Just like humans, dogs can suffer from digestive problems, which cause discomfort, unpleasant signs and sometimes wider-reaching health issues. Their diet is an important part of helping manage digestive sensitivities and maintaining a healthy digestive system.
How a dog’s digestion works
Along each stage of the digestive system, your dog digests and absorbs nutrients from its food. One of the main organs that does this is the small intestine, which has a very large surface area with different types of cells to make nutrient absorption as effective as possible. In the small intestine, your dog absorbs fats, vitamins, carbohydrates and minerals, and completes the digestion and absorption of protein, which begins in the stomach.
Across these organs, microflora—also known as "beneficial" bacteria—contribute to a healthy and functioning digestive system. The bacteria present in the gastrointestinal tract are regulated by genetics and other factors, including diet. In the small intestine, these beneficial bacteria are accompanied by cells that act as a protective immune response against foreign bodies or "bad" bacteria.
Your dog is naturally tolerant of their own microflora, but if they develop an intolerance this can lead to chronic gastrointestinal issues. Similarly, if the immune response cells begin to react to things it would normally tolerate, your dog’s digestive system may begin to develop an intolerance to normally harmless elements, such as food.
Your dog’s diet and their digestion
The food you give to your dog can affect their digestion and the microflora in their gut. A varied diet can cause unnecessary strain on your dog’s digestion and cause problems.
Their food needs to be highly digestible to avoid digestive sensitivities, and contain easily absorbed essential nutrients. One dietary component is protein, which is commonly provided by animal sources (such as chicken); high-quality manufactured foods will use proteins that are more easily digested and less likely to trigger digestive problems. For example, wheat gluten is highly digestible and is a highly concentrated protein source.
Fiber is an important part of your dog’s diet but needs to be balanced. Fiber can be used as part of their diet to help regulate movement in their large intestine and improve stool quality, which is particularly helpful if your dog has digestive sensitivities or poor stool quality.
Fiber can support healthy gastrointestinal function and help your dog feel full after meals. Prebiotics are a type of fiber and can help beneficial bacteria grow and thrive in your dog’s system.
Carbohydrates are an important component of your dog’s food, as they provide a great source of energy and carbohydrate sources in your dog’s food should be highly digestible.
Fat can be a useful element in managing your dog’s digestive sensitivities. High-fat diets can be effective in giving your dog the energy it needs without it having to consume large quantities of food. However, lower fat diets can help in instances of stomach sensitivity or when your dog has a sensitivity to dietary fat.
If you’ve recognized your dog is suffering from a digestive issue, make sure that you visit your veterinarian; they will be able to advise you about a diet for your dog that can help maintain a healthy digestive system.