You may have heard that it takes humans approximately 6 hours to fully digest a meal, but how long does it take a dog? To answer this question effectively, we need to identify all of the following:
What is the size, age, and breed of your dog?
What does your dog’s diet consist of?
What does their exercise routine look like?
In addition to answering all of these critical questions, we also need to have a rough understanding of the dog digestive cycle as a whole.
The canine digestive system is complicated, to say the least. Many small intricacies help keep your dog’s gastrointestinal tract running smoothly. In the case that your dog is experiencing gut issues like diarrhea, vomiting, or cramping, it may be because of problems within his digestive system. In minor cases, a dog digestive supplement may be all that’s needed to get his intestinal system back on track. If he is experiencing more severe symptoms or his symptoms continue to persist, call your veterinarian for a more thorough examination.
What Makes Up a Canine’s Digestive Tract?
- The Esophagus - the area that passes food from the mouth to the stomach
- The Stomach - where partially digested food is stored
- The Intestines - a connection of small and large intestines where food is fully digested and broken down into nutrients to be absorbed by the body
- The Colon - where food waste becomes fecal matter and is stored until expulsion
Not to give too much away regarding the answer to our big question, but undigested pet food can stay in a dog’s stomach up to eight hours! That’s a long time compared to only 30 minutes that food spends in the stomach of the average human!
Dog Digestion: How Long Does It Take?
Size, Age and Breed
Size is one of the most significant factors for how long it will take a dog to digest their food. A full-grown adult dog can range anywhere between 5 and 120 pounds depending on the breed. For example, an adult Labrador retriever is 12 times the size of a full-grown chihuahua, which would be the same size difference between a twelve-month-old baby and the average NBA player. Obviously, those two humans and those two dog breeds will digest food at a different rate. Because breed type plays a significant role in determining how big a dog will get, size can be considered interchangeable with the breed when analyzing digestion habits.
Age is the x-factor when it comes to digestion. There is a reason that puppies seem to need to go out to use the bathroom far more frequently than adult dogs. As dogs age, their metabolism slows down. Over time, the digestive process becomes an internal marathon rather than the expedient sprint it once was. Here’s your next clue for figuring out how long it takes a dog to digest food...the larger and older the dog, the longer the digestive process.
How Exercise Plays a Role
Did you know that exercise also influences a dog’s digestion time? The genetic makeup of dogs is such that their gi tract is constructed to handle a predominantly carnivorous diet, wherein they can store large quantities of food in the stomach for long periods, slowly turning that food into energy depending on their energy output.
This is why exercise is another essential piece in the puzzle of canine digestion. The more energy a dog uses, the more rapidly their body will take the food stored in the stomach and send it to the intestinal tract where it can be turned into caloric energy to supplement the output of physical strength.
What Are They Eating?
It may seem obvious, but different foods will be digested at different speeds. Typically any dog food that contains a large amount of grain will be digested slower than food that is more rich in protein. A dog’s digestive system craves a protein-rich diet as the high caloric content fuels their active lifestyles.
So how long does it take a dog to digest food? According to PetMD, the dog digestion system timeline is anywhere from 8 to 10 hours to digest a meal fully, but it can take as long as 12 or as quick as four. It is important to note that all of the factors above play an integral part in determining your dog’s specific internal rhythm.
Always be attentive to your dog’s needs and make sure you are feeding and walking them as needed. Every dog is different, and veterinary professionals are an excellent resource for any specific questions you may have about keeping your dog healthy and happy.
Camille is a co-founder of Pet Honesty and VP of Pup Parent Education. After watching her own family dog suffer from joint issues for years she became passionate about improving dogs' quality of life. With the help of a team of veterinarians and dog nutritionists she now helps educate other dog owners about the small but powerful things they can do to positively impact their dogs' health and wellness! She lives in Austin, TX and loves cuddling puppies, being outside and reading.