Small dog eating out of yellow dog bowl

How Long Does It Take for a Dog to Digest Food?

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As a dog owner, you no doubt strive to do everything in your power to support your dog’s health and wellbeing. However, there’s one vital health-related consideration that you may not have given too much thought to: the movement of food through your dog’s digestive system. 

While it may seem like an unusual topic to focus on, developing an understanding of how your dog’s digestive system works will help you to maintain your dog’s health for years to come. It will allow you to better recognize when something isn’t quite right.

In this guide, you’ll learn how long it takes for a dog to digest food as well as a few tips to help your dog’s digestion. If you’re ready to get the low-down on your dog’s digestion, keep reading. 

How Long Does It Take for a Dog to Digest Food?

Diagram of a dog's digestive system, with each part labeled.

A fair bit of research has been done into how long it takes for dogs to digest their food. The authors of one study found that it took between 405 and 897 minutes [approximately 6 ¾ to 15 hours] for food to leave the stomach and between 1,294 and 3,443 minutes [approximately 21 ½ to 57 ½  hours] for what remained of the food to leave the body in the form of feces.1

Why such a huge range? Your dog’s digestive system is very complex, and the time it takes for food to be digested is dependent on a range of factors.2

Diet

Your dog’s diet is one of the biggest factors that impacts their digestion in part because different ingredients take longer and shorter amounts of time for a dog to digest. 

Put simply, highly digestible ingredients, such as lean chicken, move through the gastrointestinal tract relatively quickly. Whereas other ingredients, such as those that are high in fat, will take longer for your dog to digest. The food’s formulation will also shape your dog’s digestion. Generally speaking, wet foods digest faster than dry foods.

Breed & Size

Happy white spitz on a leash resting on the footpath
Photo courtesy: Pixabay Public Domain

While it may seem like your dog’s breed and size should also impact how long they take to digest food, scientific evidence to support this is spotty. A paper published in 2002 found that large breed puppies digested their food more quickly than did small breed puppies, but the differences disappeared in adult dogs.3

Age 

Your dog’s age can play a role in their digestion. The same 2002 paper mentioned above found that food leaves the stomach of puppies more quickly than it does in adults.4 However, the time for it to pass all the way through the gastrointestinal tract was only shorter for large-breed puppies, not for small breeds, in comparison to adults. 

Exercise

Man walking his dog leash-free in a bushy area
Photo courtesy: Pixabay Public Domain

The amount of exercise your dog gets will also affect how long your dog takes to digest food. Physical activity has a way of helping with defecation. In other words, if your dog needs to poop, go for a walk. In contrast, studies have shown that relatively intense physical activity slows some digestive processes and the movement of food out of the stomach.5

How Can I Help My Dog’s Digestion?

Dog feasting on bowls of dry kibble
Photo courtesy: Pixabay Public Domain

Please talk to your veterinarian if your dog appears to be sick in any way, but if you’re just looking for ways to promote healthy digestion, here are a few ideas to get you started.

Change Your Dog’s Food

Eating a low quality dog food can lead to digestive problems. Look for a food that has an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) statement of nutritional adequacy on its label and that is made from nutritious, highly digestible ingredients. Foods that are designed for dogs with sensitive stomachs are also available.

In some cases, feeding your dog a high fiber dog food may improve their digestion. In fact, fiber can help with both diarrhea and constipation! For example, one study found that adding fermentable fiber to a highly digestible dog food “resulted in a very good to excellent response in most dogs” who had chronic large bowel diarrhea.6

Avoid Certain Foods 

Five different types of nuts on cutting boards
Photo courtesy: Pixabay Public Domain

When it comes to encouraging healthy digestion, it’s also important to avoid feeding your dog certain foods. There are many foods that can be problematic—and we’re not just talking about chocolate! 

Examples of possible digestion-unfriendly foods that you should avoid giving your dog include:7

  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Raw bread dough
  • Nuts
  • Anything high in fat
  • Raw or undercooked meat
  • Bones

Certain plants can also be toxic if ingested.8 In fact, any plant material can cause vomiting and gastrointestinal upset in your dog if consumed.9 So make sure to avoid having toxic plants in and around your house and give your dog lots of healthy chewing options.

