Diet and a Healthy Immune System in Dogs
The immune system is perhaps more closely related to nutrition than any other system in the body.
It is composed of a dynamic collection of cells and proteins which combat infection, clean up dead or damaged cells, preventing disease, but with so many important functions, the immune system is a very energy-expensive machine to run. Like all mammals, dogs get their energy solely from the foods they eat. Therefore, proper nutrition is vital to maintaining a dog's immune system.
Maintaining the Digestive Tract
But before we get into details of the canine diet we need to address that which is responsible for processing food: the digestive tract.
A dog's digestive tract can become weakened from the inflammation caused by infection. Things like irritable bowel syndrome,allergies, or other digestive disorders can prevent the canine digestive system from functioning efficiently.
Dogs need digestive enzymes, probiotics (helpful bacteria within the intestines), and fatty acids to keep their digestive tract running smoothly.
Try: Fish Oil, Lightly Cooked Fruits or Vegetables, Greens, Eggs, Green Tea
So to get to the nitty-gritty of nutrition and immune function, let's talk about antioxidants.
You've probably heard about them, how they neutralize harmful free radicals and can be found in colorful fruits and vegetables like carrots and blueberries. Free radicals are produced naturally by the body during the process of aerobic metabolism. Diets that contain low amounts of antioxidants allow free radicals to become too populous, causing them to damage cell membranes. Immune cell membranes are particularly susceptible to free radicals as they are higher in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are more easily damaged.
With a proper diet, free radicals can be effectively neutralized. To make sure your dog is getting enough of the antioxidants it needs for healthy immune function, look for foods that contain Vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein.
Adequate protein in the canine diet is also important for its immune function.
The antibodies which are required to fight off infection are made entirely of protein. Dogs deficient in protein exhibit coarse and dull coats, are more susceptible to infection, and have more difficultly recovering from injury or trauma.
Make sure your dog's diet consists of at least 20-25% protein.
The word fat has some unreasonable negative connotations. High fat diets may not be healthy for dogs, but they certainly need some fat. Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly helpful for canine immune function; they reduce painful inflammation by preventing excessive cytokine production. Inflammation can take resources away from other parts of the immune system, leaving pets less capable of fighting off infection.
Symptoms of Weakened Immune System in Dogs
If a dog has been dealing with:
- Skin infections
- Parasitic infections
- A coarse, dull coat
- Trouble getting over illness
...chances are its immune system isn't getting the nutrition it needs.
Foods For Immunity
For more ideas on health additions to your dogs diet, read trainer Victoria Swanson's blog "Human Foods that are OK for Your Dog"