. Some breeds of dogs, including Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, and German Shepherds, are more prone to gastrointestinal issues.
2. Diseases And Health Conditions
Digestive health is closely related to overall health and the immune system. If your dog is overweight or underweight or has any health conditions, it can affect digestion and nutrient absorption.
Conditions that can affect canine digestion include malabsorption diseases like EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency) or IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease). as well as leaky gut syndrome. Other problems affecting digestion include intestinal blockage (when your dog eats an indigestible object that gets stuck in the digestive tract), cancer, ulcers, parvovirus, gastritis, and colitis.
RELATED: How to recognize EPI, IBD and leaky gut …
3. Activity Level
Dogs are genetically wired to handle a raw meat-based diet. They have the ability to store large amounts of food in the stomach for long periods and can slowly digest that food to produce energy as needed.
This means that the more energy a dog uses, the faster her body will break down the food stored in her stomach. If she needs a burst of energy for physical tasks, the food will move into the intestines so that she can get absorbable nutrients and calories.
How much water your dog drinks influences her digestion time. Water helps soften food, makes chewing easier, and increases the secretion of enzymes and acids that help break down the food. Water also helps soften stool so that pooping is a more pleasant experience. Always make sure your dog has access to plenty of clean, filtered or spring water.
5. The Type Of Food Your Dog Eats
The type and volume of food intake obviously affects your dog’s digestion. The protein content of the food is a big factor in how long it takes to digest. How the food has been processed also makes a difference.
When it comes to commercial pet foods, tour dog can digest wet food more easily than dry food, because water helps it move faster through the GI tract. Wet dog food can be broken down in four to six hours, while the digestive process for dry dog food takes between eight and ten hours.
Raw dog food is the most digestible food for dogs. It’s the most natural food for your dog’s digestive system. And, unlike processed foods, raw food isn’t full of starchy grains and sugars. Raw food contains live enzymes that aid efficient digestion. Overall, your dog takes less time to digest raw food.
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Why Does My Dog Poop Right After Eating?
If you notice that your dog poops very soon after eating, you don’t need to worry that she’s digesting food too quickly. She is not pooping out what she just ate. She is pooping out the food she ate at least 8 hours earlier.
When dogs eat, there is a natural reflex that kicks in. As new food enters the stomach, the large intestines get a signal to push out any waste that is sitting there from earlier. This is called the gastrocolic reflex.
How Long Does It Take for A Dog to Digest Medicine?
You may be wondering if medicine goes through the same process as food in the digestive tract. Medicine given orally is a bit different from food. Since it’s not a nutrient, it isn’t really digested in the same way that food is.
When you give your dog medicine orally, it’s usually absorbed into the bloodstream within 20 to 30 minutes. Pills with a thicker coating can take longer.
Can My Dog Swim After Eating?
We’ve all heard that we should wait at least 30 minutes after a meal before going swimming. That’s because when you’ve just eaten some of your blood goes to the core of your body to help the digestion process, which some people think can lead to cramps while swimming.
This isn’t really true for humans. For dogs, on the other hand, there is a real reason to stop your dog from jumping into the water right after a meal. Dogs can suffer from bloat or gastric torsion, which is when a dog’s stomach fills with gas and twists. Swimming with a full stomach may increase the risk, so you should wait two hours after your dog has eaten a full meal before heading out for a swim.
RELATED: What you need to know to prevent bloat in your dog …
Symptoms of Digestive Problems in Dogs
Here are a few things to look out for that could be a sign your dog has a problem with digestion:
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Reduced appetite
- Bloating and gas
These can be signs your dog’s digestion isn’t working as it should and she may need some extra help. You may want to talk to your vet if the problems persist.
RELATED: When to give your dog digestive enzymes …
So … now you know what to expect, you’ll be better able to recognize any digestive issues in your dog. Feed her the best diet you can … preferably a whole food, raw meat-based diet that will promote her overall health as well as a smooth food movement process through her system.
Mickaël P. Weber et al. Influence of age and body size on gastrointestinal transit time of radiopaque markers in healthy dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research, May 2002, Vol. 63, No. 5, Pages 677-682
Henri J. Dumon et al. Evaluation of association between body size and large intestinal transit time in healthy dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research, February 2006, Vol. 67, No. 2 , Pages 342-347