For dogs with sensitive stomachs, the digestibility of dog food is essential as it can help to reduce digestive problems and improve overall health.
In this article, I have explained in detail how the digestibility of dog food is determined and provided the benefits of easily digestible ingredients with respect to your dog’s health.
Table of Contents
What is digestibility?
When it comes to your dog’s diet, digestibility is key. The term “digestibility” refers to how easily and completely a food or ingredient can be broken down and absorbed by the body. In other words, digestibility is a measure of how well a food or ingredient can be used by the body.
AAFCO defines digestibility in dogs as “the amount of endogenous fecal output and the apparent absorption of nutrients from a test diet.”
Factors that affect dog food digestibility:
There are many factors that can affect the digestibility of a food or ingredient, including the type of food, the cooking method, and the individual dog’s own digestive system. However, there are some general guidelines that can help you to choose a more digestible diet for your dog.
What impacts protein digestibility in dog food?
- Processing: The type of processing (extrusion, canning, etc.) used to make the dog food can also impact digestibility. In general, dry kibble is more digestible than canned wet food. Extrusion cooking (used to make kibble) denatures proteins and breaks down plant cell walls, making them more digestible.
- Ingredients: The ingredients in the dog food can also impact digestibility. For example, a meat meal is more digestible than whole meat because it is ground up and has a higher protein concentration. In addition, animal-based proteins are more readily digested than some plant-based proteins.
- Diet type: The type of diet can also impact digestibility. For example, a raw diet is typically more digestible than a kibble diet because it contains less processed ingredients.
- The quality of the ingredients: This is probably the most important factor in determining digestibility. Higher quality, easily digestible ingredients will result in more digestible food.
How is digestibility measured?
There are two methods that are commonly used to measure the digestibility of dog food: the fecal score method and the nitrogen balance method.
The fecal score method:
This method involves feeding a test food to a group of dogs and then measuring the amount of undigested food that is excreted in their stool. The fecal score is then calculated by subtracting the percent of undigested food from 100. This method is considered to be less accurate than the nitrogen balance method.
The nitrogen balance method:
This method involves feeding a test food to a group of dogs and then measuring the amount of nitrogen in their urine and feces. The difference between nitrogen intake and nitrogen excretion is the nitrogen balance. The nitrogen balance is then divided by the nitrogen intake to give the percent of nitrogen retained. This method is considered to be more accurate than the fecal score method.
Digestibility scores for different dog food ingredients, what to expect:
In a 2005 study(Case, 2005) on the digestibility of popular dog food brands in the market, the digestibility scores for protein, fat, and carbohydrate were 81 percent, 85 percent, and 79 percent respectively.
The study went further to note that the majority of premium dog food brands from respectable manufacturers provide higher digestibility values ranging from 80 percent to 90 percent range.
AAFCO and REDIAF do not have specific minimum and maximum digestibility scores that pet food manufacturers should aim for but you should aim to go for pet food products that will give you at least 80%.
Some of the dog food ingredients with the highest digestibility are egg whites, muscle meat, meats from animal internal organs, and dairy products.
Some ingredients with low digestibility include cereal grains such as wheat, corn, and oats. However, their digestibility was improved once processed. Reduced kibble size also improved their digestibility.
Excessive cooking or processing of food, on the other hand, might have the adverse effect of reducing one or more nutrients’ digestibility.
In addition, the inclusion of ingredients such as soya bean products, cereal, and plant by-products have been proven to reduce digestibility.
Another study found that adding dietary fiber reduces the digestibility of dry matter and organic matter by 2 to 20%. It noted that fibre levels up to 7.5 percent on a dry matter basis were acceptable in dog food before it starts having adverse effects on their digestion.
Ingredients Digestibility of dog food with age:
Puppies have a shorter and more acidic digestive tract than adult dogs. This is because their digestive system is not fully developed yet. As a result, they are not able to digest food as well as adults. Puppies also have a higher metabolic rate than adults, which means that they need more nutrients for proper growth and development.
The best way to ensure that puppies are getting all the nutrients they need is to feed them high-quality puppy food that is highly digestible. Puppies also need to eat more often than adults. They should be fed 3 to 4 times per day until they are about 6 months old.
Puppies’ digestibility scores for ingredients such as protein has been found to be lower by up to five percent but they do catch up by the 6th month. For this reason, pancreatic amylase levels in puppies remain low until they reach the age of 10 months (Weber)
Dogs formulated for puppies should be more digestible to make up for this difference.
The vast majority of commercial dog foods are designed to be highly digestible for adult dogs. However, there are some exceptions. For example, some dog foods that contain a lot of fiber or whole grains may not be as digestible as other types of food.
As dogs age, their metabolism slows down and they become less active. As a result, they need fewer calories than they did when they were younger. Older dogs also tend to have a more difficult time digesting food. This is why it is important to feed them a high-quality senior dog food that is highly digestible. Senior dogs also need to eat less often than adult dogs. They should be fed 2 to 3 times per day
What are the benefits of a highly digestible diet?
