Easy ways to boost your dog’s immunity

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Louise Hawkins
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We all feel the pinch of the cooler months. When the days get shorter and the breeze bites harder, we know it’s time to stock up on cold remedies and tissues. Does your pupper feel the change of season too?

In this article, we share the main ways to strengthen your pup’s immune system. These tips will safeguard your dog from ailments in winter, whether it’s kennel cough, parasites or skin infections.

First, let’s explore your dog’s immune defence system

Like humans, dogs have three lines of immune defence. These defend against unwelcome pathogens, playing a vital role in protecting your pup from illness.

1. Physical barrier

Your dog’s physical external barrier includes their fur, skin, nails and natural bodily secretions such as:

  • Saliva contains enzymes and antimicrobial substances, that clean the area when your dog licks their wounds.

  • Tears to wash away debris and pathogens, produced by the glands in your pup’s eyes. To protect their eyes from infection, tears contain an antimicrobial enzyme known as lysozyme.

  • Sebum, the oily substance created by their skin. This helps to retain moisture and hydration, acting as a chemical barrier against unwelcome microorganisms.

Your dog also has internal barriers that contribute to their immune defence. In the digestive, urinary, reproductive and respiratory tract, mucus linings trap pathogens for removal — before they can enter deeper tissues.

Beneficial bacteria in the gut (or microbiota) create a competitive environment for pathogens, to enhance your dog’s immune response.

2. Non-specific immune response

This is the body’s innate immunity — this just means it’s present at birth. When your dog experiences inflammation, the body sends white blood cells to destroy and remove any pathogens or damaged cells.

3. Specific immune response

Throughout their life, your dog will become exposed to antigens through infection or vaccination. The immune system learns how to respond to these threats, so it can mount a quicker and more effective response to the same or similar antigens in future. This is called adaptive immunity.

The best solution to any pathogen is prevention rather than cure. This is why it is crucial for your pup to develop a robust immune system early on. Diseases like Kennel Cough are highly contagious and tend to impact puppies with immature immune systems or immunocompromised dogs.

Common signs of an immune response

Dogs often hide signs of illness as a survival tactic, inherited from their wild ancestors. This can make it difficult to identify an infection.

If you notice your dog is not quite themselves, here’s what it could mean. Always speak to your vet if you’re concerned about your pup’s health.

Seasonal changes

Damp environments and lower temperatures can provide favourable conditions for viruses. Cold, dry air can also lead to a dry nose and an irritated respiratory system, making them less effective barriers against pathogens. Decreased exercise and less exposure to sunlight can also weaken your dog’s immune system in winter.

Common signs may include: lack of interest in food, lethargy, sneezing, runny nose, wheezing, diarrhoea, vomiting, and eye discharge.

Allergens

An environmental allergy is an immune response to one or more of the following factors: food, parasites or insect bites, inhaled allergens (e.g. pollen), contact allergies, or pharmaceutical triggers.

Common signs may include: acute or chronic itching, inflammation, hives, eye discharge, ear infections, and incessant rubbing, licking, biting or gnawing irritated areas.

Diet and dietary indiscretion

Dietary indiscretion is when dogs eat things they shouldn’t, like scraps from the bin or discarded food from the park. These can contain pathogens.

A poor quality diet of predominantly processed food can also trigger inflammation, leading to illnesses like pancreatitis or autoimmune diseases.
Common signs may include: lack of interest in food, lethargy, diarrhoea, vomiting, flatulence, dehydration, and stomach pain.

Inflammation

Inflammation can be caused by injury, infection, environmental toxins or allergens.

Common signs may include: localised swelling, redness, heat and pain. Dogs often lick painful inflammation to promote blood flow and healing, which can lead to secondary skin issues.

Bacterial, viral or fungal infections

Pathogens can be transmitted from other dogs, or may come from their environment. Zoonotic diseases, like giardia, salmonellosis and ringworm can be transmitted between humans and dogs.

Common signs may include: high temperature, lack of interest in food, vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, coughing, runny nose, itchiness, ear infections, skin lesions, and dry and crusty skin.

Parasites

All parasites need a host to survive. They can infect dogs either externally and internally.

External parasites include fleas, mites, lice and ticks.

Common signs may include: itchy, swollen, red bumps; scaly skin; ear infections with brown discharge; dandruff. Paralysis ticks can cause a change in bark and vocalisation, a reduced gag reflex and paralysis.

Internal parasites include worms and microscopic protozoa like giardia.

Common signs may include: vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of interest in food, lethargy, coughing, weight loss.

