The immune system is a highly efficient and complex system that protects us against disease and controls the processes that heal the body. A strong immune system is the key to good health, in animals as well as humans. Naturally, then, supporting your dogs immune system should be a high priority.
The following factors contribute to the weakening of the immune system in dogs:
Commercially bred dogs tend to have health problems, as they are often subjected to poor nutrition, lack of proper bonding, and even inbreeding. However, even properly bred dogs can have predispositions to certain diseases and conditions. Become knowledgeable about such tendencies in your dog’s breed (if known) and see a holistic veterinarian for annual wellness checkups – not just when your dog is sick. You’ll have much greater success in treating any potential problems if you catch them early.
Diet & Nutrition
No discussion about immunity and health is complete without stressing the critical importance of a high-quality diet. I’m a proponent of raw and/or home-cooked diets for dogs and cats, but there are many good commercial foods to choose from these days. Regardless of what type of food you select, get the best you can afford (preferably containing NO byproducts, corn, soy, or wheat)and offer a variety of foods.
There is no one “best” food for every animal, so if your dogs don’t do well on one type of diet or food, gradually switch them to another. You can boost the nutritional value of a commercial kibble or canned food diet by adding fresh food and a digestive enzyme/probiotic supplement. A high percentage of immune system activity takes place in the gastrointestinal tract, so keeping the gut healthy will help ensure a healthy dog. A whole food vitamin and mineral supplement is also advised if you feed your dog a commercial food.
Medications & Vaccinations
The subject of vaccinations is controversial and would require an article unto itself . However, I strongly encourage every Bay Woof reader to learn the pros and cons of vaccinating beyond the “core” vaccines such as Parvo, Distemper, and Rabies (the latter is required by law once every three years in California) and before getting annual boosters. There is much evidence of the negative effects of over vaccination.
Other medications, such as antibiotics and steroids, are necessary and even life-saving in some situations, but their overuse can suppress the immune system. Holistic veterinarians that use an integrative approach to maintain canine health understand that when using these powerful medications there must be simultaneous support of the immune system to mitigate their potentially serious side effects.
All of us, humans and dogs alike, are exposed every day to a massive number of toxins. Our animals are regularly exposed to pesticides, herbicides (sprayed at Pt. Isabel last year!), flea and tick medications, and water and air pollution.
You may not be able to control what your dog encounters in public spaces, but whenever possible use only natural, non-toxic products on or near your house and pets. Fortunately, there are plenty of safe and effective options on the market.
Dogs are social and emotional creatures who need daily interaction, exercise, and play for good health and longevity. Being left alone for extended periods of time, illness, moving, divorce, new babies of the human or furry kind – all of these factors can have both physical and mental/emotional health impacts. Flower essences and Comfort Zone pheromones (plug-in or spray) can work really well in these situations.
I have found the following immune-support products especially useful when help is needed. Of course, as with any supplements, please consult your veterinarian before using them on your dog.
Whole food and glandular supplements
These are easy to assimilate and gently balance the immune system, whether it is overactive (as with auto-immune disorders) or underactive.
Transfer factors are tiny molecules found in colostrum (the mother’s first milk after giving birth) that provide “immune knowledge” from a mother’s immune system to her baby, used in recognizing and fighting outside threats. By transferring information from cell to cell, transfer factors serve as “teachers” to the new cells, ensuring a strong immune system capable of surviving, and even thriving, in its new environment. Transfer factors are not species-specific and can therefore be extracted from any mammal and given to another mammal with the same efficacy.
Omega 3 Fish Oil
When added to the daily diet, Omega 3 fatty acids help support the immune system, reduce inflammation (a precursor to many diseases), support the heart and kidneys, and prevent tumor formation.
A common cause of inflammation for all cells, tissues, and organs is the formation of free radicals. These are generated as part of the body’s natural detoxification process; however, excessive free radicals, created when the body is exposed to environmental toxins, deplete the body’s reserves of antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E. Supplementing with these and other antioxidants during time of stress can prevent inflammation and the resulting damage to tissues and organs that occurs when free radicals are left unchecked.
Homeopathy is a gentle healing modality for both acute and chronic disease conditions. It works by stimulating the body’s innate healing ability. Consult your local homeopath or holistic veterinarian for more information.