A highly digestible diet has many benefits for your dog, including:
- 1. Reduced digestive problems: A highly digestible diet can help to reduce digestive problems, such as diarrhea, constipation, and gas.
- 2. Increased nutrient absorption: A highly digestible diet can also help to increase nutrient absorption. This is because the nutrients in a highly digestible food are more easily absorbed by the body.
- 3. improved weight management: A highly digestible diet can also help with weight management. This is because highly digestible food contains more calories that are available for use by the body.
- 4. Reduced environmental impact: A highly digestible diet can also have a positive impact on the environment. This is because less waste is produced when a dog digests a highly digestible food.
What are the best sources of highly digestible ingredients?
There are many different sources of highly digestible ingredients, but some of the best include:
- 1. Meat meal: Meat meal is a highly concentrated form of protein that is readily digestible by dogs.
- 2. Animal-based proteins: Animal-based proteins, such as chicken and beef, are more readily digestible than some plant-based proteins.
- 3. Raw diets: Raw diets are typically more digestible than kibble diets because they contain less processed ingredients.
- 4. High-quality ingredients: High-quality ingredients, such as those that are organic or free-range, are more likely to be digestible than low-quality ingredients.
What factors can reduce the digestibility of a dog food?
There are several factors that can reduce the digestibility of a dog food, including:
- 1. Processing: Processing can reduce the digestibility of a dog food by denaturing proteins and breaking down plant cell walls.
- 2. Additives: Additives, such as fillers and preservatives, can also reduce the digestibility of a dog food.
- 3. Poor-quality ingredients: Poor-quality ingredients, such as those that are cheaper or lower in nutritional value, are less likely to be digestible.
- 4. Inadequate cooking: Inadequate cooking can also reduce the digestibility of a dog food. This is because some nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are heat-sensitive and can be damaged by cooking.
What are the consequences of feeding a dog an undigestible diet?
The consequences of feeding a dog an undigestible diet can be serious and include:
1. Gastrointestinal problems: Feeding a dog an undigestible diet can cause gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.
2. Nutritional deficiencies: An undigestible diet can also lead to nutritional deficiencies, as the nutrients in the food are not able to be absorbed by the body.
3. Weight gain: An undigestible diet can also cause weight gain, as the calories in the food are not able to be used by the body.
4. Environmental impact: An undigestible diet can also have a negative impact on the environment, as more waste is produced when a dog digests an undigestible food.
Dog not digesting food, what to do?
If you notice that your dog is not digesting food properly, try switching to canned dog food if the dog has been using dry kibble. Canned dog food is more palatable and is easy to digest than dry dog food. Canned food has a higher water content which makes it easier for the food to move through the digestive system. Canned wet food is also made up of more protein and fat, with few carbohydrates.
Dry dog food is made up of less water content and your dog may not easily digest them. They also have more fillers and are low in moisture which can make the food harder to break down and may lead to digestive problems.
Most digestible dog food:
Eggs: Egg whites are highly digestible and contain all the essential amino acids that your dog needs.
Chicken meal: Chicken meal is a highly concentrated form of protein that is readily digestible by dogs.
Fish meal: Fish meal is a highly concentrated form of protein that is readily digestible by dogs.
Meat from internal organs and muscles: This type of meat is generally very digestible for dogs.
Raw fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and are usually easily digestible for dogs.
Cooked whole grains: Whole grains, such as rice and oats, are usually easily digestible for dogs.
There are a few ways to determine the digestibility of dog food, which include:
Checking the ingredients list:
The first step in determining digestibility is to check the ingredients list on the dog food label. Look for high-quality, easily digestible ingredients such as meat, poultry, or fish meals, as well as carbohydrates that are easily digested such as rice, oats, or barley.
In a study on different protein digestibility, the chicken meal was found to be the most digestible protein, while the beef meal was the least digestible.
Plant proteins are more readily digested, however processing plant cell walls may damage them and speed digestion. For this reason, animal-based protein are more digestible compared to plant-based proteins.
A study quoted on Fourfriendspetfoods.co.uk, found chicken meal and fish meal to be most digestible. The report, which I couldn’t find online was quoted by the site; “Chicken meal and fish meal proteins are around 95% digestible with only 5% being excreted. Corn protein is only 54% digestible. These measurements are significant because feeding a high protein food means nothing if the body can’t use it.”
Checking for added fiber:
Another factor to consider when determining digestibility is the amount of dietary fiber present in the food. While some fiber is essential for proper digestive function, too much can actually decrease digestibility.
Digestibility of grain-free vs grain-inclusive dog food diets:
Studies have found that grain-free dog foods are not necessarily more digestible than grain-inclusive diets. In fact, one study found that grain-inclusive diets may actually be more digestible than grain-free diets. This is because the high levels of protein and fat in grain-free diets can make them more difficult to digest.