So, how can you keep your dog’s immunity strong?

Maintain an ideal weight

While it can be challenging to keep your dog at an ideal weight (especially if they love a few extra treats), excess weight puts more stress on the immune system.

It’s important to know what your dog’s ideal weight is – this will depend on their body shape, age and breed. You can assess your pup’s body shape using our helpful guide or speak to your vet for specific recommendations based on their health records.

Portion control is the easiest way to ensure your dog is chowing down on the correct number of calories per day.

Stay calm and stress-free

Stress can be a major contributor to a weakened immune system, as well as impacting your pup’s emotional wellbeing.

Just like humans, dogs release cortisol when they’re in a stressful situation. If this hormone is released excessively, it can weaken their immune system. Playtime, regular affection, a healthy diet and a good sleep will all assist in keeping your dog happy and stress-free.

Look for a diet that includes high-quality turkey — a natural source of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps to promote a calm sense of wellbeing.

Keeping fit

Keeping your pup fit has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to build and maintain a strong immunity. Active dogs have a stronger immune system than sedentary dogs, so at least thirty minutes of daily exercise is a good goal. Plus, it’s good for us humans, too!

Vaccinations

Preventive care is an important part of responsible dog ownership. Vaccines can be an effective method of protection for immunocompromised or underdeveloped dogs against serious illnesses like parvovirus, canine distemper and canine adenovirus.

For healthy, vaccinated adult dogs, we suggest an annual titer test to measure the levels of antibodies in their blood to ensure they’re still protected. Your vet can recommend what’s best for your dog based on their health and lifestyle.

Can you boost a dog’s immune system with food?

Yes, you can! Did you know that the gut contains about 70% of the key markers for a pup’s immune system? This means that maintaining good bacterial balance in their gut microbiome through diet and nutrition is vital in maintaining a healthy immune system.

How do antioxidants boost your dog’s immune system?

Oxidised molecules are also known as free radicals. They are unstable atoms that don’t have a full complement of electrons, so they ‘steal’ electrons from other molecules, affecting their structure and function.

Antioxidants can help by donating additional electrons without becoming unstable themselves, keeping the number of free radicals in check. When free radicals are in the right proportions, they can help to fight off pathogens. However, when there is an imbalance, free radicals can damage cells and DNA, in a process called oxidative stress, leading to disease and possibly cancer.

The cells in your dog’s body create some antioxidants as part of their natural defence system, but other antioxidants must be supplied by a nutritious diet.

An autoimmune disease can be triggered by an overactive immune system that attacks the body, rather than defending it. Canine autoimmune diseases include hypothyroidism, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

An underactive immune system provides an ineffective defence against illness, making pups prone to regular and repeated illnesses. This is why a strong and balanced immune system relies on a nutritious diet bursting with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents.

Antioxidant powerhouses to look out for include:

Vitamin E

Comes from: spinach, broccoli, butternut squash, kale, purple sweet potato

Good for: protecting against oxidative damage and essential for cell function.

Vitamin C

Comes from: cauliflower, blueberries, basil and bok choy. Dogs can synthesise this vitamin in their bodies, but some dogs with an imbalanced microbiome might not be able to manufacture adequate amounts.

Good for: reducing inflammation and ageing by decreasing the number of free radicals.

Beta-Carotene

Comes from: carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, spinach, kale

Good for: building a strong immune system as an antioxidant and as a precursor of vitamin A, to help fight disease and infection. Dogs are unable to produce this powerful vitamin, so it is vital that they get it from their diet.

Omega 3’s

Comes from: fish, eggs, spirulina, fish oil, flaxseed oil

Good for: its strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help with skin and joints, while building immunity against common illnesses and cancer.

Dietary supplements

In addition to a complete and balanced diet, probiotic supplements are an effective way to support the growth of good bacteria in your dog’s gut to boost their immune health.

Lyka’s range of Pupper Supps offers targeted and preventive health benefits. In particular, our Mind-Body Multi focuses on building gut health to improve immunity. Our Go-To Gut Helper is a multi-strain probiotic designed to support digestive health by promoting a robust and diverse microbiome.

Lyka: the vital piece in the immunity puzzle

At Lyka, we know that your dog’s robust immune system depends on feeding them a highly nutritious diet. Our vet-formulated recipes are designed to boost their microbiome, strengthen their coat and skin, and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Each meal is complete and balanced for all life stages and delivered in personalised portions for your pupper.

Join our pack to boost your dog’s immunity the natural way.

This article was reviewed by Lyka's veterinary and nutrition experts

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