How do dogs digest their food?

The digestive system and diet play a huge role in your dog’s health. It’s common knowledge that the foods your dog eats and the nutrients they receive are crucial to their general health. But just like human food, not every dog’s dinner is created equally. What’s more, your dog’s immune system is linked to their gut, meaning that feeding them the right food is crucial as far as maintaining their general health and wellbeing is concerned.

Therefore, understanding your dog’s digestive system is key to knowing what you should feed them. If their digestive tract isn’t working as it should, they won’t be extracting the nutrients they need from their food. So, we explain how your dog’s digestive system works to ensure you can identify and treat any irregularities as soon as possible.

How does a dog’s digestive system work?

A dog’s digestive system is comprised of all the organs required to eat and process food. As soon as food enters your dog’s mouth, it moves downwards and all of the usable nutrients are absorbed into your pooch’s body. Thereafter, any waste is excreted from the body. To put it simply, a dog’s digestive system is like a long tunnel, running from the mouth to the anus. Food travels from the mouth to the anus via a tube, and it’s broken down and absorbed at various stages throughout the body. Below are the main stages of a dog’s digestive system:


The initial stage of a dog’s digestion begins in the mouth. Your dog bites into the food, and the enzymes within saliva help to break it down before it passes into the stomach.


Once swallowed, a dog’s food passes down into the stomach via the oesophagus. The acid within the stomach then breaks down the food even further.


The food then passes from the stomach to the intestines, and the small intestine is responsible for absorbing the nutrients. Gallbladder bile binds to the food and neutralises the remaining stomach acid. Pancreatic enzymes enhance the chemical reactions that further break down the food to digest and absorb it. The nutrients then pass through the intestine walls, where they are carried by the blood to various parts of the body. Your dog’s liver plays a key role in this process as it metabolises the food. So, by the time the food reaches your dog’s large intestine, most of the usable compounds have been absorbed. What remains will be broken down and digested, and the waste will be formed into stool.


The last stage of a dog’s digestion sees the waste stored in the rectum. As soon as nature calls, your dog will do its business, and the digestive process is complete.

How long does a dog’s digestive process last?

Typically, it takes between six and eight hours for a dog to digest food. However, your dog’s age, size, breed, and general health will influence how quickly the process occurs. What’s more, the food itself will influence the speed of digestion, with wet food digesting faster than dried food. The quality of the food is also incredibly important, as we explain below.

The digestibility of dog food

Digestibility refers to the number of nutrients that a dog can absorb from food. Highly digestible food enables your dog to extract significant nutritional value from the food, while food that is less digestible means that more of the nutritional content of the food is excreted through your dog’s faeces. In other words, the better the digestibility of dog food, the more nutritional benefits it provides to your dog. Here’s an example to illustrate the importance of digestibility:

If your dog eats 100g of food and produces 17g of stool, 17% of their food is waste. This means that 83% of the food has been digested, meaning it has a digestibility rating of 83.0. You should consider the following ratings before choosing the right food for your dog:

  • < 75% – low quality
  • 75 – 82% – moderate quality
  • 82% > – high quality

Why is highly digestible food important for your dog?

The digestibility of food impacts the short and long term wellbeing of your canine companion. From day to day, it influences the quality and volume of your dog’s stool, and in the long term, a highly digestible diet will improve your dog’s digestive system. This will lessen their susceptibility to conditions like colitis, and your dog’s skin and fur will be much healthier as a result. Ultimately, ensuring you feed your dog highly digestible food is of the utmost importance to their health and wellbeing.

Understanding food digestibility

One of the most important considerations for food digestibility is the protein content of your dog’s food. The higher the protein value of food, the more nutrients your dog will be able to absorb from it. Remember, different meats have varying levels of digestibility, so experimentations between the main proteins in dog food – lamb meal, poultry meal, and fish meal – affect the food’s digestibility. Fish meal typically has the highest digestibility at 87.0, while poultry is 80.2. This means that fish and poultry are better sources of protein for your dog and are easier to digest. Lamb has a digestibility rating of around 71.5, meaning it is lower quality than its counterparts.

Processing food and nutritional value

Another important consideration is how the protein is processed in the production of your dog’s food. The most notable difference is between meal and raw meat, with poultry meal possessing a value of 80.2 and raw chicken coming in at 88.2. Therefore, the way that the source of protein is processed will impact the digestibility of your dog’s food and the more processed food is, the less digestible it is.

How to know the value of your dog’s food

Thankfully, many pet food suppliers are now much more open about the ingredients that they include in their food. For instance, Pure Pet Food provides highly digestible dog food that is made with real, human-quality ingredients. The ingredients are carefully prepared and placed under a low heat to remove the moisture, naturally preserving the food without compromising on its nutritional value. To provide your dog with highly digestible food that is full of nutrition, get started with one of Pure Pet Food’s tailored plans today.