How Long Does It Take a Dog to Digest Food? The Answer May Surprise You!

How Long Does It Take a Dog to Digest Food
Photo by Milli on Unsplash

While the anatomy of dogs and humans may look quite different, dogs still digest food much as we do. So, How long does it take a dog to digest food?

The digestive process begins in the mouth when food mixes with saliva and mucus secreted by glands in the mouth. Once swallowed, food moves through the esophagus into the stomach. Here it mixes with gastric juices that aid further digestion and provide some initial breakdown of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

Answering the question, “How long does it take a dog to digest food? It depends on whether you’re considering their stomach or their small intestine. Both of which are involved in the process. Digestion involves an incredible amount of both physical and chemical processes. This process transforms your dog’s food into something they can easily use. With more than one organ involved, we might be unable to give you a straight answer!

What is Digestion?

Every living thing needs food to survive, and all living things must break down the molecules from their meals before they can extract any nutrients. Digestion breaks down ingested molecules by waves of muscular contractions that mix, mash, and grind them with saliva, stomach acid, bile, enzymes, and pancreatic juice. 

This process transforms the large molecules of food into small substances that your intestines can easily absorb. If a person or animal has indigestion, they have difficulty digesting their foods. They don’t produce enough stomach acid hydrochloric c acid), bile, or enzymes. This enzyme helps to break down the large food particles into smaller nutrient-dense particles. So, How long does it take a dog to digest food?

How Long Does It Take for Dogs to Digest Food?

Dogs will start getting hungry between three and six hours after eating. That’s because their stomachs can only hold about two cups of food at a time and about one quart of water. As they digest, the process itself takes up energy.

So, how long does it take a dog to digest food? Their mouth and small intestine aren’t getting much work done, so they rely heavily on the stomach to do most of the work. That might sound like a bad thing, but there’s an upside! If a dog eats more than they need in one sitting, it could take up to 24 hours to feel full and experience hunger again. A dog who overeats at once will likely be hungry within 3 hours because its teacher was able to break down those extra calories quickly.

How Does Dog Digestion Time Compare to Human Digestion?

The short answer is that dogs can do all the steps humans do when breaking down the nutrients in their meals. But, before we get into that, let’s go over the basics: while both species have three stages of digestion (mouth, stomach, and intestines), canine digestion only occurs in the stomach. 

For us, that means our mouths and small intestines break down what we’ve eaten. Dogs have less tiny hair-like projections on their villi—giant finger-like extensions on their intestinal walls. This means they can’t extract all of the nutrients from their food as we can. 

Factors Influencing Digestion Time

Here is a list of Factors influencing digestion time as we answer the question, “How long does it take a dog to digest food?”

  • -Age: As dog’s age, their stomach shrinks, and they can’t break down as much food quickly. Older dogs might need smaller meals more often or chew their food longer than younger ones. 
  •  -Activity level: When dogs exercise or do other physical activity, the body sends more blood to the muscles and away from the digestive system. When this happens, it takes longer for the stomach and intestines to get all the necessary nutrients.  
  • -Size of the meal: Bigger meals take longer to digest because more food in the stomach takes up space. So eating small amounts throughout the day means less total volume gets pushed through the gastrointestinal tract per hour. If a dog eats just one big meal, the lower intestine has to work harder because more material passes through it per hour.
  • Type of food: Animal body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose molecules. Glucose goes into the bloodstream, which cells use for energy. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, then used to create new proteins in cells. Fats are turned into fatty acids and glycerol (which form triglycerides), which provide fuel for the body. Proteins from animal sources like meat and eggs require extra steps, such as breaking them down into amino acids before they can be absorbed by the intestines and put to use by cells. All this takes time!

Tips for Promoting Good Digestion for Dogs

To promote good digestion for dogs, check the instructions on your dog’s food package. Generally speaking, dogs need to eat anywhere from one and a half cups of high-quality kibble daily. For smaller breeds, up to three cups for larger species. 

While eating their fill at mealtime, be sure not to give them any other snacks in between meals or feed them table scraps. Smaller breeds should also be limited from going out running after large meals. This can lead to food in their intestines becoming compacted and ilea (a part of the intestines) being obstructed.

Some supplements that can help promote good digestion include probiotics, brewer’s yeast, unrefined sea salt, and digestive enzymes in your pup’s diet. Drinking more water will also help keep their system functioning properly.


Recently I watched an episode of Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan and was stunned at how he handled a dog that would only eat until the last four bites were left. As I learned in my study, How long does it take a dog to digest food? Some dogs will stop eating when packed and can no longer eat, even if their owner puts another dish down. 

This can lead to overeating, weight gain, and obesity for some breeds like Great Danes or German Shepherds. Other dogs will go back for seconds, thirds, or even,n more in one sitting, depending on the meal size.

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