How do dogs digest differently from us?

Often when we feed our dogs, we model it on our own diet and think about what’s good for us. However, it’s important to remember that cooking for your dog is not the same as cooking for yourself.

The nutritional needs and digestive process of dogs are somewhat different from ours. Diets that aren’t balanced to meet your dog’s requirements can lead to serious health problems.

For example, dogs have a need for much more taurine than humans. Taurine is important for healthy heart function. The diet must also provide a correct balance of calcium to phosphorus. The two work together to maintain the growth and structure of the skeletal system and help to avoid deficiencies.

Your dog’s entire process of digestion is the result of multiple organs and systems but in this newsletter, I will focus on the mouth, stomach and intestines and see how they’re different to ours.

The Mouth
This is where it all starts. As humans we use a combination of sight, smell, texture and taste to help us decide if we like a food or not. Our dogs have a considerably lower amount of taste buds so taste is not a sense they rely heavily on. Instead, their heightened sense of smell is what first attracts them to food or puts them off it. This is why dogs often eat anything that smells appetising.

Our teeth are designed to tear and grind food. If you compare your molars to your dogs, you will see that yours are flat. Your dog’s molars, on the other hand, are shaped more like mountains. They are designed to tear and shred.

The time we spend chewing food is quite long. Your dog may chew once or twice only before swallowing. The amount of time dogs spend chewing food is too short for digestion to begin. For that reason, dogs do not produce amylase in their saliva. Instead, they produce pancreatic amylase and break down starch for absorption in their duodenum (the first section of the small intestine).

The lack of amylase in your dog’s saliva means starches tend to stick to the teeth causing plaque and tartar to build up. That is why your dog is much more likely to develop gum disease compared to us humans who tend to develop cavities from the sugars.

Did you know that your dog can’t chew side to side? Your dog’s jaw only allows for up and down motion when chewing while us humans can move our jaw up and down as well as side to side.

Gastric acid in both humans and dogs is made of extremely acidic Hydrochloric acid. Your dog’s stomach is much larger and more acidic than yours. This very acidic stomach kills a lot of the bacteria found in the ‘less than fresh’ foods your dog might pick up out on a walk. However, more stomach acid doesn’t translate to letting your dog eat potentially contaminated foods. Dogs are no less sensitive to food poisoning than people.

The stronger acid also means your dog can digest tougher things like foods that are still in chunks.

Another difference is the time food stays in the stomach. On average, your dog keeps the food in the stomach a little longer compared us humans. As a result, your dog feels full longer and only need to eat twice daily.

Once the food clears, it travels through the rest of your dog’s digestive system.

Your dog’s intestines are much shorter compared to yours. Because of this, foods travel more quickly and the body has less time to absorb nutrients. That is why it is important to provide foods that are easily digestible in order to get the maximum amount of nutrients and minimize digestive upset.

The process of digestion in dogs takes about a day whereas it can take up to three days to pass through yours.

Food poisoning bacteria multiply very quickly. For a dog, the short digestive tract and therefore a shorter transit time is another protective feature to limit bad bacteria from multiplying and cause problems.

End of the journey.
A sausage-shaped, well-formed poop that does not fall apart when picked up.

Learn more 

Why your dog farts and what you can do about it

Carbohydrates – do dogs need them?

Dogs and fur stains

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