Dog with empty food bowl by Shutterstock.

Dog Digestive System Basics — How Long Does it Take for a Dog to Digest Food?

Let's explore the basics of the dog digestive system, like how long does it take for a dog to digest food? How long does food stay in a dog’s stomach? Where does you dog’s digestion actually take place?
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Most dog owners don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their own digestive processes, much less the basics of the dog digestive system. The only times we really engage with the dog digestive system are when we feed our dogs and when we trot them out to eliminate their waste. But what happens to a dog’s kibble or canned food from the time it enters their gaping maws to when it passes out the other end? How long does it take for a dog to digest food? If you were to hazard a guess, you could probably name the major stops along the route in the dog digestive system.

Food enters through the mouth and slides down the esophagus on its way to the stomach. From there, it takes in the sights of the small and large intestines before departing the body. If that seems too simple, it is! The dog digestive system involves a staggering number of organs, fluids and enzymes, all playing their roles to convert food into usable energy. Whatever is left over, as surplus to requirements, is expelled through the anus in the form of feces.

A hungry dog eating food out of a bowl.
How long does it take for a dog to digest food? Photography ©Chalabala | Thinkstock.

Let’s take a closer look at the dog digestive system and answer the following questions along the way:

  • What are the major components of the dog digestive system?
    1. From mouth to stomach
    2. A fantastic journey through the small intestine
    3. The large intestine and waste removal
  • Assorted questions about the dog digestive system:
    1. Where does digestion actually take place?
    2. How long does food stay in the stomach?
    3. How long does it take for a dog to digest food?
A worried or scared pug squatting or pooping.
Pooping is the final step in the dog digestion process. Photography ©NUKUL2533 | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Basics of the dog digestive system

Part 1: From mouth to stomach

The front end of the dog digestive system encompasses the mouth, esophagus, stomach and small intestine. Dog digestion begins almost immediately with saliva in the mouth. You may have wondered why dog tongues are so slobbery. Since they spend less time chewing food than humans tend to, all of that saliva kickstarts the process of breaking down and coating food particles for smoother passage through the esophagus. The esophagus is heavily muscled, actively pushing food into the stomach.

Part 2: A fantastic journey through the small intestine

A dog’s stomach is a super-acidic environment, which is useful for opportunistic omnivores, helping them more easily digest things like bone and raw meat. Yes! Dogs can digest bones! At this stop in the dog digestive system, solid food is rendered into a substance called chyme, which is made up of food, water and acid. All food — from your Michelin 3-star-rated fine cuisine, to your dog’s canned chunks or dry kibble — ends up as this highly acidic gloop. As this chyme proceeds into the small intestine, the real work of digestion — the isolation of nutrients that can be used by the body— is done.

There are three parts of food’s journey through the small intestine. In the first part, the duodenum, chyme is treated with enzymes and hormones from the liver and pancreas, which reduce the acid level of the chyme. The gloop is now prepared to have the rest of its nutrients extracted and absorbed. This happens in the second part of the small intestine, which is called the jejunum. This part of a dog’s small intestine is basically covered in little probes, which, like fly paper, pick up and absorb useful nutrients into the bloodstream.

Part 3: The large intestine and waste removal

The final part of the small intestine is the ileum, which absorbs whatever nutrients remain. By this point, the once-acidic chyme gloop is now a sort of thicker pasty substance. You’d be surprised how little of the food you or your dog eats is actually used by your body. Did you ever wonder why the dog digestive system produces so much poop? It’s because the actual nutrients — proteins, vitamins, fats and so on — that your dog’s body can utilize are miniscule in proportion to the physical volume of most dog food.

How long is this part of the dog digestive system? It varies by size. If you stretched out a dog’s small intestine, it would be nearly three times as long as the dog. The back end of a dog’s GI tract is fairly short by comparison, just over a foot long, give or take, depending on the dog. Its primary components are the large intestine and the anus. The large intestine is basically a water remover and garbage compactor. Having spent the first half of its journey being mashed up, dissolved and sifted, any parts of a dog’s meal that cannot be used is treated by bacteria, and reconstituted into a solid package we call dog poop.

A hungry dog looking up from his food and water bowls.
Now, let’s answer some common questions about the dog digestive tract. Photography by damedeeso/Thinkstock.

Assorted questions about the dog digestive system!

How long does food stay in a dog’s stomach?

Though dogs are omnivores, they are opportunistic ones. That means that while they can eat almost anything, the dog digestive system can’t break down and utilize everything. Animals like humans or cows, to name two, have GI tracts made to process plant matter. As a result, their intestines are much longer and more drawn out than those of dogs. Since cows depend on vegetable matter, they even get extra compartments in their stomach, and can regurgitate food to chew and digest it fully.

A dog digestive system, depending more on meat proteins, is much more efficient. Depending on its digestibility, food can stay in a dog’s stomach much longer than either a human or a cow. If the meal is not strictly meat, comprising a variety of vegetable, grains and proteins, it will have vacated the stomach completely in 12 hours after eating. Compare that to four to five hours in a normal adult human.

Where does digestion actually take place in the dog digestive system?

As you may have gleaned from tracing food’s intricate journey from the food bowl in your kitchen to the poop bag in the dog park, the multiple processes of the dog digestive system means that it does not happen in one spot. From the moment comestibles come in contact with teeth and saliva in the mouth, digestion is happening.

