I never thought about immune support for dogs until my Cocker Spaniel nearly died from an attack on his immune system. I’ve since talked to experts and lived through the nightmare of nearly losing my dog.
Your dog’s immune system is extremely complex and contains tissues, organs, and specialized cells that work together to defend the body against diseases and infections.
If your dog has ongoing or seasonal itchiness or sneezing, this could be an allergic response to something. The immune system overreacts to something totally simple like pollen or food as if it were a scary invader to your dog’s body. With allergies, the immune response can even harm a dog’s body.
You can imagine how important it is for your dog’s immune system to be working properly. Here’s everything you need to know about supporting your dog’s immune system and why this is important.
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What Comprises the Immune System of Dogs?
The Merck Veterinary Manual describes the canine immune system as, “The immune system a network of white blood cells, antibodies, and other substances that fight off infections and reject foreign proteins.
In addition, the immune system includes several organs. Some, such as the thymus gland and the bone marrow, are the sites where white blood cells are produced. Others, including the spleen and lymph nodes, trap microorganisms and foreign substances and provide a place for immune system cells to collect, interact with each other and with foreign substances, and generate an immune response.”
FACT: 70 percent of your dog’s immune system is in his gut. (Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine)
How Can I Strengthen My Dog’s Immune System?
Sometimes, you don’t have to fix what isn’t broken. Here are key factors to consider in keeping your dog’s immune system strong and healthy:
- Feed a Healthy Diet: I cannot stress this enough. Since 70 percent of your dog’s immune system is in the gut, diet plays a keep part in immune support. Here’s what I feed my dog.
- Don’t Overtreat Your Dog: Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
- Keep Your Dog’s Weight In Check: Being overweight or obese not only increases your dog’s risk of joint damage and contributes to osteoarthritis, but can also cause pain and shorten a dog’s lifespan. Here’s how I helped my Cocker Spaniel lose weight.
- Keep Your Dog Clean: Your dog should have his paws wiped, his coat bathed and brushed regularly, and groomed as needed. I learned to groom my dog at home.
- Consider A High-Quality Digestive Probiotic: According to the Cornell Canine Health Center, “Probiotics boost the healthy gut bacteria that help digest food. They are a well-known therapy for diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset. More recently, they’ve been found to counter urinary tract infections, immune system disorders and even anxiety.”
- Have Any Lumps and Bumps Assessed: Don’t wait, aspirate. That’s the advice I’ve followed for decades, and Dr. Sue Ettinger, aka the Cancer Vet, says the same thing. There’s no such thing as knowing what a lump if by looking at it, no matter how experienced your veterinarian is.
- Limit or Eliminate Chemical Exposures: I stopped most chemicals in my dogs decades ago. I use safer flea and tick preventatives, too.
- Consider Titers Over Vaccines: I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-over-vaccine. Consider titers instead of constant vaccines that can do more harm than good.
- Keep Your Dog Physically and Mentally Active: Do you know how dogs benefit human health? The same holds for dogs. When physically and mentally active, they are happier and healthier, too.
- Minimize Stress and Anxiety: This includes separation anxiety, yelling or fighting in front of your dog, if your dog fears loud sounds or fireworks, etc.
- Control Your Dog’s Allergies: Since allergic reactions are an overactive immune response towards a substance known as an allergen, your dog should not suffer. There are a lot of things you can do without resorting to Apoquel.
- Play With Your Dog and Spend Quality Time Together: If you can’t get outdoors, there are over a hundred things you can do indoors. Your dog needs to be with you for quality time.
When your dog’s immune system malfunctions, any number of things can happen: from infection to diabetes, osteoarthritis to cancer.
Some dogs are born with congenital issues contributing to primary immunodeficiency disorders. Unfortunately, there are no cures for immune diseases dogs are born with, but your veterinarian is the best ally in your dog’s disease management.
Keeping your dog’s immune system in proper balance may help reduce the risk of diseases and contribute to overall health and well-being.
How Does Diet Provide Immune Support For Dogs?
Everyone these days says they have the “best food for your dog” and the lovely pooch running through a meadow on the bag of kibble makes it so. No, no, and more no!
If there is one thing that I have learned in a lifetime of dog parenting and well over a dozen years as a dog writer, it is this: Dogs do not need starches. In most commercial dry dog foods, the sheer volume of starch is alarming.
The folks at Whole Dog Journal report, “Dogs have no nutritional requirement for dietary carbohydrates. They can get everything they need from a diet that contains only protein and fat. Energy metabolism in the dog can be based on fat oxidation and the breakdown of protein to produce glucose. There are two main reasons why we feed carbs to dogs. The first reason is because we can. Dogs can utilize just about anything we feed them; their digestive tracts are extremely versatile. The second reason is economic; fat and protein sources are much more expensive than carbohydrates.”
The best food for your dog is the one that works. For me, that means I am not feeding kibble. It’s that whole when we know better, we do better mantra.
Here’s food for thought: What your dog eats is one of the biggest factors in regulating the health of his immune system.
In an article on the immune system on petMD, Dr. Susan Wynn, an ACVN diplomate, shared, “The gut contains about 70 percent of your immune system. The gut also contains your microbiome––the collection of hundreds of species of bacteria—and the bacterial balance in the microbiome is heavily influenced by the diet.”
So why mess with the gut? Do for the gut what it needs to function and be happy. Immune system support means gut support. BIG TIME.
