Physiological adaptations of the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) to seasonal fasting-fat and nitrogen metabolism and influence of continuous melatonin treatment

J Comp Physiol B. 2004 Jan;174(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s00360-003-0381-5. Epub 2003 Oct 1.


The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) is a middle-sized canid with profound autumnal fattening followed by winter sleep. This study investigated the effects of prolonged fasting-induced winter sleep on the fat and nitrogen metabolism of the species. Half of the animals were treated with continuous-release melatonin implants to induce artificial short photoperiod. Autumnal accumulation of fat was characterized by low plasma free fatty acid (FFA), diacylglycerol (DG), and triacylglycerol (TG) levels. After transition to winter catabolism, the circulating lipid levels increased due to enhanced lipolysis. Two months of fasting resulted in a steady 3.1 kg weight loss (28% of body mass, 0.47% day(-1)). Storage fat was mobilized during the winter sleep reflected by the elevated FFA and DG concentrations. The lowered insulin levels could be a stimulator for TG hydrolysis. The plasma total amino acid concentrations, urea levels, and urea-creatinine ratios decreased due to fasting, whereas ammonia and total protein concentrations remained stable. The effects of melatonin on energy metabolism were modest. The results indicate that the raccoon dog is well adapted to long-term wintertime fasting utilizing fat as the principal metabolic fuel. The species can maintain its protein catabolism constant for at least 60 days. Decreased cortisol and thyroid hormone concentrations may contribute to protein sparing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / drug effects*
  • Amino Acids / blood
  • Animals
  • Carnivora
  • Creatinine / blood
  • Diglycerides / blood
  • Dogs
  • Fasting / physiology*
  • Fats / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Melatonin / pharmacology*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Seasons*
  • Thyroid Hormones / blood
  • Time Factors
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Urea / blood


  • Amino Acids
  • Diglycerides
  • Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • Triglycerides
  • Urea
  • Creatinine
  • Melatonin
  • Nitrogen
  • Hydrocortisone