Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Feeding an emaciated dog

From PetMD.  Interesting but very disturbing because I cannot avoid the question "and how did the researchers find this out ...?"  Recording it here for my own benefit.   Daisy was in the rescue centre for three weeks before coming to us and was fed one large meal a day, the same as all the others in their care.  She has survived what life's thrown at her so far so my job now is to build her up gently.


Researchers have studied how a dog’s body organs and biochemistry are disrupted by various lengths of time of starvation. If the dog is healthy to begin with, and no medical problems exist that, of course, would compound the starving dog’s medical status, a predictable sequence of adaptations take place.

The dog’s biochemical functions shift into survival mode within twenty-four hours with no nutritional intake. The highest priority of the dog’s metabolic processes becomes the necessity to keep the blood glucose concentration at a normal level. If the blood glucose ("blood sugar") level drops too low for any reason, the brain, heart, muscles and kidney function shuts down rapidly and death comes quickly. So, when the dog has no opportunity to eat, the survival mode’s first concern is to mobilize stored glucose from liver and muscle reserves by changing the biochemical processes to different chemical pathways that make glucose readily available.

After about two days without food the liver reserves of glycogen (glucose) are depleted. So in order to keep the blood level of glucose in the normal range, new chemical pathways open, called gluconeogenesis, where the liver and kidneys create molecules from complicated biochemical reactions so that fats and proteins are extracted from adipose tissue and muscle. As the glucose reserves are tapped and diminished, chemical reactions kick in to create glucose internally from those protein and fat reserves. Energy to run the body’s machinery (muscle, brain, kidney, heart and other organ functions require energy to fuel their activities) is now fueled less by glucose and more by fatty acid extracted from fat reserves.

On the third day of food deprivation the dog’s metabolism slows down. This lower, or slowed, metabolic rate continues as long as no food is consumed. The lowered metabolism is a survival mechanism to decrease the utilization of body fat and muscle for energy. Lowered blood sugar levels changes insulin secretion by the pancreas, which in turn lowers thyroid hormone levels; and it’s the thyroid gland function that ultimately dictates the metabolic rate.

During starvation the liver releases chemicals called ketones into the blood stream; ketones are then used as a source of energy for the dog’s body cells. By creating ketones and fatty acids to be used as energy sources, the dog’s body conserves what little glucose is circulating so that glucose-dependent red blood cells and important kidney tissues can continue to access glucose. Interestingly, red blood cells and kidney tubule cells cannot utilize anything other than glucose for cell energy needs.

After five days of starvation fat becomes the main source of energy.

Feeding the Starved Dog


Animal caretakers must exert strict self-control when attempting to nurse a starved dog back to good health. The natural and common tendency is to overfeed the dog "because he’s ravenous." If an emaciated and starved dog is suddenly overfed serious consequences, such as refeeding syndrome, await. This is because a sudden load of carbohydrates in a large meal can create serious shifts in potassium and phosphorus concentrations in all body cells.

Signs of Refeeding Syndrome are described as muscle weakness, muscle cramps, heart muscle damage and rhythm irregularities, seizures, red blood cell rupture and respiratory failure.

In addition, a prolonged lack of food does not "shrink the stomach," but it does make the stomach much more sensitive to stretch receptor nerve impulses. The dog may feel as if full when the stomach has only a small quantity of food in the stomach. The increased sensitivity to gastric expansion will dissipate over 3 to 7 days.

The food being fed to the starved dog should have adequate mineral composition, especially phosphorous, potassium and magnesium. (Therefore, do not be tempted to feed, for example, just hamburger, which does not have a wide or balanced mineral content.) The amount of food, or total calories, should not exceed over 24 hours what the dog would normally eat at its normal weight. An emaciated dog is best served consuming a small meal every six hours (4 times a day) rather than consuming one or two larger meals.

A broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement is important to include at each meal. Some evidence supports the addition of the amino acid glutamine to the recovery diet. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acid supplements are also beneficial to a dog recovering from malnourishment; the same holds true for the amino acid arginine. Dietary nucleotides are important contributors to the formation of DNA and RNA and assist in a number of metabolic activities of healthy cells. Diets rich in meat provide adequate nucleotides.


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