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Importance of Digestive Health for Dogs and Cats.

Importance of Digestive Health for Dogs and Cats.

Studies show that up to 70% of a pet's immune system is contained in the digestive system, making nutrition essential for maintaining the overall health of dogs and cats. A healthy microbial population in the intestinal tract is critically important to a pet's overall wellbeing and can even help pets address stress from environmental changes due to poor eating decisions. When a pet has a healthy digestive system and balanced microbiome, (microbiome refers to the trillions of microorganisms living in the intestinal tract. While some microorganisms are harmful to our pet's health, many are incredibly beneficial and even necessary to a healthy body), key benefits can include:

Optimal Digestion and Nutrient Absorption: Your pet's microbiome requires sufficient food to stay healthy. These organisms can take undigested elements of your pet's food, like dietary fiber, and break it down into smaller components. With improved nutrient absorption, more of the nutrients from your pet's food can stay within your pet, so you will see regular, healthy, and firm stools in the litter box or backyard.

Immune Health: 70% of a pet's immune system is located within your pet's digestive system so having a healthy microbial balance is key to ensuring their immune system functions at its best. When your pet has a strong, highly diverse microbiome, it is also more difficult for "bad bacteria" to take up residence and make your pet sick.

Vitamin Production: The bacteria in the microbiome help produce vitamins, including B vitamins (i.e., B12, thiamine, and riboflavin) and Vitamin K, which all work as micronutrients essential in supporting health and wellbeing.

How digestion works

Providing optimal nutrition to your pet includes understanding how digestion works in cats and dogs, from one end of their body to the other. Much as we think of our cats and dogs as members of the family and treat them accordingly, we must never disregard the fact that these pets are of different species and therefore have different anatomies and bodily processes from us humans. This blog post will cover all of the organs that make up your pet's digestive system and the functions of each organ to help you understand how your dog digests food.

The Teeth

The structure and arrangement of your dog's teeth are designed to cope with the types of foods that dogs naturally seek out. This explains why dogs have large canine teeth to bite, grip, and tear up food and also chew and break down meat and bones. Unlike adult humans, adult dogs have 42 teeth in total.

The Mouth

Unlike in humans, the process of digestion in dogs starts in the stomach. We humans use our teeth to grind food and then moisten it with saliva containing digestive enzymes, in particular amylase, which helps in the digestion of starches, and lipase, which aids in the digestion of fats. Studies show that approximately 30% of starch is digested in the mouth and that about 70% is digested within half an hour. By the time food hits the stomach, the digestive process in humans is well and truly underway. This is not the case with dogs. Dogs do not have amylase in their saliva. They also don't chew their food.

They instead gulp their food with a view of getting it to the stomach as quickly as possible. Digestive protease enzymes such as Chymotrypsin, pepsinogen, and trypsinogen, and stomach acid break down food protein into smaller amino acids that can be absorbed and utilized in the dog's body. Gastric lipase, which digests fats in also produced in the stomach.

The Gullet

When dogs swallow their food, it passes through the gullet or the esophagus. Strong muscles along the length of the gullet help to push the food down into the stomach as part of the chewing process.

The Stomach

The actual process of digestion begins when food reaches the stomach. A dog's stomach contains acid, which is a hundred times stronger than in humans. This acid unfolds proteins and activates the enzyme pepsinogen to release amino acids. The acid also softens bone matter.

The small intestine

When the food in the dog's stomach has been broken down sufficiently enough to enter the next stage of the digestive process, the resulting mushy liquid passes through into the small intestine. The required nutrients from the food are absorbed in the small intestine while the remaining waste products are expelled from the dog's body.

The Large intestine

Any food that is not required by the body and absorbed by the small intestine passes through the large intestine, a long muscular tube. This is the final stage of the digestive process, which allows your dog to pass stools to eliminate waste products from the body.

It should be noted that there are no significant variations between the dog and cat's digestive anatomy, except for a few characteristics.

What you need to know

• It takes approximately 8-9 hours for dogs to completely process food, starting from the time they ingest it to the time they pass the remaining waste. A dog's digestive system has the shortest total processing cycle time.

• Different types of foods can result in vastly different levels of stool production in dogs, even when comparing food like-for-like by volume. The digestive system of a dog is not designed to process grains such as wheat and other bulking agents that are commonly used in commercial dog food diets, which result in a greater volume of stools.

• Grains such as wheat have no nutritional value for dogs and are eliminated from the dog's body through the stools. Whilst feeding a natural diet that your dog has evolved to eat, like the BARF or raw food diet, will produce a smaller quantity of stools because your dog's body can make meaningful use of more of the nutrients within such a diet.

• Dogs naturally seek a varied diet and are not obligate carnivores like cats. Dogs are omnivores who will hunt and scavenge for food in the wild and eat a combination of meat, bones, and sometimes, fruit and vegetables.

Importance of digestive enzymes in cats and dogs

Supplementing your pet's meal with digestive enzymes can enhance their health and wellbeing. Digestive enzymes can be classified into intrinsic and extrinsic enzymes. Intrinsic enzymes are those that are manufactured and secreted by the body to break down food. The salivary glands in the mouth, the gastric glands in the stomach, and specific cells in the pancreas secrete the enzymes that work to digest the proteins, fats, and sugars in any food. Examples of extrinsic digestive enzymes include lipase, which digests fats; amylase, which digests starch; and protease, which digests proteins.


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