A Way of Life for Wild Canines, This Could Be a Godsend for Your Dog
- Therapeutic fasting offers significant health benefits for companion animals, primarily healthy adult dogs; canines in the wild fast on a regular basis
- Therapeutic fasting, or better termed “intermittent eating,” is not starvation because it involves sufficient nutrient intake to maintain vital tissues, organs and muscle, along with liver enzyme cofactors
- Benefits of fasting for dogs include elevating macrophage activity, giving the digestive system a rest and allowing the body to regenerate
- Research shows healthy dogs can fast for long periods; it’s important to consult with your veterinarian if you’re considering fasting your dog
The thought of skipping a meal for many people is unfathomable, and the thought of intentionally not feeding your healthy dog for a day might be considered cruelty to animals by some. But the truth is, most people and pets in North America overconsume food on a regular basis, resulting in a host of metabolic disease epidemics (obesity, cancer and diabetes, to name a few) we could all avoid by just putting down the fork or picking up the bowl once in a while.
Therapeutic fasting can offer significant health benefits for companion animals, but we don’t hear much about it, perhaps because not every pet can be fasted, and the results can be catastrophic if food is withheld from the wrong animal. For example, I’ve had personal experience with clients who arbitrarily decided to fast animals for which it wasn’t safe, including:
- A 4-month-old puppy who developed hypoglycemia
- A diabetic dog, fasted after a dose of insulin, who also developed hypoglycemia
- An overweight cat who developed hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease)
- A very elderly, ill Schnauzer who was already cachexic (wasting away)
Fasting more than 12 hours is never a good idea for cats, especially if they're overweight, due to the risk of hepatic lipidosis. As a general rule, it's only safe for healthy adult dogs, and should be avoided for growing puppies, lactating females, old dogs, dogs with health conditions for which fasting is contraindicated and small toy breeds prone to hyperglycemia.
However, aside from these specific cases, I believe fasting is the cheapest, most underutilized strategy for improving health, wellness and longevity in dogs. And because most people in the U.S. are food-addicted, many pet parents are guilty of constantly feeding their dogs as they feed themselves, resulting in a host of chronic, degenerative diseases that are avoidable through eating appropriate food, and following an appropriate feeding schedule.