Digestibility of Dog Food – How Digestible Is Yours?

Similar to humans, a dog’s digestive system begins in the mouth and ends with the large intestine and the elimination of waste. The quality of the food a dog eats determines how well the process of digestion will be carried out, and what could go wrong along the way. As a dog owner, you may not have given much thought to the digestibility of dog food you feed your dog. Why is it important, and what impact does it have on the health of your dog?

How does the digestibility of dog food interact with your dog’s body?

The digestive process begins in the mouth, where the teeth are used to chew the food and break it down into small pieces. Here it is mixed with saliva, where enzymes begin the chemical process of digestion. From the mouth, food moves to the stomach where even more enzymes are added. In the stomach the food is mixed and churned, turning it into a thick slurry called chyme. The chyme continues into the small intestine, where it receives even more enzymes, some from the intestinal wall and others from the pancreas. The small intestine is also where the digesting food gets mixed with bile from the liver, to help a dog’s body metabolize fat. When digestion is complete, nutrients get absorbed through the intestinal wall and into the blood. The waste products – those that were not digested – move into the large intestine for elimination.

digestibility of dog food

The choices we have for dog food can seem overwhelming at times. But don’t be swayed by television advertising or fancy packaging. What’s inside is the only thing that matters. Image credit: Mark Buckawicki

How does the digestibility of dog food affect your dog’s health?

Some foods are more highly digestible than others. Fillers such as corn, for instance, are not easily digested and can cause bloating, flatulence and diarrhea. In addition, a diet low in digestibility will result in more frequent bowel movements and a larger amount of feces. When food is not completely digested, nutrients are not absorbed, causing a dog to have to eat more to retain the needed amount of nutrition. Because of this, bargain dog foods that have low digestibility ratios may not be the bargain they appear to be.

digestibility of dog food

Reading dog food labels is the only way to be sure you’re providing the nutrition and digestibility your dog needs to stay healthy. Image credit: Alessandro Paiva

What ingredients are best for the digestibility of dog food?

  • Look for natural dog foods that use few or no chemical additives. Even though many of these additives act as preservatives and help increase the shelf life of the food, they can interfere with a dog’s digestion and even cause allergic reactions.
digestibility of dog food

When it comes to the digestibility of dog food, all grains are not created equally. Rice is much easier to digest than corn or wheat. Image credit: Rafael Rigues

  • Consider the grain content of the food by examining the label. Filler grains such as corn or wheat are not highly digestible, at 54 percent and 60 percent respectively. Rice, on the other hand, is 72 percent digestible, and is perhaps the most often recommended grain for dogs.
digestibility of dog food

Avoid dog foods that list meat bi-products as an ingredient rather than meat. Typically meat contains less fat and is easier to digest than its bi-products. Image credit: Senol Guven

  • Avoid meat by-products and instead opt for meat. Many natural dog foods on the market will contain human-grade lamb, turkey or chicken, which are the best options for a dog’s digestion.



    • I know, right? If we eat something that doesn’t agree with our digestion we feel it and can change our diet. But our dogs have to depend on us to look out for them.

  1. This is something we really take serious when we got a new dog. Our other dog died suddenly and I don’t want to worry about if the food was part of the problem. The one that he eats now is very high-quality.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that, Jeanette. Unfortunately, there have been lots of pet food recalls in the last several years. But you’re doing the right thing – don’t even consider buying those lesser brands so you know that’s at least one thing you don’t have to worry about.

  2. Excellent and important information to keep in mind, especially since a dog’s health is at risk. Our pup eats a well rated, higher end brand of food, but I will be investigating further after reading this post.

  3. I don’t have a dog, or any pet for that matter – but growing up and when I lived at home, we had LOTS of dogs and my parents were ALL about feeding them raw foods – IE: raw meat! Because I mean, when you think about it – in the wild, dogs would hunt for their food… Not go to a dog/pet store and pick up a bag of kibble. LOL!

    • That’s absolutely true, GiGi! But raw meat is more difficult to digest than cooked, which means Fido would be able to extract fewer nutrients from it.

  4. What we feed our pets is key to their health indeed!! I am so glad you found what works best for yours! We are very careful of what we feed ours and have learned that bad food gives bad results in their health.

    • We have a little guy – only five pounds – so since he eats so little, it seems even more important to make sure that he’s getting a food with proper nutrition and that is easily digestible.

    • Dogs’ digestion kind of parallels a baby’s – we don’t feed them corn or wheat products until they’re older and their systems can handle those foods. Dogs don’t handle them well either, especially since they eat the same thing every day.

    • Yes – fillers are one of the main issues when talking about digestion. If my pup gets sick, I make him some boiled rice and boneless, skinless chicken breast.

  5. I have never thought about the digestibility of dog food before. I guess I need to start reading the labels – again. It always seems like there is something new to check out on dog food.

  6. Good digestibility is so important for dogs, just like it is for us. When we got our puppy we did a lot of researching on dog food. I look for natural ingredients in the label.

    • Sara – I would choose one that’s the right size and age recommended for your dog. Then read the label and choose one with rice and real meat.

  7. I have always had big breed furbabies, my rottweiler used to get into trouble all the time eating things she shouldn’t so I was always very careful to work with her vet in selecting the right Dog Food for her. It’s something most people overlook trying to go for the brand that is on sale, but that is not always what works best for your dog.

  8. We started paying attention to it when we noticed some brands caused much worse gas with our dog. I knew that rice was more digestible for humans, never occurred to me it would be the same with dogs.

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