Intermittent Eating (Therapeutic Fasting) Is Not Starvation
It’s important to understand that therapeutic fasting is not starvation. Intentional fasting for health and wellness involves sufficient nutrient intake on non-fasting days to maintain vital tissues, organs and muscle, along with liver enzyme cofactors to help with fat breakdown and the release of toxins. On fasting days, water is always available.
Starvation, on the other hand, involves no nutrient intake and depletes all reserves in the body, at which point vital tissues begin to break down.
Fasting triggers a dog’s body to metabolize fat. Waste products stored in fat are released. This waste not only includes breakdown products of natural substances the liver couldn't process, but also toxins absorbed from the environment, for example, chemical pest repellents.
Because the body isn’t being asked to digest and absorb large meals during a fast, the liver can more efficiently process the released waste products, which decreases the body's toxic load.
Benefits of Fasting
Robert Mueller, co-developer of BARF brand diets and an advocate of fasting, believes it offers several benefits, including:3
- “Elevating macrophage activity, which will engulf and destroy bacteria, viruses, and other foreign material.”
- “Allowing the digestive system to relax and let the body focus on other important bodily functions.”
- “Allowing the body to regenerate briefly. ‘It is amazing to watch a complete reversal of digestive symptoms such as upset stomach and diarrhea, as well as allergy relief.’”
“In a nutshell,” Mueller writes on the BARF Blog, “a domesticated dog is able to reap benefits by fasting. It can boost their metabolism, maintain a healthy appetite and weight, and optimize their overall health. For best results you should start out slow by fasting once a month, and then increasing the fast eventually to once a week.
The fast will give the digestive system a break and allow the body to regenerate and preserve the essential digestive enzymes from depletion. When a dog’s body is allowed to focus on other metabolic activities, it conserves energy, detoxifies, and builds resistance to disease.”
The same myriad of health benefits that occur in people who therapeutically fast also occur in dogs that fast. One of the most notable, system-wide benefits is a reduction in the amount of insulin, a pro-inflammatory hormone, that circulates in the body. This not only reduces systemic inflammation, but helps to maintain insulin sensitivity. Every treat, nibble and bite of food your dog eats requires insulin, and giving him a break from chronic insulin production is not only wise, it can be lifesaving.
We know now that dogs and cats enter into the profoundly health-enhancing metabolic state of nutritional ketosis when fasting is implemented and preliminary research demonstrates that, at least for dogs (no one is studying it in cats yet) the same immunologic and metabolic improvements seen in calorie-restricted humans are most likely happening in canines as well.4
Giving the body a break from constantly digesting and processing food not only restricts calories, which is linked to long-term health benefits,5 it improves mitochondrial function6 and allows organs a chance to repair and restore function, and it sparks a process called autophagy, which allows the body to recycle and clean up cellular debris and waste that builds up over time.