FACT: The bottom line for supporting the immune health for your dog is to feed them an appropriate, balanced and complete diet. (Cornell Canine Health Center)
The Near Fatal Attack On My Dog’s Immune System
In the fall of 2017, my dog was acting spunky, happy, eating and drinking, and had a vet check not long before. We noticed splotches on his gums and some bleeding in that area. He also had some inner ear flap mottling.
After rushing him to the emergency veterinary hospital, meeting with the team of internists, and a near week of hospitalization, the cause of what nearly killed my dog and took his platelets down to ZERO (yes, zero) was a nasty four-letter word: TICK!
As a result of a tick bite, my dog acquired an autoimmune disease called immune-mediated thrombocytopenia. The Internal Medicine veterinarian who treated Dexter shared it can rear its ugly head after sitting in bone marrow.
Thank Dog, Dexter survived and remained in remission for the rest of his 13 years. His immune system was attacked despite having a pristine bill of health prior.
In discharge from the veterinary hospital several days later, the Internal Medicine specialist who oversaw Dexter’s case asked me what I was feeding him.
“Dr. Harvey’s base mix with protein and oil added in,” I replied.
“His healthy weight, good diet, and your fast action saved his life,” he replied.
When the immune system abnormally attacks the central nervous system, serious health issues can occur like IMHA or IMT.
FACT: A dog’s immune system is fully developed at approximately six months old.
How to Provide Immune Support For Dogs
In addition to the tips above, here are products I’ve used, and been told to use by veterinarians and specialists, and others that my fellow Cocker Spaniel dog moms and dads have had success with.
I’ll add some bonus tips we’ve used that you can consider for your dog. Always check with your veterinarian, holistic veterinarian, and/or veterinary nutritionist before making any additions to your dog’s daily intake.
Supplements To Support the Immune System
In doing research for my dog’s immune system, I recalled that milk thistle helps liver function. Additionally, other herbs, when used properly, may help boost your dog’s ability to fight disease.
Many herbs can act as antioxidants, and that’s a key goal of Dr. Harvey’s Solaris. It is more than a vitamin, it is an all-natural whole-food supplement.
You’ll receive one box of Solaris, which contains a morning container (Sunrise) and an evening container (Sunset). You sprinkle the proper amount of scoops on the dog’s food twice a day accordingly and that’s it. You sit back and let the medicinal mushrooms and healing herbs work to boost your dog’s immune system.
Always check with your dog’s veterinarian before adding any new supplements. If your dog has an immune disease, never add anything new without your treating veterinarian’s approval.
Chewable Digestive Probiotic
Dr. Harvey’s 90-count peanut butter-flavored chews contain a seven-strain probiotic blend for gut health. They are designed to calm your dog’s tummy and help maintain solid poops.
Learn more about Dr. Harvey’s chewable supplements for dogs.
Nutramax Proviable-DC Digestive Health Supplement
In the first year of my dog’s life, he had motion sickness and some digestive upset resulting in vomiting, mostly in the car. On the suggestion of our veterinarian, I added one Proviable-DC capsule to his diet. This is made by Nutramax, the makers of Cosequin for joint support.
Fish Oils: Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are important fatty acids for both people and dogs because they cannot be made in the body. I’ve had both my Cockers on an Omega-3 fatty acid for close to 25 years. It’s worked for us and my dogs always look good and their coats feel good.
Not all omega-3 fish oils are created equal, so buyer beware and let us explain what we use in our dog’s diet. Quality control is first and foremost, so any fish oil used in your dog’s diet should be sourced so that is free of unwanted nutrients and contaminants.
Massage Your Dog For Immune Support
One of the easiest ways to keep your dog’s immune system in check is to give your pooch a good rubdown/massage.
You need not be a professional masseuse to do this, as you would simply rub your dog in the way he most enjoys. For my Cocker Spaniel, he loves his legs rubbed, under his armpits, the back of his neck, and his tummy scritches. This works because massage has been proven to increase lymphocyte numbers and to enhance lymphocyte function, which are all a part of the immune system.
The icing on the cake is that YOUR immune system is likely going to be positively affected by massaging your dog, as studies show that people who have pets are gifted with a whole array of health benefits.
Take Care of Canine Skin
.Like people, the skin is the largest organ of a dog. Skin provides a protective barrier against the environment, regulates temperature, and gives your dog its sense of touch.
Depending on the species and age, the skin may comprise 12 to 24 percent of a dog’s body weight. WOW!
Skin is exposed to everything: From the environmental elements to internal mechanisms that affect it. If you bathe too little or too much, you may disrupt the skin’s natural immune function and remove oils and acids the skin needs to stay healthy.
Brushing your dog daily is a good idea. Keeping the skin clean without overstimulating is key as well. Omega 3’s helps to keep the skin functioning at its optimal best, as does adequate diet and nutrition.
Provide Fresh Clean Water At All Times
Water is the most important nutrient to a dog, clean, fresh water should be available at all times. Not all water is created equal.
You want your dog to consume fresh, clean water because water is needed, but also because it helps to flush the kidneys and overall digestion. Whether it’s a walk around the block, a jaunt in the neighborhood, a trek to the dog park, or a trip in the car, please on a stack of dog biscuits, please take water with you on the go.
Your dog will thank you for it. I’ve been taking water with me for my dog for my entire adult life. I wish I had a dollar for every time a stranger’s dog stopped by and wanted a drink from our dog’s water bowl. I’d be rich!
Here’s how to get your dog to drink more water.
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