Digestibility is a measure of how easily a pet food ingredient is broken down by the digestive system and absorbed into the body. The more digestible the food, the quicker the nutrients enter the pet’s bloodstream.
Pet food companies sometimes brag about their food’s digestibility. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing. Who wants to feed their pet a food that is not well digested and assimilated? Why would you not want a pet food that is highly digestible?
Whether or not it is good to have a highly digestible food depends on exactly which nutrients we’re talking about. We certainly do want a food with highly digestible protein. Dogs and cats need lots of readily available protein in their diets because they are genetically programmed to eat lots of it. Dietary protein leads to lean body mass and it sends signals to the brain that make the animal feel satiated so they are less likely to over-eat.
We also want the micronutrients like vitamins and minerals in a food to be highly digestible. These are called micronutrients because the body needs them in very small quantities (compared to macronutrients like protein, fat, and carbohydrates). Even though they are needed in tiny amounts, these vital nutrients are necessary for the body to function properly.
So, what pet food component might we not want to be readily digested? Carbohydrates! Most commercial pet foods are loaded with carbohydrates which are composed of chains of sugar molecules. Highly refined carbohydrates are quickly converted to sugar in the GI tract and absorbed into the bloodstream. They are indeed highly digestible. When these sugar molecules hit the blood stream they trigger the release of insulin (the hormone that allows the absorption of sugar into the cells of the body). An excess of insulin in an animal’s system promotes systemic inflammation and the formation of fat.
It is not good to have a highly digestible food if that food is laden with carbohydrates. So, the desirability of “highly digestible” depends on the composition of the food. Your pet would be better off if they did not digest any of the typical dry pet foods at all. Feed a balanced raw diet.
Has diet made a difference for your pet?