As someone whose daily responsibilities include your dog’s poop, you know that abnormal stools can be one of the first signs that your dog isn’t feeling well. This can cause a plethora of questions—all of which may be answered by understanding how long it takes for your dog to digest food.
On average, it takes a dog about 8 to 10 hours to digest food. Smaller or younger dogs may take 4 hours to digest while larger dogs may need up to 12. When your dog’s food to poop schedule is off, it could be a sign that something else needs attention.
According to Dr. Cindy Barnes, DVM, CVSMT, and founder of Shepherd Veterinary Software, a healthy dog could have two to three bowel movements a day, and a puppy can poop five or more times a day. “Healthy adult dogs will poop at least once a day and usually about 12 hours after their last meal,” explains Dr. Barnes.
Knowing your pup’s food to poop timeline can help you spot when something is amiss. We break down the functions, factors, and food questions you have about your dog’s digestive track.
How Do Dogs Digest Food?
According to Dr. Barnes, humans and dogs have pretty similar digestive system. But there are small differences that make a big difference in the timing of digestion, digestibility of food, and dietary needs of dogs.
Dog digest their meal quicker than humans because the intestinal tract of a dog is physically shorter. “With a shorter digestive tract, bacteria have less time to multiply,” Dr. Barnes says. This explains why dogs may be able to pick food off the ground and be OK.
Evolution also factors for the differences in dog digestion. A 2013 study found that the domestic dog has a genetic makeup allowing for more starch-consuming enzymes than their distant relative, the wolf.
A dog’s digestive process by stages
Digestibility of food is calculated by analyzing the number of nutrients absorbed, that is what went in compared to what came out.
|Mouth||Digestion starts in the mouth, where dogs chew their food and swallow it with their tongue.|
|Teeth||The food is broken down by a dog’s 42 adult teeth, or 28 in a puppy. Dogs can only move their jaw up and down, not side to side, Dr. Barnes says. This allows them to crush food for digestion.|
|Salivary Glands||Dogs use saliva that accumulates in their mouths to aid in digestion but not in the same way as human saliva does. Research suggests dog saliva primarily kills bacteria, helps with taste, and lubricates food for swallowing.|
|Esophagus||Once the food is crushed small enough to fit through the esophagus, it’s pushed to the stomach—a process called peristalsis. It’s also not abnormal for dogs to regurgitate food. “Dogs have a strong gag reflex, which is why a dog will throw up food if it hasn’t been crushed small enough,” Dr. Barnes explains. “The dog will simply chew it into smaller bits and try again.”|
|Stomach||After the food arrives in the stomach, the stomach secretes digestive juices and enzymes that break down the food even further. Fun fact: A dog’s stomach produces nearly 100 times more acid than a human stomach. “This is designed to break down protein and soften dense bone matter,” Dr. Barnes says.|
|Small Intestine||The food then moves into the small intestine, where it’s mixed with enzymes secreted from the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. These enzymes help the small intestine absorb essential vitamins and nutrients. This is the place in the digestive system where modern-day pups rely on genetic adaptations to break down starchy foods, like rice and potatoes.|
|Large Intestine||This is where water and other fluids are extracted from the final waste products and undigested food. The waste will be stored here until it’s time for transport out of the body and eventually into your doggy poop bag. When waste passes too quickly through the large intestine, your dog may have diarrhea. Constipation happens if the waste moves too slowly through the large intestine and it removes too much fluid.|
What Happens to Food My Dog Can’t Digest?
Any food your dog cannot digest travels through the GI tract and the large intestine turns into poop. If the food is toxic or cannot be broken down by stomach enzymes, it may cause an upset stomach, diarrhea, or come out. Undigested products, food or non-food, will remain whole when pooped out.
If it does not come out, the material could cause an obstruction and will need to be removed by a medical professional.
What Factors Affect My Dog’s Digestion?
When it comes to your dog’s digestive system, timing is not the only factor in play.
Your dog’s body type
- Size: From scarfing kibble to doing their business—the time it takes food to travel through the body and exit in the form of stool depends heavily on the size of your dog. According to Barnes, it could take a miniature poodle 22 total hours to eat, digest the food, absorb the nutrients, then pass the undigested food through their intestines and out the other end. This same process might take a gentle giant like the giant schnauzer as long as 59 hours.
- Age: You can expect a puppy to have a much faster rate of digestion than an adult dog or senior dog. Dr. Barnes says this is due to the thickening of a dog’s intestinal wall as they mature.
- Breed and body type: The breed of your dog will determine their size and weight, thus slowing down or speeding up the time it takes them to digest food. You can expect a small dog breed like a chihuahua or Shih Tzu to digest food faster than a large dog breed like a Mastiff or Great Dane.
Your dog’s dehydration or hydration level
If your pup becomes dehydrated, the blood flow to their GI tract will decrease. This can lead to painful cramping. A lack of blood flow to the GI tract can also slow the transit of food, “putting the dog at risk for infection, inflammation, or obstruction,” Dr. Barnes says. Ensuring your pup is drinking plenty of water will keep their GI system moving along.