Supplements

Certain supplements may be able to help with your dog’s digestion. For example, probiotics and prebiotics can increase beneficial bacteria, which may help to boost your dog’s digestion.10 However, as there are possible side effects to taking any type of supplement, be sure to ask your vet first. They will be able to tell you whether a supplement is suitable for your dog, and if so, which one would be best.

Exercise Your Dog More

Staffie cross pitbull running through water
Photo courtesy: Pixabay Public Domain

As mentioned, mild to moderate exercise, like a brisk walk, can help if your dog has problems with mild constipation. But delay more strenuous activities like games of fetch until after your dog has had a chance to start digesting their latest meal.

Be Aware of Signs of Digestive Upset

Numerous digestive disorders can affect dogs, including gastroenteritis and pancreatitis.1112 In fact, any plant material can cause vomiting and gastrointestinal upset in your dog if consumed. It’s crucial to watch for any signs of digestive upset in your dog. Typical symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, discomfort, excessive gassiness, and lethargy.13 If you’re worried that your dog has a digestive issue, book an appointment with your veterinarian. 

Keep an Eye on Their Stools

Golden retriever resting on a patch of grass
Photo courtesy: Pixabay Public Domain

The quality of your dog’s stools can give you insight into their digestive health. 14 Firm (but not hard) stools are a sign that your dog is eating food that agrees with them and that their digestive processes are functioning normally. If your dog’s stools are too soft, too hard, or abnormal in any way, don’t hesitate to consult your vet.15 

Article Sources

Pet News Daily uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Boillat CS, Gaschen FP, Hosgood GL. Assessment of the relationship between body weight and gastrointestinal transit times measured by use of a wireless motility capsule system in dogs. Am J Vet Res. 2010;71(8):898-902. doi:10.2460/ajvr.71.8.898
  2. Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Digestive system of the dog. Vetmed.wsu.edu. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  3. Weber MP, Stambouli F, Martin LJ, Dumon HJ, Biourge VC, Nguyen PG. Influence of age and body size on gastrointestinal transit time of radiopaque markers in healthy dogs. Am J Vet Res. 2002;63(5):677-682. doi:10.2460/ajvr.2002.63.677
  4. Weber MP, Stambouli F, Martin LJ, Dumon HJ, Biourge VC, Nguyen PG. Influence of age and body size on gastrointestinal transit time of radiopaque markers in healthy dogs. Am J Vet Res. 2002;63(5):677-682. doi:10.2460/ajvr.2002.63.677
  5. Kondo T, Naruse S, Hayakawa T, Shibata T. Effect of exercise on gastroduodenal functions in untrained dogs. Int J Sports Med. 1994;15(4):186-191. doi:10.1055/s-2007-1021045
  6. Leib MS. Treatment of chronic idiopathic large-bowel diarrhea in dogs with a highly digestible diet and soluble fiber: A retrospective review of 37 cases. J Vet Intern Med. 2000;14(1):27-32. doi:10.1892/0891-6640(2000)014<0027:tocilb>2.3.co;2
  7. ASPCA. People foods to avoid feeding your pets. Aspca.org. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  8. ASPCA. Poisonous plants. Aspca.org. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  9. ASPCA. Poisonous plants. Aspca.org. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  10. Collings G. Pet health: Vital ingredients? PETS International magazine. Published November, 2011: 18-19. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  11. Hunter T, Ward E. Gastroenteritis in dogs. Vcahospitals.com. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  12. ASPCA. Pancreatitis: Learn the symptoms to help protect your dogs and cats. Aspca.org. Published July 9, 2015. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  13. Southwind Animal Hospital. Does my dog have an upset stomach? Southwindvets.com. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  14. Royal B. Understanding pet digestion. Ivcjournal.com. Published April 12, 2018. Accessed March 3, 2021.
  15. Nestle Purina. Nestle Purina fecal scoring system. Vhc.missouri.edu. Accessed March 3, 2021.
Dr. Jennifer Coates
Dr. Jennifer Coats, DVM was Valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. She has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado and has authored numerous articles and books, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, children, and her dog and cat (Apollo and Minerva).