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Dog Friendly Tips: Dog Digestion

Dog digestion starts at the mouth. The teeth are designed for ripping an animal apart and cutting the tissue off. They are longer and sharper than the equivalent teeth in our mouths. Our backteeth (molars) are flatter and more useful for grinding foods into powder.

Dogs habits of eating consist of tearing their food apart, cutting off pieces with the back teeth, and gulping them with only sufficient chewing to make them small enough to swallow.

The next difference is in the saliva. Dogs have very little of the starch digesting enzyme, ptyalin. It was this discovery years ago that caused people studying dogs' eating habits to say they couldn't digest starch. However our dogs' stomachs secrete stronger juices than ours.

For example, a bone ingested into a healthy dog's stomach becomes softand pliable in less than an hour. This bone is acted upon by stronger juice which is rich in hydrochloric acid and pepsin, and it actually dissolves in the stomach.

The same thing might happen in the human stomach, but it would take much longer.

Upon leaving the stomach the food in a dog is mixed with the same kind of juices - pancreatic enzyme and bile - which we use to digest our food. This is where most digestion of starch takes place.

The human who washes down a half-chewed morsel of food and the dog who gulps its starchy meal both thrive because digestion takes place in the small intestine. When the pancreatic enzyme amylase works on these starches in our case, they are so fine that the enzyme has little trouble breaking them down.

In the dog, when starchy foods are fed in too large lumps, the enzyme cannot do its work effectively. The same happens in the human digestivetract if a person fails to chew a nut or a kernel of sweet corn - neither is digested any more than it would be by a dog.

Occasionally a dog will regurgitate indigestible material, but more often it will not. It pays to feed either very finely ground raw starch or pre-cooked starches. Cornmeal fed raw is an inefficient food, but cornmeal that has been boiled until the starch granules have been cracked open, so they are vulnerable to the attack of amylase, is a more digestible, if incomplete food.

Another point of difference between dog owners and their dogs is the length of the small intestine. Food travels through it more quickly in dogs and there is less time for absorption. This is another reason for feeding easily digested foods.

Cereals, vegetables, and fruits should be cooked to facilitate digestion.

Meats are digested as easily raw.

There are certain known requirements in the diet of every dog of every breed. These are the essentials without which our pets develop nutritional deficiencies. First, a dog must have enough calories. We know how many calories any resting animal of a given size requires. An animal needs more as it exercises or works more.

If a dog gets too few calories it will live off its fat and get thin. If it gets too many, it may either discard unwanted calories or store them as fat. Some fat dogs become so inactive their hearts cannot stand exercise. Their spirits are willing, but their hearts may be weak, their muscles flabby, and their lung capacity greatly reduced. A gradual daily increase in the dog's activity is needed over time, rather than any sudden excess exercise.

Thyroid extract, which causes a dog to burn up its food and fat more rapidly, should be used with great care, if at all.
Owners have been known to kill their pets by giving human doses of thyroid extract.

Drugs are not necessary if common sense and willpower are used. Some people find it easier to pamper a dog by overfeeding than to take care of its health by regulating its diet. The wise owner knows that obesity is dangerous to the dog and firmness in matters of diet is the greater kindness.

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