Your dog’s stress levels
Stress brought on by a move, a new family member, or something like a thunderstorm can have a big impact on your dog’s digestive health. The microbiome of a dog (and us) is made up of millions of good and bad bacteria that help break down food. When a dog becomes stressed, that balance of bacteria and other functions can be thrown out of whack—causing digestive issues like an upset stomach, diarrhea, and inflammation of the GI tract.
Your dog’s activity and energy levels
When your dog starts running laps after a meal, they wreak havoc on their digestion. After eating, a dog needs to rest so that their gut can digest the food. If your dog is active after eating, their bodies end up pulling resources from their gut to maintain their muscles, rather than their digestion.
Your dog’s daily diet
The type of food your dog eats can determine how quickly their body breaks it down. Wet and canned foods are easier on the digestive system compared to dry kibble. The moisture content in canned dog foods helps food move through the digestive tract.
Whether your dog has ingested toxins
According to Dr. Barnes, if your dog ingests something toxic like chocolate or certain types of plants, it can cause your dog’s rate of digestion to speed up because they can’t metabolize toxins effectively.
Sudden dietary changes
Whether your dog sneaks a scrap from the table, or you’re switching to a new kibble, new food can interfere your dog’s regular rate of digestion. When introducing your dog to a new diet, the change should be made gradually over a week or two and with a vet’s supervision, decreasing the likelihood of digestive upset.
Medications, diseases, or conditions
If your vet prescribed your dog medication, make sure to ask them how it might affect your dog’s rate of digestion and potty schedule, such as diarrhea or medications. A number of medical conditions can affect your dog’s digestion, like the ones below.
11 Causes of an Upset Digestive System in Dogs
The digestive system is a complicated system that relies on many body parts doing their job properly and efficiently. These medical conditions that could affect how the digestion system of a dog works, and how your dog’s poop looks each day.
Your dog has an infection
- Colitis is inflammation of the large intestine (also referred to as the colon). The cause of colitis might be unknown or caused by bacteria, parasites, trauma, kidney issues, or allergies. According to Dr. Barnes, Great Danes, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and Collies are most susceptible to this and other digestive disorders.
- Dysbiosis occurs when there is an imbalance of good bacteria and bad bacteria in your dog’s gut. Your vet might recommend diet changes like incorporating pre- or probiotics in your dog’s meals, especially after a dose of antibiotics. “Bottom line, pet parents should be talking with their veterinarian about gut health, diet, and gut biome testing,” says Dr. Barnes.
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is when your dog can’t produce important enzymes. Symptoms include large quantities of loose stool and weight loss.
- Gallbladder disease happens as a result of genetic defects, cancer, infections, or physical trauma. You’ll notice yellowing skin and eyes if your dog has a gallbladder issues. This is likely due to bile leaking or built up in the gallbladder.
- Inflammatory bowel disease causes chronic inflammation and upset of the GI tract. Your vet may diagnose them with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a common condition in cats, dogs, and humans.
- Liver disease affects digestion because a damaged liver will fail to secret enzymes for breaking down foods. Luckily, the liver can regenerate but if the damage is too prolonged or severe, liver disease may result in liver failure.
- Megaesophagus is the dilation of the esophagus and the inability to release food to the stomach. This condition has been reported in dog breeds, including wire-haired fox terrier, miniature schnauzer, great Dane, Newfoundland, Rhodesian ridgeback, and the Chinese Shar-pei, according to Dr. Shawn Kearns, DVM, DACVIM at Angell Animal Medical Center. Your dog might be born with the condition or develop it secondary to other diseases or conditions.
Your dog has a chronic condition
- Bloat or gastric dilatation volvulus is a huge risk for large breed dogs and deep-chested male dogs. Bloat causes a dog’s stomach to become abnormally distended with gas, liquid, or food and twisting. Exercising after eating increases risk of bloat. Dr. Barnes recommends keeping your dog inactive and quiet after meals. If your dog scarfs food down, she suggests separating meals into smaller ones throughout the day.
- Gastroenteritis, commonly known as a stomach bug, food poisoning, or the stomach flu, is inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by bacteria, viruses, or toxins.
- Megacolon is a dilated colon, which can occur if your dog experiences chronic constipation. Dogs can also be been born with this condition. If vets can’t manage the condition, your dog might require surgery.
Your dog has a parasite or obstruction
- Intestinal parasites, like ringworms and tape worms, can wreak havoc on your pup’s digestive system and health. Dewormers, especially for puppies, can help keep your puppy safe in the early stages of life.
- Foreign bodies may obstruct your dog’s digestive tract and is a medical emergency. Call your vet or emergency clinic immediately if you think your dog ate something too big to pass through their tract. Catching this early may save your pup going to surgery. If your dog is constipated for days with stomach pain, they may have an inedible object obstructing their digestive system.
Your dog’s digestion isn’t as complicated as you might think. As long as your pup’s stool is semi-firm to firm, and they’re eating and drinking normally without instances of vomiting, Dr. Barnes assures pet parents not to sweat about the number of bowel movements.
If you’re worried, talk to your vet before making any dietary changes or adding fiber, probiotics, or vitamins to your dog’s meals. Feeding your dog highly digestible and nutritious dog food supports their gut health, and when you do that, you’re potentially helping digestion and inflammation levels as well as overall immunity,” says Dr. Gary Richter, DVM, member of Rover’s Dog People Panel.