Grain-inclusive diets, on the other hand, tend to be lower in protein and fat, which makes them easier to digest.
Grain-free dog foods may also contain more ingredients that are known to cause digestive problems, such as legumes and potatoes.
So, while grain-free dog foods may not be more digestible than grain-inclusive diets, they may not be the best choice for dogs with sensitive stomachs.
What can you do to ensure that your dog’s food is digestible?
There are several things that you can do to ensure that your dog’s food is digestible, including:
1. Choose high-quality food: When choosing a dog food, be sure to select one that is made with high-quality, easily digestible ingredients.
2. Avoid processed foods: Processed foods can be less digestible than unprocessed foods, so avoid them if possible.
3. Add fiber gradually: If you are adding fiber to your dog’s diet, do so gradually to allow their digestive system to adjust.
4. Make sure food is cooked properly: Cooking can damage some nutrients, so be sure that the food is cooked properly in order to preserve its digestibility.
Is the Digestability score important in dog food?
For dogs with sensitive stomachs, or those that are prone to gastrointestinal problems, the digestibility score is an important factor to consider when choosing a food. However, it is also important to consider other factors such as the quality of ingredients and the amount of fiber in the food.
Digestibility refers to the amount of nutrients that are able to be absorbed by the body. A food that is highly digestible will be easier on the digestive system and may provide more nutrients than a less digestible food. There are a few ways to determine the digestibility of dog food, which include checking the ingredients list and checking for added fiber.
Symptoms of poor digestibility in dogs;
There are a few symptoms that may indicate that a dog’s food is not digestible, including:
- 1. Diarrhea: Diarrhea can be a sign that the body is not able to absorb all of the nutrients from the food.
- 2. Weight loss: If a dog is not digesting their food properly, they may lose weight even if they are eating the same amount as before.
- 3. Lack of energy: A dog that is not digesting their food properly may seem lethargic or have a lack of energy.
- 4. Vomiting: Like diarrhea, vomiting can be a sign that the body is not able to absorb all of the nutrients from the food.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is important to speak to a veterinarian as soon as possible. They will be able to determine if the problem is due to poor digestibility and help you choose a food that is more digestible for your dog.
Switching diet to more digestible dog food:
If you need to switch your dog to a more digestible food, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- First, it is important to slowly transition your dog to the new food over the course of a week or two. This will help their digestive system adjust to the new food and avoid any gastrointestinal upset.
- Second, be sure to choose a food that is high in quality and easy to digest. This means selecting a food that is made with easily digestible ingredients and has a high digestibility score.
- Finally, make sure to speak with your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog’s diet. They will be able to help you select the best food for your dog and make sure that the transition goes smoothly.
Q: canned or dry food, which is more digestible for dogs?
A: Canned dog food is more palatable and is easy to digest than dry dog food. Canned food has a higher water content which makes it easier for the food to move through the digestive system. Another possible reason for canned food being more digestible is that they are usually made up of protein and fat, with few carbohydrates.
Dry dog food, on the other hand, can be more difficult to digest as it is often high in fillers and low in moisture. This can make the food harder to break down and may lead to digestive problems.
Another study, however, noted that the digestibility scores of dry and canned dog food of most commercial dog food brands ranged from 80% to 90%. It noted that there wasn’t a big variance in digestibility between wet and dry dog food.
It went further to say, ‘it is only when ingredients, such as fiber, are included at high levels that any substantial decline in apparent digestibility is observed.”
Q: How long does it take for a dog to digest food?
A: It typically takes 8-10 hours for a dog to digest their food. However, this can vary depending on the type of food they are eating and their individual digestive system.
Q: what are some signs that my dog’s food is not digestible?
A: Some signs that your dog’s food is not digestible include diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and lack of energy. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to speak to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
what is the most easily digestible protein for dogs?
Egg whites, fish meals, and chicken meals are the most digestible proteins for dogs with a digestibility score of above 90%.
What is the best dog food for dogs with sensitive stomachs?
We have picked and reviewed some of the best wet food for dogs with sensitive stomachs and have also picked and reviewed the best food for cats with sensitive stomachs.
The digestibility of dog food is an important factor to consider when choosing food for your dog. By considering the quality of ingredients, the amount of fiber, and the digestibility score, you can be sure to choose a food that is easy for your dog to digest. If you have any concerns about your dog’s digestive health
- Weber M, Martin L, Biourge V, Nguyen P and Dumon H J (2003). Influence of age and body size on the digestibility of a dry expanded diet in dogs. Anim Physiol Anim Nutr 87: 21-31.
- BREAKING IT DOWN – MEASURING FOOD QUALITY AND DIGESTIBILITY
- Case L P (2005). The Dog. Its Behaviour, Nutrition and Health (2nd edn), Blackwell, 6 / 8 Iowa.
- Kendall P T and Holme D W (1982). Studies on the digestibility of soya bean products, cereals, cereal and plant by-products in diets of dogs, J Sci Food Agric 33: 813-822.
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Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org