Tips to Boost Dog’s Immune System
Your dog is your best friend, so naturally, you want him to live his best life. Like us humans, our canine friends can get sick. Taking steps to help support and improve your dog’s immune system can keep him healthy and live a long, happy life by your side.
What You Need to Know About Dog Immune Health
A dog’s immune system works similarly to ours. When something foreign invades their bodies, like an illness, it triggers inflammation and white blood cells rush in to remove damaged cells and kill the pathogen.
Dogs also have specific immunity. Once they’re exposed to an antigen once, through a vaccine or naturally, their immune system remembers how to attack and defeat it.
While we have similar immune systems to our canine friends, we do have one big advantage: hygiene.
Dogs don’t wash their paws (usually) or bathe regularly to wash away germs. Worst of all, dogs are masters of hiding illness. Experts believe their illness hiding is a survival tactic. In the wild, dogs would be at a big disadvantage if predators knew they were sick.
Keeping your dog’s immune system strong and healthy will help your furry friend fight off pathogens. But how do you boost a dog immune system?
How to Boost Your Dog’s Immune System Naturally
There are many things you can do to help boost your dog immune system naturally – starting today. Here’s how:
Keep Your Pup Active
Exercise is important for dogs, too. A game of fetch or a walk in the park will do both you and your dog some good. Just like with humans, exercise releases endorphins in dogs and helps ease stress. Physical activity also helps stimulate your pup’s lymphatic system, making it easier to filter out toxins.
Your dog doesn’t have to run a marathon to enjoy the immune-boosting effects of exercise. Daily walks are a great way to get your dog the exercise he needs to stay healthy.
As a general rule of thumb, dogs need 30 minutes to 2 hours of exercise each day, depending on their size. For toy breeds, three walks totaling 30-40 minutes daily is likely enough exercise. For most dogs, however, it’s best to aim for an hour a day.
Feed Them a Healthy Diet
Nearly 70% of the dog immune system is located in their guts, so it’s important to feed your dog a healthy, balanced diet.
Just like us humans, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for canine nutrition. Commercial foods can provide the right balance of nutrients your pup needs, but talk to your vet about your dog’s diet. Your vet can provide some guidelines that will help you choose the best food for your pup.
There’s just as much misinformation out there about canine nutrition as there is human nutrition, and your vet can help clear things up.
As your dog ages, their nutritional needs change, too. Senior dogs need more key nutrients as they age, so be sure that you’re feeding your dog a diet that’s properly balanced for their age.
Along with feeding your dog a healthy diet, it’s essential to make sure that you get the portions right.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
The right balance of nutrients can help keep a dog immune system strong, but it’s just as important to make sure that your pup is a healthy weight. Portion size is crucial.
Make sure that you’re following the portion recommendations on your dog’s food container or from your veterinarian. Whether you choose to free-feed or feed your dog at certain times of the day, portion control will help keep your dog at a healthy weight.
Overweight dogs are at higher risk of obesity and even diabetes, but that excess weight also takes a toll on their immune system. The higher a dog’s weight, the harder its immune system has to work.
If your dog is slightly overweight, your vet can help you develop a diet and exercise plan that will get him back on the right track.
Massage Your Dog
One simple way to boost your dog’s immune system is massage. A quick, gentle massage will help stimulate your dog’s lymphatic system, helping eliminate toxins more efficiently. It’s a great way to spend quality time together and bond with your dog.
Along with helping your companion’s immune system, massage can also help:
- Improve circulation
- Ease anxiety and depression
- Help with pain relief
- Improve joint flexibility
Not sure how to massage your dog? Check out this video from American Animal Hospital Association for some tips.
The dog immune system is primarily in the gut, so taking steps to improve their gut health makes sense. Probiotics can help.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help crowd out the bad, pathogenic bacteria. Some types of probiotics help create a mucosal layer in the gut, which keeps bacteria out of the intestines.
You can find probiotic supplements made specifically for dogs. Ask your vet for recommendations on supplements and whether your dog can benefit from probiotics.
Keep Your Pup Hydrated
Hydration is also important for a dog immune system. Make sure that your canine friend always has access to fresh, clean water.
Ideally, dogs should drink about once of water per pound of body weight per day. Make sure that you clean your dog’s water bowl each day to keep it free of germs.
Ditch the Stress
Stress can take a toll on your pup’s immune system. When your furry friend gets stressed out, his body releases cortisol. Cortisol is great at fighting stress, but it can also weaken the immune system if your pup’s stress levels are always elevated.
Just like us, some dogs get anxious when they hear loud noises, see other dogs or find themselves in crowded places.
How can you tell if your dog is stressed? Here’s what to look for:
- Barking and whining
- Changes in body posture (tail tucking, rigid body, etc.)
- Dilated pupils and opening their eyes really wide
- Ears pinned back against the head
- Excessive panting
- Drooling, yawning or licking
If you notice that your dog is exhibiting stressful behavior in certain situations, do your best to avoid them.
If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, try making sure that your dog is physically exhausted before the event.
Some natural herbs can also help ease anxiety and stress in dogs, including:
- John’s Wort
You can find natural calming supplements specifically designed for dogs. However, it’s important to consult with your vet before giving your pup any herbs or supplements made for human consumption just to make sure it’s safe.
Give Immune-Boosting Foods as Treats
Nutrition plays a big role in immune system health. Along with feeding your dog a healthy diet, you can also give immune-boosting foods as occasional treats.
Some of the best foods for immune support include:
- They’re high in vitamin C and also an excellent source of magnesium, potassium and fiber.
- They’re low in calories but high in fiber, antioxidants and vitamins K and C.
- They’re a great source of vitamin A, potassium and fiber. Serve them raw as a crunchy treat or cooked. Be sure to chop this vegetable into small pieces before feeding.
- They’re a great source of fiber, potassium, iron and vitamins A and C. Make sure you’re serving plain pumpkin with no added sugars or spices.
Be sure to feed these foods in small amounts as an occasional treat.
Natural supplements can also help promote immune health for adult dogs of all ages. They contain immune-supporting ingredients like:
- Vitamin C
- Mushrooms, like Reishi, maitake and shiitake
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Coenzyme Q10
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Some supplements also contain digestive enzymes and other ingredients that support gut health. Remember that a healthy gut is important for a healthy immune system in dogs.
You can find supplements in chew and capsule form. Check with your vet before giving your pet any kind of supplement.
Keep Toys and Bowls Clean
Every day, your pup eats and drinks out of the same bowls and plays with the same toys. Dogs don’t wash their paws or snouts, and they explore the world with their noses and mouths. Their bowls and toys can easily become breeding grounds for bacteria.
Make sure that you clean their toys, food scoopers and bowls (food and water) every day to keep pathogens at bay. If you can’t clean your dog’s toys daily, aim for a weekly cleaning.
- Wash soft toys in the washing machine with natural and fragrance-free laundry detergent.
- Wash hard toys with warm soap and water or in the dishwasher.
Toss any toys that are beyond help. These are the toys that are ripped and heavily stained.
Proper care can help your dog live a long, healthy and happy life. Giving your dog what he needs – a balanced diet and lots of exercise – can go a long way in keeping him healthy. Supplements, massages and regular cleaning of his bowls and toys will go the extra mile in keeping your pup’s immune system in tip-top shape.