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Canine Digestive Process and Enzymes

Canine Digestive Process


We love our pets, and for many of us, we consider them extensions of our family, or even like children for us. And there is no denying the strength of bond that exists between dogs and their owners. However, it's critically important to remember that dogs are not humans. For example, a dog can eat something utterly vile that it has found under a bush and suffer no ill consequence. Humans would not do this. 

Notably in the last 20 years, pet food manufacturers have relied upon our interpretation that with food, something that is nourishing, tasty and healthy for us as 'people' will be equally so for our beloved pets. Check out the ads below for two types of dog food... notice that fresh fruit and veg surrounds the food; it all looks very natural and healthy. For humans - yes. But for dogs...hmmm?

Freshpet 'hitting on all cylinders,' sales up 33% in Q2 | 2020-08-05 | Pet  Food Processing

Portland Pet Food Expands To East Coast With Wegmans

It's quite easy to recognise that dogs need a very different diet to humans.

1) Starting in the mouth...

Humans  Dogs
Saliva contains special enzymes that help digest the starches in your food. An enzyme called amylase breaks down starches (complex carbohydrates) into sugars, which your body can more easily absorb.  Dogs do not have amylase in the saliva, so this is the first indication that we have that dogs are not prepared to consume significant quantities of carbohydrate-high foods. However, dogs do have anti-bacterial properties in their saliva.
The jaw movement of a human allows for multi-direction 'chewing' motions, to ensure food is reduced in size and starts to be mixed with the saliva. Dogs have a limited range of movement in their jaws. Specifically, they can only go up & down in a 'biting motion'. They bite and tear chunks, then they swallow in larger pieces. 


2) Into the Stomach

Humans  Dogs
pH level in humans is typically around 1.5, but worth noting that studies have shown that this fluctuates with age, notably in infants and the elderly. Typical of most carnivores, dogs have an extremely acidic stomach acid (below pH 1.0 during its most acidic state, during digestion), which is equivalent to car battery acid. This acidic environment is inhospitable to all but the most specialized of microbiology, protecting healthy scavenging dogs from common meat-borne pathogens such as Salmonella and E. coli.
It takes anywhere between 24-72 hours for food to pass through the entire length of the digestive system. The duration depends on what is being digested.  A dogs digestive process can be as quick as four hours, up to around eight hours. Factors include the size and breed of the dog. Studies have shown that dry food takes longer to digest. 



Enzymes are a special kind of protein that helps to break down foods into smaller nutrients. They work in a 'lock & key' way; the right enzyme can break down the right food type.


The main digestive enzymes in the intestines of dogs are lipase (for fat), protease (for protein), and amylase (for starch). These enzymes are made in the pancreas and released into the intestine after meals. In the vast majority of animals, these enzymes do exactly what they are intended to do – they digest the food and are critical to nutrient absorption.

Notably, another enzyme, cellulase (which is made by bacteria in the gut of animals that eat leaves or hay), can break down a common type of fiber (cellulose) and is not present in the intestine of dogs and cats. 



Knowing that dogs are optimized for eating meat can make it easier to recognize better dog foods.

Even though dogs do demonstrate a notable omnivorous capacity, we believe it’s important to give preference to meat-based products



Comparison of gastrointestinal pH in dogs and humans: implications on the use of the beagle dog as a model for oral absorption in humans: