Man yes, but the dog?
For Man, the question doesn’t even arise anymore, fasting is a health activity that improves many physiological variables. Attention, on this blog I only talk about intermittent fasting with fasting times between 16 and 24 hours.
Fasting is in fact the antithesis of food abundance. In Man, in developed countries, the action of fasting is voluntary instead of being forced like some poor populations of the globe or even our distant ancestors.
But if fasting is a thousand-year-old technique in Man, which actively participates in improving our state of health, can we export it to our beloved carnivore?
You will be told no, it is useless and even dangerous!
On the contrary, to be healthy, a dog must receive a balanced meal every day and at set times.
Well… But can he fast or not?
Pets are in exactly the same situation as we are: abundance of food makes way for abundance, sweeping away the natural and ancestral behaviours they have followed for thousands of years.
Of course dogs eat when they find food, and I would even say they eat when they catch their food!
Dogs are the descendants of wolves, which have always hunted in packs of game, ungulates, rabbits, reptiles, or birds. To find food, hunters had to provide considerable energy to feed the entire pack, or at least try to do so.
It is for this reason that packs in the wild rarely have access to the abundance of food that our modern domestic dogs are familiar with. Rather, packs are punctuated by periods of hunting and resting without food and periods of food intake, resulting in characteristic fasts.
Two authors, who have observed packs of wild wolves, have determined that wolves kill one elk every 5 days and remain in close proximity for 2 to 3 days until the animal is completely skinned.
Fasting is thus an integral part of the way of life of animal species in their natural environment, and they are particularly well adapted to these periods of famine.
But our domestic dogs are not exactly wolves anymore. Feeding them every 2 or 3 days might seem excessive.
Where is the limit? And what are the health benefits?
1 day a week
Tom Lonsdale, the famous Australian veterinarian who praises raw meat and bone food, advises his dogs to fast 1 to 2 days a week. Puppies, kittens, pregnant bitches and sick or underweight animals should not be put on a fast, according to Lonsdale.
On the other hand, and according to the results of a study by a Pet Food company, an obese dog can fast for 5 weeks without danger to his health.
On a physiological level, a single day of fasting can bring a lot to your pet. Fasting often leads to a better regulation of certain hormonal processes (such as insulin) and allows the body to rest (digestive, hormonal and metabolic). Here are the main advantages of having your pet fast.
Benefit 1: Blood sugar control
For me, this is one of the most important advantages and is enough on its own to make his animal fast.
Industrial food, which is extremely rich in complex carbohydrates (starch) mainly from cereals, is unfortunately chosen by 4 out of 5 owners. For an average product, we are talking about 40 to 45% of carbohydrates in the form of calories, whereas a range between 10 and 20% would be ideal.
If you feed your pet with high starchy kibbles (whose glycemic index is high because of the cereal) this fasting day will improve your pet’s blood sugar control.
Studies on intermittent fasting in animal models all confirm an improvement in the insulin profile with a decrease in insulin secretion by the pancreas after eating.
This inevitably results in a slowing down of the pancreas’ daily activity, which ideally combats the many pancreatitis deficiencies that are far too frequent at present. Better control of blood sugar levels also means better use of glucose as energy and therefore less storage in the form of fat.
This last sentence heralds the next point.
2nd Advantage: Weight control
Overweight animals, especially dogs as there is a specificity with cats, will find many benefits from a one-day fast.
Initially, this can lead to what is called caloric restriction and allow a slight weight loss, which is quite acceptable if the dog is healthy or overweight.
Over a longer period of time, the deficit will no longer have a real effect on weight unless physical activity is maintained. Your pet’s basic metabolism should gradually adapt and return to a steady and maintained rhythm.
3rd Benefit: Putting the body to rest
It is a significant fact that your dog or cat’s body is constantly being called upon to manage food intake (digestion, assimilation, construction, etc.) which is often overloaded with carbohydrates, which further overloads the work to be done by the internal organs.
1 day of fasting during the week is synonymous with a holiday for all the organs involved in the digestion and processing of carbohydrates (such as the pancreas). Organs dedicated to the treatment of waste products such as the kidneys will be able to do their work of elimination without additional overload.
Water, nothing but water during this fasting day.
4th Benefit: Increase life expectancy
At least this is what the scientific literature suggests about intermittent fasting coupled with caloric restriction.
Although the study models have never included dogs or cats, the results on rats, mice or monkeys show a better life expectancy under this type of diet.
In any case, one day of fasting per week is one day without industrial kibble if you use it and it can only be beneficial for your pet’s health. Especially if you buy the worst, most famous brands.
5th Advantage: save money
We agree that this is absolutely not the primary purpose of the manoeuvre. The main purpose of fasting is not only the health of your pet, but also the health of your wallet.
Regular fasting could improve the health of your dog or cat, if done correctly. A better state of health leads to lower medical expenses.
Finally, since the quantity of food ingested can be seen to decrease slightly, it is possible to save money on the purchase of food.
Conclusion and special cases
Fasting is really a historical method, which I am convinced is written in our genome. The expression of our genes, including those of our furry animals, seems to be strengthened and improved under intermittent, well-timed fasting.
If your dog or cat is healthy and adult (non-pregnant female), or if your dog is overweight, fasting is highly recommendable and recommended.
Your pets will be able to enjoy better control of their blood sugar and weight; they will rest their bodies one day a week and may even significantly increase their life expectancy. In the end, you too will reap the benefits of this method.
A special case is obese cats, however.
Overweight cats subjected to an overly restrictive fast causing a strong loss of weight can cause serious liver damage, which can lead to the death of the animal.
In reality, regular and moderate fasting (1 day per week) should not be a problem, although the weight curve should be monitored daily to avoid sudden drops in the weight of obese cats.