Even though our dogs aren’t able to tell us when they have an upset stomach, it happens more often than we might think. Their digestive systems are intricate and complex, and unlike their wild ancestors, they depend on us for healthy diets to keep everything in balance.
Regardless of how hard we try, there are likely to be times when Fido shows signs of intestinal distress. Being able to recognize those signs, and knowing what to do to treat them, is important to their continued health and well-being. Nausea, heartburn, indigestion and diarrhea take on a whole new cadence as we try to understand the digestive system of our dogs, and how to maintain that critical balance.
Dog Digestion 101
A dog’s digestive system is made up of his mouth, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. The digestive process is then aided by his liver and pancreas. The process begins as saliva is excreted in response to food entering the dog’s mouth. As he chews, the food is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces and saliva then acts as a lubricant to pass the food down the esophagus and into the stomach.
The stomach is a very acidic environment that helps break the food down into a substance referred to as “chyme.” This chyme continues into the small intestine where enzymes released from the liver and pancreas continue to aid in digestion. It is at this stage of digestion that nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, essentially leaving only waste products.
The waste products continue into the large intestine where undigested fiber is broken down and eventually excreted in the dog’s stool.
It’s Just a Matter of Time
Although it can take a few to several hours for a dog to digest food he has just eaten, he will need to eliminate it before that. Most adult dogs will need to go out within 45 minutes to an hour after eating, but some will need to eliminate it even sooner. I have a senior, mid-sized dog that defecates within five minutes of having his dinner (whether you take him out or not). Each dog is different, and observation is the best way to determine what your dog requires.
Signs of Distress
Flatulence, excessive stool volume, vomiting, and diarrhea are all signs of intestinal distress. Flatulence and excessive stool volume can be a sign of too much fiber in a dog’s diet, indicating you might need to switch to a food with a lesser grain content. Vomiting and diarrhea can be signs of serious illness and warrant a call to your vet right away.