Intermittent fasting or, periods of time going without food followed by periods of normal eating, affects your dog’s system at the cellular level with benefits well beyond weight loss.
Here I’ll discuss one of the strongest, science-based evidence of how fasting can make your dog not only healthier but also live longer.
Fasted dogs are fast dogs.
Did you know that, according to racing Greyhounds trainers and an investigation on this common practice, your dog can be the fastest in the park, if he eats less food than usual before heading there.
The analysis showed that 15% food restriction for several weeks makes racing dogs significantly faster in spring distances.
It’s understandable if you don’t want to put your dog through a fasting regime just so she/he can grab his ball before other dogs at the park.
Perhaps you would rather simply go to another dog park with slower dogs.
Another, more compelling reason to intermittent fast your dog is the prospect of a longer life enjoying optimal health.
Maximizing dog lifespan through fasting.
Dogs are not the exception when it comes to reaping all the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Like most other animals, fasting turns on enzymes in their bodies that promote health and fight aging.
Dogs, like most animals, are well adapted to fasting.
What’s more, fasting is essential for their optimal health.
You might think it’s heartbreaking but feral dogs and dogs’ ancestors, wolves, can spend days without finding a prey or any other food.
That’s normal and within certain limits, healthy.
Their bodies are better equipped to deal with fast than to deal with eating often.
What isn’t normal is us feeding our dogs at home a nutrient dense meal twice or three times a day plus snacks during their whole life with the resulting deterioration of their health.
Of course, the pet food industry will tell you this aberrant way of feeding them is the healthiest way.
Data from scientific studies says the opposite.
Fasting dogs: How to make your dog live longer.
Maybe the most cited publication on the subject of dietary restriction and dogs is the one that appeared in 2002 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
This is, as the authors rightfully claim, the first work demonstrating the health benefits and the lifespan-extension power of fasting in animals larger than mice and rats.
The intervention performed in 48 Labrador Retrievers is pretty simple.
Researchers reduced the amount of food by 25% in half of the dogs and allowed the other half, the control group, to eat 100% of a nutritionally complete and balanced diet formulated to keep them at a healthy weight.
The same diet was fed to all the dogs, but restricted dogs just got less of it.
The feeding schedule started when all the dogs were 8 weeks old and lasted for the rest of their lives.
What they found is fascinating despite such a simple “treatment”.
The Retrievers in the food-restricted group lived longer than those in the group eating a full amount of food.
Half of the dogs in the group eating 100% of the diet had died at around 11 years of age whereas it took 13 years for half of the dogs in the restricted group to died.
Also, the last few dogs in the control group died at almost 13 years of age while the last ones to die in the diet-restricted one did it one year later at 14.
By the time all the normal-fed dogs had died, nine of the food-restricted dogs were still alive!
Fasting to slow down your dog's aging process.
More important than the differences in mortality between normally fed and restricted group, at least from my point of view, is the striking difference in the rate of aging.
The Labs eating 25% less aged better than the ones in the other group.
In this group, the onset of clinical signs of late-life diseases was significantly delayed.
In fact, in average, dogs in the control group had to be treated for at least one chronic disease by the age of 10.
Meanwhile, diet-restricted dogs required treatment for any of these conditions only at a mean age of 12.
This means an average of 2 extra years of healthy life!
That’s the power of intermittent fasting.
As observed in other animal species, food-restricted dogs still got old, sick, and died.
The important difference, however, is that the ageing process, and thus the appearance of age-related illnesses and subsequently death, were all considerably delayed.
What this study demonstrated is that the magic of fasting works well in dogs too.
While fasting dogs, their bodies respond in similar ways to other animals studied so far in terms of markers of health, including reduction of blood glucose, insulin, and triglycerides over their lifespan.
There’re a couple of caveats regarding this study though.
First, the study only included Labrador Retrievers and one could question whether these results apply to other breeds.
Second, the dietary intervention evaluated was “calorie restriction” and not fasting strictly speaking.
Regarding the first point, evaluating the effect of fasting on only one breed is indeed a weakness of the study.
However, as you’ll see in future posts, other studies suggests that the benefits of fasting also apply to other dog breeds, so stay tuned.
As for the second point, both, calorie restriction and fasting have shown to have similar and overlapping effects on health and longevity.
Both terms are usually grouped as “dietary restriction” interventions and that’s why for our purposes here I consider “calorie restriction” as one form of fasting.
Also, important to note is the fact that all the dogs in the study were fed exclusively a dry diet or kibble.
So, it wouldn’t be crazy to expect that adding other foods known to improve the health of dogs such as fresh veggies and fruits could have cumulative health benefits on top of those obtained with food restriction.
A dog diet for longevity.
I'm not a veterinarian. I'm a scientist and I make every effort to provide science-based evidence in my articles and links to reliable sources. The content of these articles is for educational purposes only. You should discuss with your veterinarian before making any decision regarding the health of your pet.