by Dr. Isla Fishburn (reprinted with author's permission)
Canine wellness is about physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of your dog. In order to maintain balance in your dog as a WHOLE organism, we have to observe and analyse several aspects of your dog’s life from before birth to present day. Over the next 12 days of wellness I will introduce you to some of the concepts of wellness, what these include and what we need to consider on a daily basis to optimise the health and longevity in our dogs.
Today, we are going to look at PROLONGED REST.
I know I keep going on about it, but to optimise our dog’s wellness means we have to take care of our dog’s cells, as it is these which make up the whole organism (e.g. tissues, organs, bones, etc.). Of course, let’s not forget that it is also the dog’s cells that create these biochemical pathways to tell the dog’s body how s/he should be feeling and reacting. This is why we must focus on keeping our dog balanced or finding ways that will allow our dogs to return to balance, preventing stagnation and blockages.
The right quantity and quality of sleep is needed each day for optimal wellness and prevention from illness. We all know that dogs should have between 14-17 hours of sleep a day and this sleep needs to the right kind of sleep (I know, crazy, right!).
When your dog’s body is out of balance and where the dog’s health is already suffering in some way, then the body should be allowed to sleep even longer. Back in March my dog Tunkasila was terribly unwell and her sleeping pattern changed almost immediately. I had to wake her up every 8 hours and carry her outside for a toilet break. All she wanted to do was sleep, and this is just what I gave her for her body to do what it does best – heal itself.
Of course, there are many dogs that may have disturbed sleep patterns or who are in environments where they simply don’t get the sleep they need. Some dogs are unable to sleep properly because of various physical and chemical factors that are working against the natural homeostasis of the dog. This can include things like side effects of pharmaceuticals, hormonal imbalances, excess weight (making it hard to breathe), heightened stress (making a dog hyper vigilant and too alert, meaning the dog will sleep but this is not a restful sleep), inappropriate diet (causing digestive discomfort or excess work on the organs) or simply the dog being in an environment that is unsettled.
Prolonged and restful sleep is important for wellness on a physical, mental and emotional level. Sleep is also one of the most natural and effective ways for your dog’s cells to feel a sense relaxation, reducing stress and high adrenaline levels. If a dog is exposed to too much stress then this places too much pressure on the adrenals and may result in adrenal fatigue (fatigue is not rest but exhaustion).
But why is sleep, and long periods of restful sleep so important for our dogs? They do not have busy, stressful days with long working hours like their human guardians. Well, the answer is that restful sleep is important for all mammals because of what it allows at a cellular level (I know, you know cells are up there on my list of favourite things to talk about).
For all animals, sleep is highly healing and restorative. It allows your dog’s body the time s/he needs to do most of their repair work and to recuperate their energy. Sleep also allows for a natural and effective way for the dog to have a short detoxification process, due to the fact that when your dog is sleeping s/he is not eating. Restful sleep allows for your dog’s body to have an uninterrupted time to properly work on healing, repair and maintenance.
If sleep is interrupted or if a dog does not have opportunity to receive regular periods of long, restful sleep then this can have profound consequences on your dog’s entire system, health and ability to prevent disease.
Going back to the story of my dog’s illness in March, because she was so unwell and because I listened to what her body was telling her she needed the most - to sleep - this is what I allowed her to do. However, if your dog is unwell you may become alarmed that your dog loses interest in food. Of course, it may be of concern if your dog is refusing food for several days, but not eating is also a way for the body to get more rest and put more energy in to healing. Digestion is a taxing process for the body and if your dog’s body has to spend time putting effort and energy in to digestion then this takes away from the body’s balancing and healing process. Tunkasila went several days before she began to show interest in food. Of course, she supported her body with water and I gave her a few liquid foods for her to lick as and when she wanted them, but her body was telling herself that fasting was needed as part of the healing process.
This nicely brings me back on to diet, which I talked about on day two of canine wellness. A diet that is appropriate for your dog and the ability to have restful sleep go hand in hand (of course they do I hear you cry – because your dog is a WHOLE organism so nothing about your dog is separate from any part of it). So, it goes a little something like this….ahem (clearing throat). The better the quality of food we feed our dog, the better your dog’s body will be able to regulate and heal itself. This means that the dog’s body will be exposed to less toxins and nutritional stress in the first place, allowing your dog’s body to feel balanced and more relaxed. This allows for better sleep, better energy levels and overall wellness.
Of course, it is not just nutritional stress and toxic stress that affects your dog’s wellness. We have to think of all the possible stressors that can have an impact on your dog’s natural functioning and balance. If you can’t remember what they are then just go back to the fifth day of wellness where I talk about balanced behaviours (I really hope by now you can see how inextricably linked everything is, which is why we have to view our dog as a WHOLE organism, rather than focusing on one aspect).
If you’re feeling tired after reading this, go and take a nap – if your body is telling you that you need to have a sleep then go do it! Learn to listen to your own body as well as listening to your dog!