Dogs with malfunctioning immune systems are more susceptible to diseases such as diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and infection. According to veterinarians, keeping your dog’s immunity balanced will help to reduce the risk of these diseases and improve its overall health.
According to Dr. Donna Raditic of the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, a diplomate in integrative veterinary and nutrition medicine, she consults on these topics at her clinics in Athens Georgia. The immune system identifies harmful pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It then eliminates them. The immune system of a dog monitors the cells in order to make sure they are working correctly. Raditic says that when other cells age or function abnormally, such as cancerous cells reproducing rapidly, the immune system tries to maintain normal physiological balance and functions.
Your dog’s immune system may be compromised and make him more susceptible to disease. A compromised immune system can cause chronic inflammation and, ultimately, disease. According to Dr. Ken Tudor of The Well Dog Place, a holistic veterinarian in Claremont California, inflammation is linked with diabetes, osteoarthritis, and some heart and liver conditions.
There are a few simple and natural ways to boost your dog’s immunity.
You Can Encourage the Innate Playfulness of Your Dog
Tudor says that keeping your dog in shape is the best way to promote their overall health. He explains that storing excess fat will weaken the immune system. “Fat is the body’s largest endocrine gland, responsible for secreting more than 40 different inflammation-promoting hormones,” he continues. Even the slightest amount of fat in excess can cause an increase in inflammation-promoting hormones.
Exercise and playing with your dog are essential for their well-being. Exercise doesn’t need to be boring. According to Dr. Laurie Coger of The Healthy Dog Workshop, a holistic veterinarian, exercise should actually be enjoyable. She suggests that you try retrieving with your dog, as well as playing and doing scent work.
Ideal exercises are those that have been approved by your veterinarian and are based on the age, breed, and overall health of your dog. Tudor states that “if your dog does not run a mile in 15 minutes, then he isn’t burning enough calories.”
What to Feed Your Dog
Your canine’s diet plays a key role in maintaining good immunity. The gut is home to 70 percent of the immune system, according to Dr. Susan Wynn. She practices at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Sandy Springs. The gut contains also your microbiome – –the group of hundreds of different species of bacteria. And the balance of the bacteria in the microbiome can be heavily affected by diet.
Coger states that dogs were designed to consume a meat-based, moist diet. However, “commercially available dry food is composed of at least 40% starch.” She explains the problem, which is starches promote inflammation. Coger has found that vegetable starches and legumes such as sweet potatoes and lentils are less acidifying than starchy grains. Coger suggests a diet free of grains, legumes, and starches (if that is possible), which includes fresh vegetables and meat.
Wynn says that maintaining a healthy biome requires a balanced diet with a good amount of fiber and live bacteria in fresh food. She says that many raw dog food diets, which contain only bone and meat, do not promote the healthiest microbiome.
There is no one size fits all solution to nutrition. Raditic says that the best way to make sure your dog is on an immune-stimulating diet is to consult your vet. Raditic says that while research has provided nutrition guidelines, they are meant for what she calls the “generic cat and dog” rather than the individual. Your veterinarian understands these guidelines but must then evaluate each patient to determine whether these guidelines need to be altered.
You Should Consider Dog Supplements
You may want to consider adding certain nutrients to your dog’s food in order for it to be more effective. Coger warns that you shouldn’t buy a supplement to treat every condition. She warns that giving your dog multiple products can make it easier to overload some ingredients and interfere with the absorption of other ingredients.
Coger recommends probiotics because they are beneficial for digestion. Tudor says, “Healthy intestinal flora can promote gut immunity which in turn promotes internal immunity.”
You should be aware that your dog’s microbiome is different from ours. Giving them the same probiotics you use, or giving them yogurt as a treat, will not benefit them. Consult your veterinarian about the appropriate species and strains of probiotics and dosage.
Another supplement to consider is fish oil, which contains inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Tudor believes fatty acids have a vital role in reducing inflammation. It can be difficult to get enough fish oil through diet, so Tudor recommends that you give your dog supplements.
Tudor recommends turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin. Curcumin, in addition to having anti-cancer qualities, is an anti-inflammatory agent and pain reliever.
Raditic warns that brands of supplements are not created equal. Raditic says that studies have shown, “for example, when they examined probiotics for instance, there were some which did not contain the ingredients listed on the label or contained incorrect names.” Buyer beware.
Coger recommends purchasing from well-known brands that have high-quality products and are regularly tested. The presence of the National Animal Supplement Council seal (NASC), according to Coger, is an indication that you are buying a genuine product.
Dog massage can be a powerful tool for healing.
Coger says that massage and other similar techniques can benefit dogs by promoting relaxation and healing. This, in turn, affects their overall health. There is little veterinary evidence on how massage affects animals. However, studies on humans have found that massage reduces stress hormones. A 2014 review stated that massage with moderate pressure contributes to enhanced immune function, including increased natural killer cells, and higher natural killer cell activities.