dog digestive health

The Dog Digestive System: Anatomy and Functions

Ever wonder how your dog’s digestive system works? Are dogs strictly meat-eaters? Read on to learn about the digestive system, how it works, and the best way to keep your dog’s digestive tract healthy.

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Basic Anatomy of Your Dog’s Digestive Tract

We often think that dogs are carnivores, meaning their diet consists primarily of meat-based protein. While meat makes up a large portion of their diet, dogs also need vegetables, grains, and fruits. These provide necessary vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

In this article learn how your dog’s digestive system works and what you can do to keep them healthy, prevent stomach upset including vomiting and diarrhea, and other illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, tooth abscess, gingivitis, foreign bodies, and more.

Digestion begins in the mouth with the teeth, tongue, and saliva, swallowing the food through the esophagus into the stomach. Gastric juices in the stomach help further breakdown food with help from enzymes produced by the pancreas. Bile made by the gallbladder assists with absorbing nutrients from food. The small intestines (made up of the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum) completes food digestion and absorption. The cecum (known as the appendix in people) and large intestines (made up of the ascending, transverse, and descending colon) complete digestion by absorbing fluid and nutrients from digested food. The waste or formed stool moves to the rectum and out through the anus.

Basic Functions of the Digestive Tract

Your dog’s digestive tract performs many important tasks! Along with breaking down/digesting food, this system absorbs nutrients and essential vitamins and minerals to provide the body with energy and maintain normal function. The digestive tract also absorbs and distributes water to maintain hydration.

Keeping your Dog’s Digestive System Healthy

A healthy digestive tract begins in your dog’s mouth, literally! Providing daily oral care to your dog will help prevent tartar build-up on their teeth and inflammation of the gums. Digestion begins in the mouth as dogs chew their food, mixing it with saliva, before swallowing. Always provide fresh water daily and keep their food and water bowls clean.

Feed your dog a complete and balanced diet. With so many options, choosing a good diet can be quite challenging. Start by checking out the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) which publishes standards for nutritional profiles and labeling guidelines. Look for the words “complete and balanced” on the packaging. This is the AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement and means that the food provides all the necessary vitamins and nutrients your dog needs. It’s important to note that pet food labels are not regulated and can entice consumers with words such as “holistic,” “premium,” and “human-grade” without following through on that promise.

When in doubt, talk to a veterinarian about the best nutrition and diet choices for your pet.

A Healthy Digestive Tract Includes the Following:

  • Regular oral hygiene
  • Fresh clean water
  • A healthy, balanced diet
  • No sudden food changes
  • No table scraps
  • No bones
  • If offering treats: beware of pigs ears, boiled bones, chicken feet, rawhides, etc. that can be choking or foreign body hazards
  • Only give puppy milk replacer to puppies needing nutritional support
  • Deworm puppies and adult dogs as instructed by your vet
  • Probiotics and supplements only as recommended by your vet

When to Call Your Veterinarian

The following symptoms can indicate an unhealthy digestive tract and require veterinary care:

Read more:

How to Choose the Right Food for Your Dog

Gastrointestinal Diets for Dogs and Cats

Choosing the Right Prescription Diet for Your Dog

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