Expert advice from Baileys’ director of nutrition on understanding your dog’s digestive system

Many people see their dog as an essential addition to the family and as such want to feed them similar foods. But we must remember that their nutritional needs are very different from our own.

The dog is commonly recognised as a carnivore, but it is not just a meat eater, but a complete eater, capable of coping with a diet of animal and plant tissues.

The canine digestive system

The dog’s digestive system evolved on a carnivorous diet and, as such, they can obtain more useable nutrition from meat than from cereals and vegetable matter.

In an age where people are being encouraged to cut down on meat and animal fat, the reverse is true for our dogs. Dogs are certainly not vegetarians and should not be fed as such, whatever your own beliefs!

The dog has a relatively short digestive system, approximately four times the length of his body, against five times in man and nine times in the horse.

The time that the food takes to pass completely through the gut (known as residual time) is approximately 22 hours, compared to 35-60 hours in the horse, depending on the fibrous content of the diet.

The quantity and the quality of food fed will affect the amount of stools produced; small volumes infer a more digestible diet.

Although the dog has a large intestine (L.I.) it is large in diameter but short in length. Bacteria present within the L.I. can perform only limited microbial fermentation on the materials arriving in the L.I., which is thought to benefit intestinal health.

Generally, the feed value of the food material entering the large intestine is insufficient to significantly contribute to the overall dietary intake. This is the reverse of the horse where the large intestine is a major site for the fermentation and digestion of the vegetable matter (forages) in the diet.

For the dog the main function of the L.I. would be to absorb water, salt and electrolytes.

A premium extruded feed will be made up primarily of poultry or meat meal, egg, rice and animal fats in a dry crunchy texture. It will be highly digestible with a low fibre content.

The slightly more price competitive muesli mixes combine a blend of cereals with extruded nuggets that give protein, fat and some fibre and will be coated in either fat based products or sugar based. These feeds provide a variety of shapes, textures and flavours to appeal to the dog.

For more information contact Baileys Horse Feeds (tel: 01371 850247) or visit www.baileyshorsefeeds.co.uk