Building your dog’s immunity isn’t merely about dodging diseases. It’s about providing them with the armor they need to protect their bodies and thrive. But how do you go about bolstering your dog’s immune system? I’m here to peel back the layers of this intricate defense network and unveil strategies to keep it robust and resilient. I’ll explain this in a way that is easy to digest.
Boosting Your Dog’s Bodyguards: The Immune System Unmasked
The term “immune system” traces its origins back to the Latin word “immunis”, meaning “exempt”, reflecting its function as the body’s internal exemption system against harmful invaders. It’s a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that act as a fortress, protecting the body from harmful foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and toxins.
The immune system can be broken down into three main barriers: the skin, the mucous lining in the microbiome, airways, and sinuses, and the internal inflammation response.
1. The Skin: Acting as the body’s outer shield, the skin provides a physical barrier against harmful invaders. It’s populated with specialized immune cells that provide an active defense line, ready to spring into action if any pathogen manages to penetrate the surface.
2. The Mucous Lining: The mucus lining in the microbiome, airways, and sinuses creates an environment that’s inhospitable to harmful microbes. This environment, rich in beneficial bacteria, also stimulates the production of antibodies, reinforcing the immune response.
3. Inflammation: The third line of defense involves white blood cells and friendly bacteria. When foreign invaders manage to breach the initial barriers, these defenders trigger an inflammation response. They produce acid to dissolve and kill pathogens, release free radicals, produce hydrogen peroxide, and create enzymes to dissolve microbes. They also generate mucus to trap invaders and instigate inflammation, which acts like quicksand for microbes.
Through repeated exposure to different pathogens, the immune system learns and adapts, a process called immunological memory. This memory enables the immune system to respond more swiftly and effectively when it encounters the same pathogens again.
Detoxification and Apoptosis: The Immune System’s Clean-Up Crew
Detoxification and apoptosis are two more essential components of your dog’s immune system. The liver, kidneys, and spleen play a crucial role in detoxification, filtering out microbes and toxins from the body.
Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is a process by which old, damaged, or unneeded cells self-destruct. It’s essential for the immune system, particularly for white blood cells, as it helps maintain a healthy balance of immune cells in the body.
However, pathogens have their own defense mechanisms too. They can block Vitamin D, hide in calcium shells, mimic cells, and constantly change structure to evade the immune system’s defenses.
Enhancing Immunity: The Whole Food Advantage
So, how can we bolster your dog’s intricate defense system? It starts with a nutrient-rich, whole-food diet. Whole foods provide essential nutrients in their natural form, including amino acids, Omega fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. These are the building blocks your dog’s immune system needs to function optimally.
Vitamin C: Essential for adrenal gland function and a potent antioxidant. Found in green leafy vegetables, berries, and sauerkraut.
Vitamin D: Acts as an immune modulator, protecting against pathogens and supporting T cell function.
Vitamin A: Maintains the structural integrity of mucosal cells. Found in egg yolks, cod liver oil, and other sources.
Zinc: Key trace mineral required to activate white blood cells.
Certain foods also have immune-enhancing properties:
Garlic has an extensive history, having been used by humans for over 7,000 years. Originating in central Asia, it quickly spread across the globe and has been adopted by numerous cultures as a staple in their culinary and medicinal practices. The ancient Egyptians, for instance, valued garlic so much that they included it in the tombs of their pharaohs.
Immune Support from Garlic:
Garlic, particularly its active compound allicin, plays a multifaceted role in boosting the immune system at the cellular and molecular levels. Here’s how:
- Stimulating Immune Cells: Garlic enhances the body’s immune response by stimulating the proliferation and activity of immune cells such as lymphocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells, and natural killer cells. These cells are critical in the body’s defense against pathogens.
- Anti-inflammatory Effects: Allicin and other sulfur compounds in garlic have anti-inflammatory properties. They inhibit the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are molecules that promote inflammation. By reducing inflammation, garlic can help the immune system function more effectively.
- Antioxidant Activity: Garlic has powerful antioxidant properties that help protect cells from damage by free radicals. By reducing oxidative stress, garlic helps preserve the function of immune cells and maintains the integrity of cellular structures involved in immune response.
- Antimicrobial Properties: Garlic has a broad spectrum of antimicrobial activity, including antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and anti-parasitic effects. This enhances the body’s ability to fight off various types of infections.
- Immunomodulation: Garlic modulates the immune response, meaning it can both enhance an underactive immune system and moderate an overactive one. This balancing act is critical because an underactive immune system can lead to infections, while an overactive one can result in allergies and autoimmune diseases.
To ensure that the body benefits from the immunomodulatory effects of garlic, it’s essential to feed it in a form that allows the release of allicin. Crushing or chopping fresh garlic and allowing it to sit for a few minutes can facilitate this process. I do a deep dive on garlic here.
Ginger, recognized by its scientific name Zingiber officinale, has been revered for centuries across various cultures for its culinary and medicinal properties. Let’s explore its growth, active ingredients, and impact on the immune system.
Ginger is a tropical plant that prefers rich, moist soil and partial shade. After planting, ginger takes around 8 to 10 months to mature. The active compounds in ginger include gingerols, shogaols, and zingerone, with gingerols being the most potent. These bioactive compounds are metabolized in the liver and intestine and exert their effects throughout the body.
