THE BLOG

What's So Different About Your Dog's Nutritional Needs?

10/11/2014 10:23 GMT | Updated 07/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Often when we feed our dogs, we model it on our own diet and think about what's good for us. However, it's important to remember that cooking for your dog is not the same as cooking for yourself.

The nutritional needs and digestive process of dogs are somewhat different to ours. Diets that aren't balanced to meet your dog's requirements can lead to serious health problems.

Dogs have a need for much more taurine than humans. Taurine is important for healthy heart function. The diet must also provide a correct balance of calcium to phosphorus. The two work together to maintain the growth and structure of the skeletal system and help to avoid deficiencies.

Let's take a closer look at how our dog's digestive system work and see how it's different to ours.

The Mouth

This is where it all starts. As humans we use a combination of sight, smell, texture and taste to help us decide if we like a food or not. Our dogs have a considerably lower amount of taste buds so taste is not a sense they rely heavily on. Instead, their heightened sense of smell is what first attracts them to a food or puts them off it. This is why dogs often eat anything that smells appetising.

Our teeth are designed to tear and grind food. If you compare your molars to your dogs you will see that yours are flat. Your dogs' molars on the other hand, are shaped more like mountains. They are designed to tear and shred.

The time we spends chewing food is quiet long. Your dog may chew once or twice only before swallowing. The amount of time dogs spend chewing food is too short for digestion to begin. For that reason dogs do not produce amylase in their saliva - it would simply be a waste of creation. Instead, dogs produce pancreatic amylase and break down starch for absorption in their duodenum (the first section of the small intestine).

The lack of amylase in your dog's saliva means starches tend to stick to the teeth causing plaque and tartar to build up. That is why your dog is much more likely to develop gum disease compared to us humans who tend to develop cavities from the sugars.

Stomach

Your dog's stomach is much larger and more acidic than yours. This very acidic stomach kills most of the bacteria found in the 'less than fresh' foods your dog might pick up out on a walk. Another difference is the time food stays in the stomach. Your dog keeps the food in the stomach for longer compared to us humans. This is why your dog can live with being fed only twice a day.

2014-11-07-Sam3.jpg

This is Sam. He is a serious sunbather and could happily fry himself for hours but compared to us humans, his ability to synthesise vitamin D in the skin when exposed to UV light, is quiet poor. Foods are the primary source of vitamin D for dogs.

Intestines

Once the food clears, it travels through the rest of your dog's digestive system. Your dogs intestine is only about 5% as long as yours. Because of this, foods travel more quickly. The process of digestion in dogs takes about a day whereas it can take up to three days to pass through yours. In theory, this means humans, compared to dogs, have the capacity to eat a variety of foods and change their diet often while still being able to utilise the nutrients in the food with minimal digestive upset.

I am not convinced though at how successful we really are at this, if you consider all the gas, burping, bloating, intolerances, etc. - it does makes you wonder.

However for a dog, the short digestive tract is another protective feature to prevent bacteria from entering the dog's body. It also means you have to provide food that is easily digestible in order to get the maximum amount of nutrients.

Small dogs have a heavier digestive tract relative to body weight compared to big dogs. This means that small dogs have an easier time digesting their food than larger dogs.

End of the line

A sausage-shaped, well formed poop that does not fall apart when picked up.