The Dog Immune System: How a Strong Immune System Can Help Your Pet Live Longer
With their comforting companionship and loyalty, our dogs become so close to us that you see them as part of your family. And just like any member of your family (hopefully), you want your pet dog to be healthy and live as long as possible.
A critical aspect of helping your best canine buddy stay happy and healthy is making sure they have a strong immune system. This is particularly important because dogs regularly encounter pesticides, viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi and a whole host of things that can wreak havoc on their immune systems and put them at risk of getting sick. Did you know there are ways to boost a dog’s immune system?
Read on for tips on how to help your dog live longer.
A Brief Overview of the Immune System
Just like us humans, a healthy dog immune system is constantly monitoring its body’s cells in order to identify potentially harmful pathogens and try to eliminate them before they strike.
Whenever the immune system senses that a cell isn’t functioning properly, it will, much like a free safety in football, rush over to the cell to provide damage control relief. And when your dog’s immune system is out of sync for an extended period of time, it leaves its body vulnerable to chronic inflammation, which paves the way for disease.
Thankfully, there are measures you can take, some natural, others courtesy of modern medicine, that will protect your dog’s immune system from allowing chronic inflammation to occur.
Make Sure Your Dog Eats Clean
As is the case with human beings, the top factor in your dog’s ability to maintain a healthy body is what it’s putting into its body. In addition to housing the majority of the immune system, your dog’s gut also contains good, healthy bacteria. These bacteria nurture your digestive system when it’s spurred by free fatty acids, the product of healthy eating.
To ensure that the good bacteria in your dog’s stomach is outweighing the bad bacteria, feed your dog pet food that features a healthy balance of:
- Quality Protein – Protein performs several indispensable functions for your dog’s body, such as building and repair muscles and cartilage, promoting the health of your dog’s bones, skin and blood, and generating enzymes, hormones, and other necessary bodily chemicals.
- Carbohydrates – A healthy dose of carbohydrates provides your dog with readily available energy, healthy fiber, and strengthens its digestive system.
- Fats – Healthy dietary fats are important to the diet and produce fatty acids essential to healthy digestion.
- Pet Foods with Prebiotic Fibers– New science shows that gut health is the key to immunity and to enhance the immune system. Look for a pet food designed with gut health in mind. A blend of prebiotic fiber will actually strengthen the gut and the dogs immune system.
- Mix it Up! – It’s OK for your dog to eat either dry and canned food but generally dry kibble is ideal as the primary food source, with canned (wet) food as a topper for kibble or a treat.
Always review the feeding guidelines on the pet food label, use this as a guide depending on factors such as your dog’s age, breed, weight, age or special health conditions (pregnant/nursing etc). Consult your veterinarian for questions relating to other health conditions.
Encourage Your Dog to Play!
When the body doesn’t get regular exercise, aside from muscles losing tone, it also causes fat to store up. Excess weight can be a drain on the body’s ability to maintain a healthy immune system. As the body’s largest endocrine gland, fat secretes more than 40 hormones that promote inflammation, so even the smallest amount of excess fat can be devastating to the health and well-being of the immune system.
Thankfully, most breeds of dogs instinctively love to be on the move, which helps them burn fat. But it’s up to you to make “exercise time” a priority each day. In addition to taking your dog for routine walks, try different physical activities like:
- Playing fetch with a ball or frisbee
- Bringing your dog to a local park to play with other dogs
- Teaching your dog scent work (i.e. detecting a particular scent and indicating to you when they locate it)
- Doing an exercise program with your dog (are you seeing a pattern here?) to suit your dog’s age and breed
Get Your Dog Vaccinated
To stop a virus or infection from entering your dog’s body before it even happens vaccines are available from your veterinarian. Be sure your dog has annual vet check ups so any necessary vaccines are given on schedule.
Over the better part of a century, vaccines have played a monumental role in saving human and canine lives by stimulating the immune system so that the body can fight off health challenges.
Natural Medicine Options
In addition to vaccines, there are a variety of low-cost holistic options, each with a unique function that can boost your dog’s immune system by:
- Stimulating and strengthening it
- Fighting infection
- Enveloping harmful microorganisms in order to strengthen muscle tissues
- Increasing the production of cells that expedite immune response
If your regular veterinarian does not offer these options, a holistic veterinarian may provide a variety of alternatives to consider. It may be necessary to maintain regular visits to your regular veterinarian in addition to a holistic vet, but the combination may provide you with a variety of options to consider.
Keeping Your Dog’s Environment Clean
Between natural and medicinal healing, there are several ways to approach keeping infections and disease from harming your dog’s body. Boosting a pet immune system is also a matter of taking active measures to minimize viruses and bacteria from encroaching upon your dog’s surroundings as well.
The most effective ways to keep both your dog and its environment clean include:
- Maintain Dog Hygiene – Bathe or have your dog groomed regularly. Make it a habit to wash bedding on a regular basis to keep potential germs and bacteria from gathering. You might consider wiping their paws when they come back inside after potty breaks. Pet wipes or a damp hand towel will do wonders to remove any obvious mud, dirt or other things you’d rather not have around the house.
- A Clean & Healthy Home- Remember that your dog is low to the floor, breathing in everything that settles to the floor (dust, dirt, and worse). Be considerate of your pet’s health, so wash floors and vacuum carpets regularly. Would you want to lay on your floor, and put your face and mouth on your floors everyday?
- Keep the Yard Clean – Make sure to dispose of poop immediately to prevent your dog’s exposure to it. As you can imagine, waste is full of bacteria, and the moment it is on the ground, pests/flies/worms are present, and this can all be highly toxic if your pet steps in it, and later licks their paws to groom themselves. Picking up after your dog is an essential responsibility as a pet owner. For those urine spots or marking other than on grass, rinse down those spots in the yard regularly. Urine stains can also generate bacteria so minimize the build up with your garden hose.
- Try to Keep Your Dog’s Nose Clean – Since dogs use their noses to check things out, they can expose themselves to some dirty stuff (trash bins, soiled areas of the grass from other dogs, etc). Try to keep your dog away from unhygienic environments like this as much as possible, and when your dog comes back inside, don’t be afraid to wipe their nose with a damp towel or appropriate pet wipe.
No one likes to imagine the horrible thought of their furry best friend getting sick from a virus or infection. But it’s smart to take preventative measures, especially when there are so many available today. Your dog’s immune system does an important job 24/7 so help it stay strong and healthy.
Try each of the above tips to help maintain your dog’s immune system, and potentially, add years to their life.
1) “Natural Ways to Improve Your Dog’s Immune System” by Paula Fitzsimmons
2) “10 Ways to Boost Your Dog’s Immune System” by Dana Scott
3) “How to Prevent Your Dog from Getting Viruses” by Editorial Staff at Wag!