A dog digestive system is just that: a system, and digestion takes place at every point along the course. Food is disassembled in a variety of ways, physically and nutritionally, from the mouth to the stomach. The majority of its conversion into absorbable nutrients happens in the small intestine, and digestion is only complete when your dog assumes the familiar position for excreting waste.

How long does it take for a dog to digest food?

Finally, the question about the dog digestive system that got us started. Unfortunately, there’s no set answer! So many variables are involved, that even in a perfectly healthy dog, the time to digest a single meal can be dramatically different. Does your dog drink enough water? That has an effect on digestion time as well. Large dog breeds take significantly longer to digest food than small ones.

Is your dog sedentary, spending most of the day on the couch? Does the dog get a couple of walks a day? Dog exercise has a definite impact on motility, or the way that the muscles of the dog digestive system propel food through the process. Total time from entry to exit depends on a wide range of factors, from the size of the dog to the quality of the food. Wet food takes less time to digest than dry kibble. Speaking very broadly, operating at optimum efficiency, a dog can process a can of wet food in as few as four hours, while the same amount of dry food can take eight hours to make the same journey!

Thumbnail: Photography by gephoto / Shutterstock.

This piece was originally published in 2016.

Read Next: Dog Feeding Schedule: How Many Times a Day Should a Dog Eat?

31 thoughts on “Dog Digestive System Basics — How Long Does it Take for a Dog to Digest Food?”

  1. I have a little dog Maltese and I think that he ate something that he can not digests. How can I get him to digest it?

  2. I feed my 8 month gs male an lately he is throwing up his food a few hours after when he drinks water then est it up again wat do I do

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  7. Lovely page with excellent information, thanks for sharing! We are a local mobile grooming company in Miami, FL https://www.petgroominghialeah.com/

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  9. What can I do to get rid of the fishy smell that comes out of his rectum? I feed him purina pro plan. He is one year old, an about 100 lbs. He is a labakita mix. I give a cup of food in the morning an at night. I had a cairn terrier that did the same thing. We had to take her to get her anal glads cleaned out. So i’m wondering if its something that i’m doing wrong. Now that my other dog has the same problem. Are am i just doomed to have another dog with the same problem:)

    1. well then…I would think if you had the same situation you should have your dog’s anal glands expressed. All dogs need this periodically, especially small dogs. Also Purina is not a great food.

    2. Excellent comment. Check out http://inlandempirefamilylawattorney.com if you get a chance on new California dog law effecting property rights.

  10. Feel sorry for dogs that’s feed dry nasty kibble all it causes is a lot of stink poop. Dog owners please consider feeding BARF or home made cooked food. Your dog will have less poop, brighter coat and most importantly live a healthier and longer life. Remember before switching foods fast them for one day and start off with small amounts of new food slowly until your dogs stomach gets acclimated to it.

  11. We have a 3 1/2 month old golden retriever puppy who swallowed a 1 1/2 inch chunk of a yak cheese chew that we were trying to take away from him. His appetite is unchanged and his bowl movements are normal, but is this something I should be concerned about his not being able to fully digest it ? How long should it take to digest it if you think he should be able to do this?

    Thanks,
    Susanne

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  13. my dog eliminates after each feeding and seems to put out more than he taekes in..It is mustard color and comes out like pudding smelling like dog food or boiled milk or oatmeal, He has been wormed, on probiotics, enzymes, grain free and grained dog food. He is 8 lbs and is a pom-shi 7 yrs old seems to like to sleep a lot but enjoys walks for one or two miles at a time.. I have had him for 9 days now and he is a rescue from the local pound..He has had two fecal tests and I will take one more today to be tested.. 7 days ago he was found to have round worms and hook worms and followed a 5 day course of deworming along with the best dog food and rice and boiled chicken.. j

    1. The dog needs healing and the immune boosted. A healthy dog shouldn’t get parasites.
      Look at the dog as a whole. The best dog food, ?
      Feeding rice and boiled chicken is hardly healing. Are you on FB? Look up some of the natural prevention and healing support groups, they’ll guide you

      1. Common sense and knowledge is all you need and your dog will benefit immensely. Read up on everything, and look at the natural, holistic approach first….it’s basically all you need. 🙂

    2. Please don’t give your dog food for 24 hours water only, research BARF diet and choose your meat I prefer turkey but chicken is a good choice also. Start off with a small amount of the food you choose to feed I recommend turkey or chicken wing to start off at first then slowly start increasing amount of foods over a few days. Your dog will enjoy this food and have a lot less poop and it won’t stink!

      1. Chicken and turkey wings alone are not a sufficient diet for dogs. They can certainly be part of a healthy raw food diet.

    3. New and thorough studies have shown probiotics to be not natural or healthy. For dogs or humans. The probiotics displace and inhibit natural gut bacteria growth. Often causing further issues such as loose stool or improper digestion. Just a thought.

  14. Great article! My question: 45lb dog; dry kibble. Sadie vomited 8 hours after eating; undigested kibble. I thought by this time, the kibble would have moved on to the rest of the process. It was not the amount we fed her; probably half. Just trying to understand. She’s fine now. Thanks

    1. “She’s fine now” Until something more serious starts to show .. The dogs digestive system doesn’t like processed foods. Try feeding real species appropriate food, Their system doesn’t recognise kibble as food.

      1. Well said….always feed species appropriate food….ie…Canines are raw feeders naturally…look at the teeth and the intestinal juices. Evolved for raw feeding.

    2. sounds like she perhaps ate too fast . if your dog does that it causes the vomiting , it is best to give a little at a time so they do not do that .

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