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Why Digestibility is Crucial for Dog Food

Andrew Dickens


Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens


Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster with 20 years in journalism. He’s created compelling content on film and television, travel, food and drink, physical and mental health, business, sport, technology and politics. And, of course, dog food.

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Updated: February 23, 2024

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There are lots of words commonly used to describe a high-quality dog food. Healthy is one. Nutritious another. Nourishing, too.

But nobody really says digestible.

Likewise, when reading a dog food label, we look for — and can find — the amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates. We can’t see the digestibility.

However, it’s a good indicator of how well a food will deliver its nutrients to your dog — those promised to you by the label.

Here’s what you need to know about dog food digestibility and why it’s so important.

What is dog food digestibility?

“Digestibility is the amount of nutritional value from a dog food absorbed into the bloodstream,” says Brandon Stapleton, DVM, and head veterinarian for The Farmer’s Dog. “‘Bioavailable’ is a similar term which means the proportion of an absorbed nutrient that can be used by the body.”

How is dog food digestibility measured?

The answer is poop. Digestibility is usually measured in percentage terms by analyzing dogs’ feces. The ‘grade’ awarded (the coefficient) is calculated by subtracting the amount of poop from the amount of food consumed.

Once you have this “total tract digestibility percentage” you can also look at specific percentages of protein, fat, and caloric digestibility for that food.

What’s good dog food digestibility?

There’s a fairly simple scale for digestibility:

  • Less than 75% = ‘poorly digestible’
  • 75 to 82% = ‘moderately digestible’
  • 82 to 88% = ‘highly digestible’
  • Above 88% = ‘exceptionally digestible’

“It’s not enough for a dog to just eat the right nutrients; they need to absorb them in a usable form, not just pass them out in a stool,” says Dr. Stapleton. (The Farmer’s Dog has an average protein digestibility of 93%, in case you’re wondering).

Digestibility: Why dog food ingredients and processing matter

It can be hard to determine the true quality of a pet food just from what’s depicted on the label, or even from the ingredient list. Dry dog food varieties that look the same can vary significantly in digestibility.

Indeed, dry dog food protein digestibility can range from 64 to 91% depending on the ingredients and cooking process.

Processing is a big difference-maker when it comes to pet food, and it has a big impact on how digestible any given food is. The high-heat, high-pressure process typically used to make dry dog food can rob the food of nutritional value.

To make dry kibble, the ingredients go through multiple rounds of high-heat processing including processes like rendering and extrusion. This can reduce digestibility: the GI tract struggles to absorb nutrients and they end up in the colon (where they can affect the bacterial flora) before eventually being passed out as waste.

Research has found that fresh, lightly cooked, human-grade food has superior digestibility and bioavailability.

One hallmark of a highly digestible diet is “high-quality poop”. A digestible diet will affect the quality and quantity of your dog’s poop — it can be less voluminous than poop on a kibble diet because more of the nutrients in their food is being used by their body.

When your dog’s poops are on point, it can make a serious quality of life difference to both of you. But beyond poop, feeding easily digestible food can be a significant factor in your dog’s long-term health and wellness.

There’s a big difference between a food that has sufficient nutrient value to keep a pet alive and a food that is contributing to the health and vitality of a dog.

“There’s so much that goes into your pet’s health,” says Dr. Stapleton. “Digestibility is just one element in a healthy diet, but at The Farmer’s Dog we think it’s a crucial part — and an important factor in choosing your pet food.”

Final word

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