Immune Support from Ginger:
- Anti-inflammatory and Antioxidant Effects: Ginger’s active compounds, particularly gingerols, exhibit anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, reducing cellular damage from free radicals and dampening excessive inflammation. This can enhance overall immune function.
- Antimicrobial Properties: Ginger has shown potent antibacterial and antiviral properties, enhancing the body’s ability to combat infections.
- Immune Modulation: Ginger may modulate the immune system, encouraging a more effective response. It stimulates the production and function of white blood cells and enhances the body’s antibody response.
A small sliver of fresh ginger is all you need added to their food.
Shiitake mushrooms, scientifically known as Lentinula edodes, are native to East Asia and require specific growing conditions. The mushrooms grow on decaying hardwood trees, and it takes about six months to a year from the time the mycelium is introduced until harvest. The bioactive compounds in shiitake mushrooms include polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and lipids.
Immune Support from Shiitake Mushrooms:
- Immune Stimulation: The polysaccharides in shiitake mushrooms stimulate immune cells and increase their activity, enhancing the body’s defense mechanisms.
- Anti-inflammatory Effects: Shiitake mushrooms have anti-inflammatory properties, reducing excess inflammation which can compromise the immune system.
- Antimicrobial Properties: Shiitake mushrooms have shown antimicrobial properties, providing an additional line of defense against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Cook Shiitake in water until it’s soft and cooked. You can slice and add one to their meals or use an immersion blender.
Broccoli sprouts are young broccoli plants that are just 3–4 days old. They grow quickly and can be harvested within a week of planting. The key active ingredient in broccoli sprouts is a compound called sulforaphane, which is released when the sprouts are chopped, chewed, or digested. Read more about it here.
Immune Support from Broccoli Sprouts:
- Antioxidant Activity: Sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts triggers the body’s antioxidant defenses, reducing oxidative stress and protecting immune cells from damage.
- Anti-inflammatory Effects: Sulforaphane also exhibits anti-inflammatory effects, moderating the immune response to prevent excessive inflammation.
- Stimulation of Detoxification Enzymes: Broccoli sprouts stimulate the body’s production of detoxification enzymes, which can help eliminate toxins that can compromise the immune system.
Blend broccoli sprouts using an immersion blender and add it to their meals.
Turmeric, botanically known as Curcuma longa, is a perennial plant native to Southern Asia. It takes about 7-10 months from planting to harvest. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is metabolized in the liver and intestines.
Immune Support from Turmeric:
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that helps modulate the body’s inflammatory response, a vital aspect of a well-functioning immune system.
- Antioxidant Properties: Turmeric’s curcumin is a strong antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress, protecting immune cells from damage and bolstering overall immunity.
- Antimicrobial Properties: Curcumin has also been found to have antimicrobial properties against a range of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Grate fresh turmeric onto their meals. A small portion the size of their toe bean is all they need.
Cod Liver Oil:
Cod liver oil, extracted from the liver of codfish, is a nutrient-dense source of essential vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Immune Support from Cod Liver Oil:
- Boosts Vitamin A and D Levels: Cod liver oil is rich in vitamins A and D, both crucial for maintaining an effective immune response. Vitamin A maintains the health of mucosal surfaces (including the skin), and vitamin D regulates the immune system.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The Omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil can reduce inflammation in the body, supporting immune function.
Chicken eggs are the most commonly fed type.
Immune Support from Eggs:
- High-Quality Protein: Eggs provide a complete protein source, supplying all nine essential amino acids necessary for building and repairing tissues, including those involved in immune response.
- Rich in Vitamins and Minerals: Eggs are packed with vitamins A, D, E, and B-complex and minerals like selenium and zinc, all of which contribute to a healthy immune system.
Red Meat (Beef):
Red meat like beef is derived from cattle. The meat’s quality and nutrient profile can be influenced by the animal’s breed, diet, and age at slaughter.
Immune Support from Beef:
- Protein: Beef is a high-quality source of protein, crucial for immune cell growth, function, and repair.
- Rich in Zinc: Beef is an excellent source of zinc, a mineral that aids in immune cell function and inflammatory response.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are harvested from pumpkins. They are typically dried before being eaten.
Immune Support from Pumpkin Seeds:
- Rich in Zinc: Pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc, which plays a significant role in immune cell function and communication.
- Antioxidant Properties: Pumpkin seeds contain antioxidants like vitamin E and carotenoids, which reduce inflammation and protect your immune cells from harmful free radicals.
In closing, it’s important to remember that nurturing your dog’s health goes beyond just providing a balanced diet.
It’s a commitment to understanding the value and potential of each ingredient we feed them, and how these foods interact with their unique biological system.
Our beloved dogs rely on us to provide them with not just love and care, but also nutrition that enhances their vitality and longevity. By integrating the powerful elements of whole foods into their diets and catering to their unique needs, we are not just feeding them, we’re fortifying their systems, and helping them thrive.
So, keep exploring, keep learning, and most importantly, keep sharing your life and your kitchen with your loved pups.
As always, thank you for stopping by. I wish you and your dogs Good Health!
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Hannah Zulueta obtained her Certificate in Canine Nutrition from CASI Institute. She is also studying for her Doctorate in Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Herbalism from the esteemed Pacific College of Health and Medicine.
She resides in San Diego with her three dogs, Maggie, Orbit, and Mr. Higgins.