Sometimes, giving your dog’s digestion a break is a really good idea … even though those sad eyes begging for food might make you feel like a mean dog owner!
I’m talking about fasting.
It’s something you might resist because … let’s face it, eating is one of the highlights of your dog’s day!
But fasting isn’t unkind to your dog if you do it right. And it has many health benefits … because of the job your dog’s digestive system has to do.
Your dog’s digestion plays a big role in supporting her immune system.
Your Dog’s Immune System
Creating and maintaining a strong immune system is an important part of good health.
But your dog’s environment is full of toxins. So, despite all your efforts, she’s exposed to them every day.
These toxins include things like …
- Processed and genetically modified foods
- Hormones and antibiotics in meat
- Heavy metals
These substances all tax your dog’s immune system. And that makes her more susceptible to disease and parasites.
How Digestion Helps
Your dog’s digestive system does much more than just digest food. Because about 80% of her immunity is in her gut.
Your dog’s intestinal tract can identify and destroy alien substances … like bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemical toxins.
It also has a built-in memory to remember the same type of invader next time it threatens.
The immune system is also an internal communication system … with a network of integrated cells to protect your dog.
Sometimes there’s a faulty connection. So messages to the immune cells get misinterpreted. And then your dog’s system can’t tell the difference between her own cells and the invaders. So it begins to destroy healthy cells and tissues.
That translates into autoimmune disorders, which can take many forms …
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Food allergies
- Yeast overgrowth
- Liver disease
This means that periodic house cleaning is essential for a strong immune system.
But the burden of digestion demands the immune system’s full array of resources!
So if your dog’s constantly digesting food … her immune system doesn’t have the time or resources to stay in peak form.
Regular fasting is the solution.
It can help her immune system detoxify years of toxic build-up … restoring normal homeostatic balance.
Benefits of Regular Fasting
Here are some important changes that happen in the body when your dog is fasting. All of these changes play a vital role in boosting your dog’s immune function.
Elevated Macrophage Activity
Macrophages are specialized immune cells. They swallow and destroy bacteria, viruses and other foreign substances. They eat worn-out or abnormal body cells.
When harmful substances get into your dog’s body … macrophages are an important first line of defense.
That’s why treatments for autoimmune diseases … and even some forms of cancer … involve bolstering macrophages.
The macrophages and other immune system components digest the body’s dead cells. Then the cells travel through the bloodstream and into the digestive system … to be eliminated as waste matter.
This means that fecal matter is mainly composed of dead cells. They’re sloughed off by the various organs and processed for elimination by macrophages.
And during fasting, this process dramatically increases.
Catabolism … the breakdown of substances like proteins or fats … increases the release of energy for use as fuel.
Increased Neutrophil Activity
Neutrophils are the most common type of white blood cell. Their job is to swallow bacteria and other microorganisms.
Neutrophils are “first responders” when your dog gets a bacterial infection. They arrive on the scene and eat up the invaders.
The metabolic process then produces hydrogen peroxide … and a highly active form of oxygen called “superoxide.” These destroy invading bacteria in your dog’s body.
Heightened Monocyte Killing
Monocytes are another type of white blood cell.
Monocytes consume infectious agents and other large particles. They usually enter areas of inflamed tissue or sites of chronic infections.
So if your dog has an infection … you may see higher monocytes in her bloodwork.
Increased Natural Killer Cell Activity
In 1975 … researchers first recognized natural killer (NK) cells in the blood and lymphoid tissues.
NK cells are aggressive cells within the immune system.
NK cells work by penetrating abnormal cells and releasing granules into them. The toxic granules then kill the abnormal cells.
NK cells also regulate the immune system by producing cytokines. These stimulate the immune function.
Most immunologists believe NK cells play an important part in limiting the growth of tumor cells … as well as cells infected with viruses.
Longer Life With Fasting
They fed mice nothing every other day. The mice could eat as much as they wanted on the days in between – and they did. They pigged out. They ended up eating nearly double what normal mice eat in a day.
But fasting every other day caused them to live longer and healthier lives. A lot longer and a lot healthier. The researchers don’t exactly know what to make of it.
Mattson said ..
“We think what happens is going without food imposes a mild stress on the cells, and cells respond by increasing their ability to cope with more severe stress.”
He said it might be similar to what happens when you lift weights. You stress your muscles and they respond by growing stronger.
In the study, some mice fasted every other day and others ate a normal diet.
Near the end of the study, researchers injected all the mice with a toxin. It’s a substance that damages the cells in the hippocampus … the same part of the brain Alzheimer’s damages in humans.
When they examined the brains of the mice, they found that the fasting mice had less damage to their brain cells.
Recovery From Injury
Another study at University of British Colombia suggests that fasting can promote recovery from acute spinal cord injury. Researchers randomized rats with experimental cervical injuries into two groups.
- Control animals with free access to food
- Animals with access only every other day starting immediately after injury
Compared to controls, the fasted rats had …
- Improved functional recovery
- Smaller injury-site lesions
- Increased neuronal regeneration
The investigators concluded that EOD-fasting “can have benefits when initiated after the insult” …
“Most importantly, intermittent fasting is a safe and simple multifaceted treatment that could be clinically implemented to improve functional recovery in patients.”
The investigators think that fasting affects the body’s immune response … resulting in fewer, regeneration-blocking immune cells reaching the injury site.
Fasting your dog for a day every week or so can yield tremendous health benefits.
Always make sure she has plenty of water. You can also give her some fruit or a recreational bone to keep her amused.
Only fast adult dogs. Puppies need a much more regular source of nutrition.