Everyone is fully aware that food is what provides us with the energy to perform all of our activities. Even while we are sleeping, energy is spent by the vital organs to keep us alive. The same is true with all other organisms including our favorite pet dog. Without food we, our pooches, and everything else simply will not survive. That is a fact. The only question now is how long our pooches can last without food before they eventually succumb to the detrimental metabolic effects of starvation.
Understanding the Physiology of Metabolism
Whenever we talk about food and eating we are essentially talking about metabolism. Unfortunately, many equate metabolism with the mere process of digestion when, in fact, it is a two-part process that involves both the breakdown of large molecules of food into smaller bits and pieces and the eventual building of new tissues from these broken down nutrients. Metabolism, therefore, is a reflection of both catabolic and anabolic processes.
Let us try to understand this a bit. When we take in food, we are essentially taking in very large molecules of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. These have to be broken down into glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids, respectively. This forms the catabolic phase of metabolism. This is accomplished so that these substances can be absorbed and utilized by the body. The body cannot store carbs or proteins or fats in their large forms. Hence, these must be broken down.
Once broken down, these substances are then used for a variety of purposes: glucose for energy, fatty acids for cellular integrity, and amino acids for tissue building, and many more. These molecules are mixed with other substances to function properly. This is the anabolic phase of metabolism where newer, larger molecules are formed to help in building tissues and facilitate the various processes of the body.
The same thing happens with our dogs. When they eat, they digest these large food molecules into their fundamental nutrient components which are then used to build tissues, provide energy, and ensure the optimum functioning of all organs.
From this point of view it is clear that without food the normal physiologic processes of the body simply get affected. It is actually common sense. Since there are no building blocks being put into the body, there are no substances which the body can use to properly function. Over time, the body ceases to function altogether and death ensues.
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Resting vs. Basal Metabolic Rates
The length of time that a dog can go without eating before its body shuts down completely can be best understood within the context of metabolic rates. Since the end-goal of eating is to use the broken-down nutrients or substances in various processes in the body, it becomes all the more important to look into 2 fundamental metabolic rates currently used in the scientific community. We will try to explain these to you in very simple terms.
- Resting metabolic rate: As the name implies, Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR refers to the amount of calories that an organism’s body will need when it is not doing anything. Simply put, it is the amount of calories that your pet will need while it is resting. This is affected by a variety of factors such as age and weight, among others. So, if you see your dog resting peacefully in its dog bed, you can say that it is still spending energy or calories through its RMR.
- Basal metabolic rate: A lot of folks think that the basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the same as the RMR. This is actually trickier since the measurement must be taken only when several parameters have been complied with. First, there must be a 12-hour period of fasting before the BMR measurement. Second, the measurement should be taken immediately before getting up after an 8-hour sleep. Third, the position of the organism should be reclined and in a dark room. The point is that, if you want to take the BMR measurement, then it is important to make sure that all of non-vital organs are completely inactive, with only the vital organs like the brain, lungs, heart, kidneys, and liver fully functioning.
In a way, it is safe to say that the BMR is the energy required by the body to keep all vital organs fully functioning. This is lower than the RMR, which is the energy required by the body at rest. This means that the actual metabolic rate can be much higher than the RMR since any movement on the part of the organism will increase the RMR.
How Long can a Dog Survive without Food?
Given a healthy dog and in ideal conditions, one with normal physiologic functioning, it should be able to last at least 5 days. If the dog is not healthy or has existing medical problems, then the length of time it can go without food is substantially decreased. Other factors have to be considered as well as any increase in activity or a change in weather substantially increases energy expenditures which substantially decrease the amount of time they can survive without food. The reason for this is simple. Any increase in RMR increases calorie requirements. If they don’t eat, they have to source this energy from those that are stored in their bodies. Hence, the more energy that is taken from these bodily stores, the faster is the energy depletion and the faster is their deterioration.
Another factor that needs to be considered is the dog’s water intake. Healthy dogs can survive without water up to 4 days. However, if the environmental temperature is high or that the dog is hyper-active, this can also be reduced significantly.
As a rule of thumb, dog owners are advised never to wait for several days before taking your dog to the vet if it hasn’t been eating for a few days. The more you delay, the greater is the risk of the canine body shutting down completely. You certainly don’t want this to happen to your beloved pooch.
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