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Digestive Issues in Dogs: Everything You Need to Know

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Your dog’s digestive system is a complex series of moving parts that require everything to be working in harmony. For the most part, the process of digestion is relatively simple, but bowel issues can occur. This article will help to explain what can help when your dog is affected by digestive issues.

A quick overview of a dog’s digestive system:

First, we must have a rudimentary understanding of how your dog’s digestive system works.

The canine digestive system can be subdivided into four main categories: 

  • The mouth and esophagus
  • The stomach 
  • The intestines
  • The colon

Each of these sections plays a vital role in helping your dog to consume and properly digest his food, and it all begins when your dog gets hungry. Your dog uses his mouth to consume and chew food, and then as he swallows, the food travels down the esophagus, which connects the mouth to the stomach. 

A dog has a wide esophageal passage, and as a result, he does not need to chew his food the same way humans do. A canine esophagus is coated with saliva. In dogs, saliva does not play any part in breaking down food. It merely acts as a lubricant to help food travel from the mouth to the stomach. 

Once food passes through the esophageal passage, it lands in the stomach. It takes anywhere between 4 and 12 hours for a dog’s stomach to break down food from bite-size chunks into a digestible paste. Stomach acid is used by the body to help break down food within the lining of the stomach.

 In dogs, the stomach is more of a storage facility, holding the food until there is enough of a caloric deficit to warrant new digestion. Once the body is ready for new food to be absorbed based on the dog’s caloric needs, it is pushed into the small intestine.

The small intestine is where the bulk of digestion takes place, and it is divided into three subsections. The first section of the small intestine is the duodenum. The duodenum is directly connected to the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. This is where food is prepared for intake as it is mixed with digestive enzymes and bile to make the food easily digestible.

The jejunum is where nutrient absorption takes place, and this section of the small intestine is the key to the digestive process. The second and longest section of the small intestine is responsible for turning your dog’s food into energy. A large number of hanging extremities called villi, stick to the moving food particles and filter usable food from waste. 

As the villi do their job, the waste is passed on to the ileum, the shortest section of the small intestine characterized as the connective tissue between a dog’s small intestine and colon.

In dogs, there is no real distinction between the large intestine and the colon. The large intestine is made up of the ascending, and descending colon wherein moisture is removed from fecal matter to prevent the body from becoming dehydrated. After waste is passed from the ileum into the large intestine, it begins to form and take shape until it is ready to be expelled as waste from the anus. 


How are Digestive Issues  diagnosed?

With all dog digestive issues, a full physical, complete with blood work and urinalysis, will be required for your vet to come to any kind of conclusion regarding your dog’s condition. Additionally, there may be some expensive tests in your future, including a colonoscopy and x-rays to rule out things like tumors and intestinal infection. Here are some things your veterinarian will likely check for in the diagnostic process: 

  • Dietary intolerance
  • Inflammatory Colitis
  • Pythiosis
  • Whipworms
  • Colonic tumors i.e., colonic neoplasia
  • Histoplasmosis
  • Giardiasis
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Fiber induced diarrhea
  • Cecal Inversion

After your vet has provided the diagnosis, the two of you will begin working on a wellness plan for your dog.

Support Digestive Issues in Dogs

Certain medications can be prescribed to your dog to help with gastrointestinal distress. Diet will also be a significant factor in the way you treat  your dog. Many times additional fiber can have impressive positive effects, as increasing dietary fiber will ensure that your dog’s intestinal tract will not have to work as hard for nutrients. As a result, the inflammation in his bowels will likely not be as severe. 

Many vets also suggest supplementing better food choices with probiotics. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that work to eradicate harmful microbes within the gut. The benefits of probiotics for a dog’s digestive tract include stimulated cell growth and increases in the production of vital nutrients. There are human probiotics that can be given to dogs, but there is no shortage of dog probiotic supplements that have been developed for canine-specific purposes. 

There are many homeopathic remedies for soothing gastrointestinal distress in dogs. One such option is canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin, because of its low glycemic index and high fiber content, is excellent for settling a dog’s stomach. Additionally, pumpkin is very basic, which means that it is an anti-inflammatory that helps to fight excess acidity that may be promoting intestinal swelling.

A Positive Note

The worst part about bowel problems is the period where it is undiagnosed. All of the symptoms and tests that come before diagnosis may make you feel like it was all for nothing. You may be surprised to hear this, but compared to the alternatives, bowel problems are a positive diagnosis! Bowel problems, while they are not fully understood, is very treatable. Remember, while bowel problems in dogs natural remedies are excellent additions to wellness plans, there is no substitute for professional medical prognosis. So long as you take the necessary steps to keep bowel problems well managed and under control, you and your dog should be able to lead a happy and healthy life together. 


Camille Arneberg and her dog
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.