Healthy immunity is one of the foundations of wellness for your dog or cat. Here are the ten best ways you can naturally support his immune system.
You probably know that the immune system is responsible for protecting your dog or cat’s body (and your own!) from infections. But it does much more than that. The immune system also regulates inflammation (the source of all chronic disease), suppresses cancer cells, and helps identify and rid the body of chemicals, toxins, germs, etc. Clearly, a healthy immune system is paramount for optimal well-being, so it’s important to make immune care a big part of your dog or cat’s wellness regimen. This article highlights ten ways to naturally support your dog or cat’s immune system so that he stays as strong and healthy as possible.
Healthy immunity starts in the gut
What you may not know is that your dog or cat’s capacity for a healthy immune system actually starts in his gastrointestinal tract. In fact, it is estimated that the majority of the immune system is based in the gut! This means your dog or cat will be heartier, healthier, and more resilient to all kinds of diseases if he has a healthy gut. This ground zero immune function relies significantly on two very important factors (see sidebar below).
With this knowledge, it is easy to understand that protecting and/or healing your dog or cat’s gut is a powerfully proactive way to keep him healthier and less likely to develop infections or diseases, and to improve his vitality and longevity.
Top 10 recommendations for supporting immune health
Using a functional medicine approach (see sidebar), we can now look at specific methods and tools to support your dog or cat’s gut health, and thereby optimize his immune health. Another important goal is to minimize his exposure to the common offenders that can suppress immune system function, such as toxins in food and water, excessive vaccines, and overuse of prescription medications.
- Feed your dog or cat a balanced, fresh, or low-processed diet that contains species-appropriate ingredients. Heavily-processed foods that contain high carbohydrate percentages (i.e. most commercial pet foods) alter the gut microbiome and cause inflammation, which can lead to leaky gut syndrome, digestive problems, immune system compromise, etc. Processed pet foods also contain a lot of additives and preservatives, in addition to the glyphosates/herbicides used in growing the ingredients.
- Provide a trace mineral supplement, such as in the form of kelp or seaweed powder. Trace minerals are typically deficient in all diets, yet are strategically important in immune health, endocrine health, digestion, and all organ system function. This group of minerals includes magnesium, selenium, zinc, potassium, and iodine.
- Give a daily serving of fermented foods to your animal. Fermented foods can out-perform many probiotics by naturally providing a wide diversity of beneficial bacteria/microbes, digestive enzymes, minerals, etc. This promotes healthy digestion and a healthy intestinal environment. Fermented food options for dogs and cats include kefir/raw fermented dairy, small quantities of fermented veggies, fermented fish stock, etc.
- Add a digestive enzyme supplement to his meals every day. The ancestral diets of dogs and cats were not cooked, especially not at the high temperatures used in modern-day commercial pet food processing. Enzymes are destroyed at temperatures above 115°F. Adding digestive enzymes to your animal’s meals can support improved digestion and gut health.
- Provide colostrum as a daily supplement. Bovine colostrum is a natural and powerful healing food for your animal’s gut and entire body. It provides immune factors necessary to protect and rebuild the gut lining and immune system. This special food also provides growth factors for the repair and healing of the body. Consider using a liposomal form of colostrum, which allows for optimal delivery and absorption of these specialized nutrients in the gut.
- Add a daily medicinal mushroom supplement to your animal’s food. Mushrooms such as Reishi, Shitake, Maitake, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail, and Lion’s Mane qualify as “superfood” supplements, as they provide numerous health benefits. They are most recognized for immune modulation and anti-cancer properties, but also provide minerals, antioxidants, prebiotic fibers, and vitamin D.
- Add a clinoptilolite powder supplement to your dog or cat’s food once a day. Clinoptilolite is a type of zeolite, special mineral substances derived from the volcanic ash layer of the earth. Zeolites have a powerful adsorbent capacity within their molecular structure that traps and safely removes toxins, chemicals, and heavy metals from the body. Zeolites also help repair the gut and have immune support benefits too, including antiviral and anticancer properties. Additionally, clinoptilolite has no flavor, and is readily accepted by dogs and cats when mixed into their food.
- Minimize ingestion and exposure to toxins. Offer purified versus tap water. Don’t spray your lawn or yards with pesticides. Limit the use of flea products and other chemicals as much as possible. Toxins can cause significant damage to your dog or cat’s gut (and the rest of his body), leading to leaky gut syndrome, immune challenges, and numerous other health issues.
- Avoid over-vaccination. Excess vaccines can compromise the immune system. Additionally, vaccines contain adjuvants, components made of heavy metals or other toxic chemicals. Discuss best vaccination practices for your dog or cat with an integrative or holistic veterinarian, considering age, lifestyle, geographical location, etc. Opt for titer testing in lieu of vaccination, whenever possible. Use homeopathic detox options after vaccinations, such as Thuja or Lyssinum.
- Avoid overuse of medications, such as antibiotics, antacids, and pain meds. Work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian to choose natural alternatives whenever possible, such as herbal formulas, homeopathic remedies, food-based supplements, etc.
Dr. Katie Kangas owns and operates Integrative Veterinary Care in San Diego, California. She achieved her CVA certification at the Chi Institute in 2008, and followed with additional training in Advanced Acupuncture, Food Therapy, Herbal Medicine and Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation (VOM). Her areas of interest include nutrition, dental health, and pain management. Dr. Kangas also lectures and writes and has worked as a shelter veterinarian for more than 15 years. She currently works part-time for the San Diego County Department of Animal Services, and previously served as full-time medical director for the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA.