What makes your dog's digestive system healthy?

A healthy digestive system affects your dog's behaviour, appearance and much more. So what does healthy digestion mean for your dog, and how can you tell if their system isn't functioning properly?
Adult Poodle lying down on a sofa licking its lips.

Helping your dog maintain a healthy digestive system can help improve many aspects of their overall wellbeing, from their behaviour to their appearance. But what does healthy digestion ‘look like’ for your dog?

How a dog’s digestive system works

Much like other mammals, your dog’s digestive system works to break down and digest the food passing through it, absorbing the nutrients it needs as the food moves through the organs.

Their small intestine is the main organ in the digestive system where vitamins, minerals, protein, fats and carbohydrates are absorbed. This organ has a large surface area covered in different types of cell which aid digestion and absorption, along with microflora – ‘beneficial’ bacteria – which contribute to gut health. Their digestive system is also home to the largest number of immune cells in their body, helping protect your dog against foreign bodies and pathogens.

A healthy canine digestive system has the right balance of ‘beneficial’ bacteria, correctly-functioning immune cells, and is kept in check by a diet which is appropriate for the individual.

Adult Chihuahua standing on a garden decking eating from a yellow bowl.

The effects of an unhealthy digestive system

If your dog is suffering with a digestive system which isn’t working effectively due to infection, parasites or a chronic condition, they are likely to exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea or constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Potential changes to eating habits
  • Dry, dull or brittle hair

If your dog’s immune cells in their digestive system are compromised, their body may begin to treat the ‘beneficial’ bacteria in their gut as a potential allergen or foreign element; this can lead to chronic digestive problems, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Similarly, if your dog has dietary hypersensitivity, their system will respond in an abnormal way to what should be ‘safe’ foods, resulting in some of the symptoms listed above.

How a dog’s diet affects their digestive system

What a dog eats has an impact on their entire body, including their digestive system. A therapeutic diet, or dietary management, can go a long way to managing your dog’s digestive sensitivities and encouraging a healthy digestive environment.

Food which contains pre and prebiotics can be effective in helping rebalance your dog’s microflora and contribute to a healthier gut. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that can act as a platform on which microflora can grow and therefore can be an influence on the composition of bacteria in the gut.

Highly-digestible and high-quality proteins are essential in providing your dog with energy and the building blocks for cell growth in their body, and they can also help to lessen the workload on their digestive system. The majority of dietary allergens for dogs are proteins, like beef, chicken or lamb, so a food which uses different proteins from high quality sources can help maintain a healthy digestive system and avoid irritating this sensitive system.

Dogs also need the right balance of fibre in their diet; too much and it becomes hard to digest, and too little and they may suffer from constipation. A reputable manufactured food will have just the right balance of fibre to make sure your dog can absorb nutrients easily without causing unnecessary strain on their gut.

Your dog’s age, breed, size and lifestyle are all important when selecting a diet that supports good digestive health. Visit your vet for more information and advice on the right choice of food for your pet.


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If you have any concerns about your dog’s health, consult a vet for professional advice.

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