What did eating used to look like?
In the wild dogs, like wolves, would not eat two to three meals a day. In all likelihood, they would sometimes be lucky to eat one meal every three days! Some may argue this comparison because dogs are not wolves. Dogs are mammals, however,whose metabolic functions are determined and controlled by the laws of nature.
Before modern agriculture, nature provided three consistent food rules for all living species (at least all those with a mouth):
- Nutritious, balanced, non-synthetic whole foods designed to allow life to thrive in homeostasis.
- Limitation of calories to any single individual. Seasons, sizes of plants or animals grown, and/or group living are all limiting factors to caloric consumption.
- Calories must be burned to acquire and consume food.
The body shows evidence of its innate knowledge of the value of fasting. When you or your pet are sick you may notice a loss of appetite. The body understands that there are times that the effort of digesting uses up important resources for healing.
Before the advent of agriculture, both dogs and humans lived through cycles of feast and famine. In the modern epoch,Pizza and Pizza flavored doggy treats are readily available and we may all remain in constant feast mode.
Large corporations help us to be complacent with our nutritional decisions. Even the FDA tells us that processed cereals are healthy but avocados are not. Eat more, buy more, make it easy. And don’t worry about those addictive, toxic ingredients on the label. Assimilation by corporate advertising leads to gluttony. It can be a genuine chore to acquire sufficient education to be able to, hopefully, make the right decisions.
Thanks to these challenges, fasting, which used to be a way of life, has become a novel trend. Many people even think of it as starvation. The reality, however, is that fasting is a natural condition that the body not only tolerates but uses to its advantage. Fasting allows the body an opportunity to shift from digesting, which requires exorbitant resources, to ‘clean up’ mode. In addition, fasting provides resources for detoxification and controls calories and, thus, weight and body mass index ratios. Science has pin-pointed a variety of health and longevity benefits associated with fasting.
- Controlling calories helps all species, big and small, not only live longer but behave and appear more youthful when they are older. One can control calories with an overall reduction, or by decreasing the hours that calories are consumed in a day.
- Research demonstrates the favorable effects of fasting. During periods of time without food, mitochondria release fewer free radicals. Inflammation underlies many degenerative diseases. Fasting decreasesincidents of cancer, and mitigates or reverses arthritis, cognitive decline, and Type II diabetes.
- Fasting for 48+ hoursprotects normal cells, but not cancer cells, from the toxic effects of chemotherapy in humans. So far, less is known about this phenomenon in Veterinary Medicine, but it could be worth validating for companion animals with cancer.
How do you successfully fast your pet?
The mindset of ‘fasting’ can be a hard mountain to climb. The idea of consuming no calories for 18+ hours day may feel unobtainable or cruel. Calling it, ‘intermittent eating’ may shift this mindset. Rather than restricting calories you are, instead, providing calories only in a specific timeframe each day. During the 6 consecutive hours a day that food is consumed calories should not exceed what’s appropriate for that individual. Ideally, those calories should come from whole food sources as much as possible.
For those who wish to explore fasting with their fur baby, one can start with a gradual reduction in overall calories and observe the effects- modest weight loss is one anticipated outcome. Animals that are slightly underweight live longer than those that are ‘just right.’ Another technique can be to feed normally, just every other day.
Some find it easier to adjust calories by time period. For example, by only feeding between the hours of 8:00AM and 4:00PM. Alternatively, some folks will adjust caloric density based on level of activity. During times of intense exercise calories go up, while no calories are offered during sedentary periods. This is a very responsive way of feeding at interval. Older pets often have difficulty with long fasting periods, resulting in vomiting bile. If this applies to your pet, try only giving fresh, easily digestible foods or raw goat milk (which requires virtually no effort to absorb) during the fasting period.
Initially, replacing a portion of a standard serving of kibble with fibrous raw vegetables such as okra, or feeding a raw meat diet low in carbohydrate, are very simple methods of controlling calories. Intermittent eating schedules also tend to decrease picky eating habits.
Here’s the take-away: every Pet Parent reflexively wants to be the best steward of their doggy’s health. That said, obesity and over feeding in dogs is common. The use of ‘intermittent eating’ and caloric control can be an effective strategy for keeping a dog lean, and helping them to perform and feel better as they age.
Feeding your dog purposefully with their long-term health in mind, will offer both you and them a longer and more enjoyable life experience.