Apparently a lot of people want to know more about their dog's digestion. I can tell from the questions I get, so it's time to dig a little deeper into this subject.
Are you one of those persons who can remember more information when it all just sounds so logical? If so, then you need to have an understanding of dog digestion, the enzymes, the organs and the processes.
Understanding how everything is supposed to work gives you the best basis to understand food related diseases, the fundamental principles for prescription diets, why dog's eat what they eat etc.
I have always found it easier to remember information that logically fits together like the pieces of a puzzle. Understanding that it is logical that a dog with pancreas issues drinks a lot is easier than remember just the bare facts.
So I hope you're still here and are willing to follow the flow from the first bite until the soft landing in the grass.
Your dog's digestive system is an amazing mechanism that can turn raw meat, kibbles, or healthy chews into nutrients ready to be absorbed by it's hungry cells. This is done very efficiently, and waste products are eliminated from the body in various ways.
The dog digestion journey starts after you have given your dog a filled bowl of dog food…
Oh... but what if the journey does not start at your place? Several reasons exist why a dog refuses to eat. I must write about these in a separate article because now we have things to do, places to see... so hold on to your seats as the dog digestion journey finally starts.
Your dog decides whether or not to eat the dog food you chose by the smell of it. This is not the most important factor for all animals so it's worth while mentioning. A cat will choose her favorite food by how it feels in her mouth. I see this behavior in my cat as well. Her rule seems to be: “If I can't eat it, I'll play with it”. But perhaps I should not mention the C-word on this website.
Assuming the food smelled nice, we now proceed to the next step …
Chew it? Well, most dogs don't particularly chew their food very well (exceptions exist!) and the act of chewing is not that important for dogs.
Teeth are used for ripping and tearing flesh away from a carcass, so when your dog is eating kibble there's not much work for those teeth. The large back premolars and molars come into play when your dog chews on a bone, rawhide or stuffed cow hooves.
Dogs are built to be able to swallow large pieces as they have a wide esophagus. The main purpose here is to get the food wet enough so it's easy to swallow. The saliva lubricates the dog food. Your dog has 4 pairs of salivary glands and production of saliva increases when your canine smells his food and even when he just thinks about getting some food.
Nope, not here! Your dog's saliva has no enzymes at all. Slicing and dicing of food will have to wait, until the dog digestion journey arrives in the canine stomach.
Saliva is mainly water (99%) with mucus, minerals and enzymes (but not amylase like we have) in it. The exact composition is dependent on the type of dog food that is eaten.
Likewise, the amount of saliva that is produced depends on the moisture content of the dog food. The pH is neutral and varies from 7.3 to 7.8.
As your dog's saliva production starts at the smell of food (or the thought of it), we could argue the dog digestion journey starts even befóre he takes his first bite.
A very important function of dog saliva has nothing to do with dog food. Your dog uses evaporative cooling to lower his body temperature. Perhaps you've noticed before a dog cannot sweat as we do when it's hot.
As dogs don't have amylase present in their saliva, the digestion of starch cannot start here. We humans do have the enzyme amylase so digestion of starch starts already in our mouth. When you chew on a piece of bread for a long time, you may notice that it starts to taste sweeter. This is because starch is processed by amylase (which chops it up) into a form of sugar (maltose).
Can you see the advantage of NOT having amylase? As starch is not broken down, dogs don't get caries. That is… not until you give them treats with pure sugars in it!!
A dog may not chew as much as we or herbivores do, but he for sure has taste buds like us on his tongue. This way he can appreciate the dog food and choose to eat more of it just because it tastes great and dogs love the taste of fat (which may have a "bad rep" but is a very valuable and essential nutrient).
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