Understanding Digestive Health in Dogs

Your dog’s digestive system makes a significant contribution to their well-being. From breaking down food to absorbing nutrients to eliminating waste, digestive function is foundational to health. The canine digestive system is somewhat similar to humans, but there are a few important differences that stem from their carnivorous hunter ancestors. Understanding the canine digestive organs and processes can shed light on the ways a healthy digestive system contributes to your dog’s overall well-being.   Table of Contents

  1. The Canine Digestive Tract
  2. Promoting Digestive Health in Your Dog

The Canine Digestive Tract

There are three primary areas involved with the canine digestive system: the mouth and esophagus, the stomach and the intestines. As food passes through each stage, it is broken down to provide the essential nutrients and energy your dog needs.

1. The Mouth & Esophagus

Food begins its digestive journey in the mouth. When dogs consume food, it becomes coated with saliva in their mouth. In contrast to human saliva, dog saliva does not contain digestive enzymes that begin breaking down food. Instead, canine saliva serves as lubrication to facilitate smooth passage through the esophagus.   The esophagus is a muscular tube that transfers food from the mouth to the stomach. With automatic peristaltic activity, the esophagus slowly contracts and pushes the food to the stomach.

2. The Stomach

When food enters the stomach, it is mixed with gastric juices to begin digestion. A dog’s stomach contains a highly acidic, mucous-like mixture. Pepsin in the stomach helps digest food proteins, while gastrin controls the digestive process.   It’s important to note that the canine stomach is designed to handle large amounts of food at once. The canine digestive system is structured to hold approximately 70% of food in the stomach and 30% in the intestines. A dog’s stomach can even expand by relaxing muscle fibers and unfolding into a large reservoir for bigger meals if necessary. Because of the capacity proportions, a dog’s food spends as long as four to eight hours in the stomach.   When food exits the stomach, it proceeds to the small intestine.

3. The Intestines

A dog’s small intestine is divided into three different sections: the duodenum, the ileum and the jejunum. This section of the digestive tract continues digestion and begins absorbing nutrients from food. Throughout this process, the liver and pancreas provide vital assistance. The liver supplies bile to the intestines to help them absorb fat from the food, and the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes to help control metabolism.   After spending time in the small intestine, food moves to the large intestine for storage. Very little digestion occurs in the large intestine. Instead, the organ continues absorbing electrolytes, fatty acids and vitamins A, B and K. Despite its name, the large intestine accounts for just 13% of the overall intestines. When food reaches the end of its journey through the large intestine, it is eliminated.

Promoting Digestive Health in Your Dog

Your dog’s digestive health contributes to their energy, wellness and quality of life. Partnering with your dog to maintain healthy digestion is a worthwhile decision to promote optimal health.

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