Is it OK for a dog to skip a meal?
24 Aug, 2016
Picky, finicky eaters or dogs that are just not that “into” food will sometimes walk away from their food bowl. Obviously, if your dog is usually a “good eater” and declines food, this may be a sign of illness and appropriate health advice should be sought.
But, for healthy dogs to skip a meal for a day or two is not a cause for concern because domestic dogs share the ability to manage feast or famine conditions with their carnivorous wild cousins.
In the wild, a number of factors determine how frequently carnivores eat large prey. These factors may include the animal’s energy requirements, the prey’s energy content, the size of the pack, if the animal is a pack hunter like wolves, and the seasonal availability of the prey. Carnivores such as lions hunting a plain have been observed hunting only every 2.5 days, while a pack of eight (8) wolves that prey on moose, have been observed hunting every 10 days. (Bosch & Hendriks 2014)
During “famine” times, when prey is less available, carnivores are adapted to survive without eating large prey. Wolves have been observed scavenging for up to 10 weeks. Likewise, cougars have been known to go 75 days without large prey. During these times, they survive on smaller animals, birds and carrion. (Bosch & Hendriks 2014)
Like wild carnivores, domestic dogs are resistant to fasting and adapt physiologically to survive during famine times. They reduce their metabolic rate and adapt the energy sources their body utilise. Animals can switch between using glucose and fatty acids for energy, depending on nutrient availability. (Kinnunen et al 2015, Bosch & Hendriks 2014)
During fasting, the preferred energy pathway is fatty acid oxidation and glucose uptake and usage from amino acid metabolism is down regulated to preserve the body’s proteins. Raccoon dogs (see blog image) are a wild canid species that fast for up to four months each year. Throughout the year, the dog’s body mass varies by 30 – 40% however they preserve their muscle mass during the fast and there is no sign of proteolysis (protein metabolism). (Bosch & Hendriks 2014, Kinnunen et al 2015, de Bairacli Levy 1992)
While wild carnivores are required to fast due to prey availability, skipping a meal or two for our domestic dogs has practical and health benefits.
Firstly, for healthy, adult dogs a small fast rests the digestive system and enables this energy to be used elsewhere in the body to cleanse it of toxins and impurities that are embedded in the fatty tissues of the dog’s body. For this reason, fasting is a normal response when the dog is ill. For acute conditions or longer fasts, please consult your veterinarian or SAENA certified naturopath.
Secondly, fasting a dog for a day or two is a good way to clean the digestive system and introduce a change in diet.
When fasting, ensure dogs have access to plenty of fresh, clean water to help flush toxins from their body. For longer fasts, small amounts of honey and herbal preparations may assist the dog’s body rid itself of toxins. Your holistic veterinarian or SAENA certified naturopath can advise on how to best support your dog for long fasts. (Schultze 1998, de Bairacli Levy 1992)
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Until next time, enjoy your dogs.
Bosch, G., & Hendriks, W. 2014. “Aspects of foraging ecology of carnivores that impact digestive physiology and metabolism”. In Proceedings of the 10th symposium of the Comparative Nutrition Society (Vol. 10, pp. 14-18).
De Bairacli Levy, J. 1992, The complete herbal handbook for the dog and cat, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York.
Kinnunen, S, Mänttäri,S, Herzig, K‑H, Nieminen, P, Mustonen, A-M, & Saarela, S 2015 “Maintenance of skeletal muscle energy homeostasis during prolonged wintertime fasting in the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides)” Journal of Comparative Physiology, February
Schultze, K. 1998, Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats: The Ultimate Diet Hay House, Sydney, NSW