The Importance of The Immune System for Dog Health
What is Your Dog’s Immune System?
Your dog’s immune system is a highly complex organisation of specialised cells and organs whose role is to defend their body against viruses, toxins, bacteria, parasites and any other foreign body that might invade their body.
If your dog has a healthy and resilient immune system that is effectively supported, they’re significantly less likely to fall ill. The importance of a balanced, functional immune system cannot be overstated. It’s one of the foundations of good health, together with complete and balanced nutrition and a strong and robust musculoskeletal frame and organs.
Maintaining a healthy immune system also helps reduce the risk for chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a vital part of a well-functioning immune system, for example a cut that is infected usually results in swelling in the area which is symptomatic of your dog’s immune cells fighting the infection.
However persistent inflammation, known as chronic inflammation, puts your dog at risk of a variety of diseases including diabetes, osteoarthritis, liver and heart conditions, asthma, and cancers.
As Dr. Donna Raditic, an American College of Veterinary Nutrition (ACVN) diplomate, explains “When other cells are aging or functioning abnormally—such as a cancer cell reproducing too rapidly—the immune system attempts to step in and maintain proper physiological function and balance,”
Stress and anxiety can also have a profound effect on your dog’s healthy immune function.
Stress caused by separation anxiety, travel, loud and unexpected noises, exposure to other dogs, and an unfamiliar environment can all contribute to gastrointestinal (GI) upset.
When your dog is stressed, their body releases cortisol, a hormone that helps the body respond to a stressor or to certain stressful events. Cortisol also helps regulate proper body weight, tissue structure, skin condition, and other features of good health. However, too much cortisol weakens the immune system. The end result? Your dog will be unable to fight off diseases and infections properly, putting them at greater risk.
How Can You Improve Your Dog’s Immune System?
Happily, there are steps you can take to improve your dog’s immunity and the health and resilience of their overall immune system.
As with humans, obesity is a significant contributor to a dog’s compromised immunity and an immune system that functions less effectively than it should.
Excess body fat, particularly abdominal fat, triggers the production of ‘pro-inflammatory’ immune cells which circulate in the blood and can damage our bodies. In addition, other inflammatory immune cells, known as macrophages, are also activated within fat tissue.
As Dr. Ken Tudor, a holistic veterinarian, explains “Fat is the body’s largest endocrine gland, responsible for secreting more than 40 different inflammation-promoting hormones,” and “Even the smallest amount of excess fat can increase the amount of these hormones in the body.”
Keeping your dog fit, and their weight under control, is one of the best things you can do for your dog’s health, happiness and longevity.
‘We are what we eat’, and the same is true for our dogs.
Your dog’s diet is the foundation of good immune health.
As Dr. Susan Wynn, an ACVN diplomate, explains “The gut contains about 70 percent of your dog’s 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.”
The problem with many dog foods is they contain high levels of starches that are not complex carbohydrates.
Dr. Laurie Coger, a holistic veterinarian, opines that the problem with starches is that they promote inflammation. In her experience, vegetable and legume starches, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, peas and lentils, are not as acidifying and inflammatory as starchy grains like corn, wheat and rice.
According to Dr. Wynne consuming a good level of fibre as part of their diet plays an important role in your dog maintaining a healthy microbiome which in turn has a significant impact on your dog’s overall immunity and immune health.
In addition to complex carbohydrates and fibre, there are a number of ingredients which play a key role in strengthening your dog’s immune system.
Probiotics are considered highly beneficial for your dog’s immune health and resilience as they introduce beneficial microorganisms into their digestive tract. As Dr. Tudor explains, “Healthy gut flora promotes improved gut immunity, which has shown to promote improved internal immunity.”
Omega-3 fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory properties making them very beneficial for your dog’s immune system and overall health and wellbeing.
A key ingredient, Omega-3 and EHA and DPA in particular, which are derived from oily fish, krill or seaweed and algae.
It is important to maintain a healthy Omega-6 : Omega-3 balance. This balance should be close to 1:1 and preferably below 2:1. A balance that exceed 4:1 is likely to be pro-inflammatory and detrimental to your dog’s immune health.
There are a number of herbs, botanicals and adaptogens that are highly beneficial for your dog’s immune health.
The most clinically researched, and recommended, adaptogens for improving the immune system include Ashwagandha, Turmeric, Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero), Cordyceps, Reishi Mushroom, Holy basil and Panax Ginseng.
Herbs and spices that have a positive effect on both your immune system and your dog’s, include ginger, cinnamon, fennel, cardamom, rosemary, dill and allspice.
Herbs that help to calm your dog’s anxiety and reduce stress include chamomile, valerian, passionflower, and St. John’s wort.
Adaptogens play a very important role in reducing not only physical stress but also mental stress. The best adaptogens for stress control and relief include Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, Schisandra, Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero) and Holy basil.
A relatively recent, but increasingly well understood and important aspect of health is Immunonutrition. Immunonutrition refers to macronutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and trace elements that support the immune system through their effects on inflammatory processes, the action of white blood cells, the production of antibodies, and disease resistance.
Antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients play an important role not just in your dog’s overall health but also in the health of their immune system.
Bonza’s plant-based, vegan dog food contains a host of complex carbohydrates, soluble and insoluble fibres and PhytoPlus®, a proprietary blend of herbs, adaptogens and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients designed to reduce stress and anxiety and inflammation and enhance your dog’s immune system, providing the natural immune resilience they need to maintain optimum health and wellbeing throughout their life.
Bonza – Nose-to-Tail Good Health.