At YuMOVE, we know how much you love your four-legged family members. But it’s important to remember that they’re not mini-humans, and are a completely separate species. And although their anatomy is similar to ours, it has its own distinctive features!
Your dog’s digestive system is a good example of this. Just as they need a different diet to us, their tummies also work differently and need different things than ours do. We know it’s not the most glamorous subject, but by becoming familiar with your dog’s digestive health and how it works, you’ll be better placed to spot the signs of sickness.
In this article, we run through the anatomy of your dog’s digestive system, how it functions and the signs of an upset tummy. We’ve also thrown in our top tips for keeping their stomachs in the best possible shape. Let’s take a closer look…
Your dog’s digestive system: how it works
You might think of the digestive system as just your dog’s tummy, but it actually starts at the mouth, finishes at the other end, and encompasses everything in between:
A. The mouth
Although the digestive system starts in the mouth, not a lot of digestion happens here, unlike in humans. The saliva in our mouths contains digestive enzymes which begin the breakdown of food. Roughly 30% of starch digestion happens in human mouths. And digestion continues to happen before the food even reaches our tummies.
But this isn’t the case in dogs. They don’t have any digestive enzymes in their saliva and most of the time they don’t even chew their food. Instead, their food is taken directly to where the action happens, the stomach. Your dog’s tummy then releases enzymes to break down protein into smaller nutrients that can be absorbed into the body.
B. The oesophagus
After your dog chomps down on their food, it’ll pass through the oesophagus. This tube contains lots of strong muscles which squeeze together to move food down into the stomach.
C. The stomach
The real digestion begins in your dog’s stomach. Here, the protein in your dog’s food is broken down just enough so it can enter the next stage of the digestive process.
Your dog’s stomach contains acid and enzymes which are 100 times stronger than the ones in our tummies. In fact, the acid is so strong it can soften bone matter.
D. The small intestine
After your dog’s food is reduced in the stomach, the resulting mush is passed through to the small intestine. This is where your dog absorbs all the necessary nutrients they need. Everything they don’t need is left as waste, ready to be removed.
E. The large intestine
Anything that’s not used by your dog’s body goes straight through to the large intestine – a long, muscular tube. Here, it’s broken down a little bit more into stools.
This is the final stage of the digestive process, and it’s where your dog’s faeces are expelled from their body.
Fun facts about your dog’s digestive system
- The digestive system in dogs has the shortest total processing time of any mammal. It only takes around six to eight hours for your dog’s meal to pass, whereas it takes us two to five days!
- Your dog’s body isn’t designed to process grains, like wheat and other bulking agents commonly used in dog feed.
- Dogs naturally want a varied diet. Unlike cats, who solely eat meat, dogs are omnivores. In the wild, dogs will eat a combination of meat, bones, fruit and veg.
- Dogs can’t chew side to side. Their jaws only allow for up and down movement because their diet doesn’t need as much chewing as ours does.
- Your dog’s poo can tell you a lot about their health. That’s why it’s important for you to become familiar with your dog’s stools, so you can easily spot any changes (even if it isn’t the most pleasant thing to do!)
Signs of digestive issues in dogs
Diarrhoea is the most common sign of a doggy digestive issue. But it can also be the side effect of many other illnesses like a food allergy, worms or simply just a change in their diet. Here’s a few more common signs of digestive issues in dogs:
- Lots of drooling
- Excessive gas
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Straining while passing stools
If your dog is showing any of these signs it could be an indicator there’s something wrong with their digestive health. You should always seek the advice of your vet if you have any worries.
What does your dog’s poo tell you?
Changes in the colour, consistency or frequency of your dog’s poo is also a sign of unhealthy digestion. And although it can be a little gross, it’s so important to understand what your dog’s normal faeces look like. This way, you’re prepared to spot the signs of sickness.
Ideally, your dog’s stools should be brown. The specific shade varies for each individual dog, but the colour should stay fairly consistent with every poo. Abnormal colours to look out for are: red, grey, yellow, orange or green.
Black, tarry poos are also a cause for concern. This is likely caused by digested blood from higher up the digestive tract – like from your dog’s stomach or small intestine.
The texture of your dog’s poo should always be well formed rather than sloppy. But they also shouldn’t be too dry or hard. Watery stools indicate diarrhoea. And hard poos suggest constipation.
More regular poos can be the sign of an irritated stomach or an intolerance. Less frequent poos are the biggest sign of constipation. Watch out for any straining, too.
What causes digestive issues in dogs?
Many different parasites can cause diseases within the digestive tract. How much your dog is affected depends on the type of parasite, as well as your pet’s age and overall health. White spots in your dog’s faeces are typically the biggest sign.
Ulcers, kidney stones, enzyme deficiencies, and liver or gland diseases are all common in dogs, especially in senior ones. And with them, they bring many of the same symptoms of digestive issues – particularly vomiting and diarrhoea.
Things your dog eats
Many digestive issues are simply caused by overeating or poor-quality food. They can also occur if your dog chows down on something it shouldn’t, like a foreign object or a toxic plant.
When ingested, some bacteria can irritate your dog’s digestive system. Bacteria in the stomach causes vomiting. And bacteria further down the tract is likely to cause diarrhoea.
Other poorly dogs can pass on viral infections to your pup. In this case, the best way to deal with your dog’s symptoms is with lots of fluids.
Prebiotics and probiotics
Just like us, dogs have a whole host of friendly microbes which exist in their gut. Most of the time, these bacteria live in perfect harmony, helping to digest food, fight off pathogens and boost the immune system. But this delicate balance of microbes can be offset by a variety of things, such as:
- Infections and parasites
- Old age
This imbalance can cause many unpleasant things for your dog’s digestion – like flatulence, diarrhoea, cramps or even vomiting. This is where YuDIGEST Dog can help (more on this below).
How YuDIGEST helps your dog’s digestion
YuDIGEST Dog is a unique mix of prebiotic and probiotic bacteria, specifically developed to support your pet’s digestive health and calm sensitive tummies. It works by keeping stools firm, reducing wind and increasing 'good' bacteria in the gut. YuDIGEST Plus is our high strength version. It’s gentle but provides faster support for your dog’s digestion.
Every YuDIGEST tablet contains 200 million helpful microorganisms, while every sachet of YuDIGEST Plus is packed with over 1 billion!
Other ways to improve your dog’s digestive health
Keep your dog happy and healthy with the following tips:
1. Get to know the warning signs
We all know the warning signs when it comes to our own digestion. And your dog’s warning signs are pretty similar.
2. Stick to a routine
A good mealtime routine is the best thing for your dog’s digestive health. Try to feed your canine companion at the same times every day, and make sure you are giving them a complete and balanced diet.
3. Avoid sudden changes
Always introduce dietary changes slowly, and avoid just taking one food away and replacing it with another.
4. Avoid human food
At YuMOVE, we know how tempting it is to give your dog an extra-special treat every now and then. But too many scraps can upset their digestive health.
5. Pay attention to what they eat
There are so many options when it comes to dog food. That’s why we created this handy guide on what to feed your dog.
6. Reduce stress
Stress and anxiety can manifest itself in many different ways. An upset tummy being one. What’s more, a stressed dog is likely to chew on things it shouldn’t, causing more digestive discomfort.
An all-natural calming supplement can help to keep your dog happy without causing any upset to their digestive health. YuCALM has been specifically formulated for nervous pets. It’s available as a tasty tablet or a daily chew and works by easing anxiety and encouraging calm behaviour.
Want to find out more about your dog’s digestion? Check out our guide on the best food for your dog’s sensitive tummy.