Why do we need immune system boosters for dogs? Because our dog’s immune system acts as a gatekeeper to the dog’s body, warding off viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi.
If it isn’t strong our dog is more vulnerable to illness and chronic conditions such as infections, allergies, arthritis, cancer, and more. If your dog is experiencing allergies or arthritis, read about natural products for dog allergies and natural remedies for arthritis in dogs.
Fortunately, there are simple lifestyle changes, food modifications, and supplements that all act as immune system boosters for dogs and can help your dog’s immune system become stronger and healthier.
Factors That Can Contribute to a Low Immune System in Dogs
When a dog has a low immune system there can be many culprits. Usually it is a combination of factors stacking up and chipping away at your dog’s immune system strength. These factors can include:
- Poor Diet/Nutrition
- Toxins in medications such as flea and tick, heartworm, and in vaccinations.
Top Immune System Boosters For Dogs
There are many components of a dog’s lifestyle that you can modify to help boost dog immune systems, as well as beneficial supplements or holistic medical care you can use.
This simple concept embodies the familiar phrase “You are what you eat.”
If you purchase a low-quality food full of fillers and preservatives, you are missing an opportunity to strengthen your dog’s immune health as well as overall health.
A great way to increase the nutrition in your dog’s meals is by feeding homemade dog food. You need to work with your holistic vet to develop a food menu that provides all the nutrients your dog needs.
If you are interested in trying this, read more about the pros and cons of homemade dog food.
That said, not everyone has the time or finances to make homemade dog food. To find a good quality kibble, I recommend going to a small local pet store and talking to the owner or manager about high-quality kibble options.
At my local pet store, the owner is an absolute wealth of information. Because he talks to owners every day and hears what foods helped that specific dog’s issues, he has more anecdotal evidence than any vet I know and makes really helpful recommendations.
Probiotics are one of the most recommended natural immune system boosters for dogs.
The microbiome in your dog’s gut is the home for about 80% of your dog’s immune system. If your pet doesn’t have a healthy gut (microbiome), it doesn’t have strong immunity.
Probiotics boost your dog’s immunity in various ways. Some probiotics create a protective layer of mucous in the gut, which keeps bacteria from getting into the intestinal lining. Probiotics also take up space in the gut so there is less space for pathogenic (bad) bacteria to exist.
Finally, fatty acids produced by probiotics discourage bad bacteria growth and therefore reduce inflammation in the body.
3. Minimize stress
Many environmental factors can create stress for your dog. New family members, moving, lack of exercise, lack of attention, being left alone repeatedly for long periods of time . . . all are stressful for your dog.
Sustained high stress levels will strain the immune system and make your dog more susceptible to chronic and acute illnesses.
Exercise is something you don’t necessarily think of when you are trying to come up with immune system boosters for dogs .
The muscle activity of exercise helps to cleanse the body of toxins by increasing the circulation of blood and lymph fluid. The increased blood flow also helps move immunity components like white blood cells around the body.
Keep your dog at its optimum weight to avoid compromising their immune system.
Excess body fat triggers “pro-inflammatory” immune cells that travel around the body in your dog’s blood and cause inflammation.
Lonely and neglected dogs are more stressed, which in turn lowers their immune system.
Giving your dog love and attention makes them more mentally & physically healthy. The added benefit is that the love you receive from your pet when you spend time together makes you more healthy too!
7. Omega 3 Fish Oil
Omega 3 fatty acids temper the inflammatory response and support the immune system. Inflammation is tied to many diseases, including cancer.
Several studies have been conducted looking at the effect of echinacea on dogs’ immune systems, including this study which found that echinacea stimulates the immune system in multiple ways.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and possible cancer-fighting properties. According to Dana Scott at Dogs Naturally, giving it with an oil such as coconut oil can increase absorption.
10. Medicinal Mushrooms
I am hearing more and more about medicinal mushrooms and their healing properties for both humans and dogs.
Medicinal mushrooms have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and contain essential vitamins and minerals. Their components are powerful immune stimulants that trigger a potent immune response.
Each mushroom has its own specific properties, so it’s important to work with your holistic vet to determine what combination is best for your dog.
A quick list of medicinal mushrooms and their benefits includes:
- Turkey Tail contains antioxidants that boost the immune system and also is known to improve gut bacteria balance. This study showed an increased survival rate of dogs with hemangiosarcoma that were treated with turkey tail mushrooms.
- Reishi provides immune system support and stimulation.
- Maitake is known for its immune boosting properties and has been shown to suppress tumor growth in mice.
- Shiitake: Phytochemicals in this mushroom support both cellular functions and the immune system.
- Cordyceps is known for its immunomodulating properties (i.e. “moderating” properties – it can stimulate a sluggish immune system or suppress an overactive immune system to bring it back into balance).
- Chaga has antioxidant properties that support the immune system. It’s also rich with fiber and beneficial nutrients.
Jean Dodds of Hemopet wrote an excellent article going into more detail of the benefits of medicinal mushrooms.
Colostrum is a clear, yellowish fluid produced in a mother’s milk the first 72 hours after birth and is rich in immune and growth factors.
It is used for a wide variety of issues, ranging from chronic illness to allergies to hip dysplasia, and contains many beneficial substances including immune system enhancers, growth factors, proteins, enzymes, and more.
Whole Dog Journal has an great article detailing how colostrum works and what conditions it is used for.
Massage increases the number of lymphocytes and enhances lymphocyte function (lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell and are an important part of the immune system).
Benefits are reaped by the human massaging the dog in addition to the dog itself. Petting (or massaging) a dog can lower blood pressure and heart rate, lowering your stress level and helping your immunity!
Acupuncture is a balancing medicine that centers around the flow of chi, the energy that flows through the body. In balancing all parts of the body, it also balances and strengthens immune function.
Essential oils can be beneficial for the immune system in direct and indirect ways such as reducing stress and strengthening immune function.
That said, it’s important to educate yourself about how to use them safely with dogs. Using the wrong oil can be harmful to your dog, as can putting an undiluted oil on your dog’s skin. Here are some good articles that you should read before deciding which oils to use:
Julia Henriques provides good information on how to use essential oils safely for your dog.
This article contains a list of essential oils recommended by canine aromatherapist Kristen Leigh Bell.
Read about essential oils that can be dangerous for pets to make sure you don’t purchase a blend containing an oil that should not be used for dogs.
Vaccines and Chemical Preventatives
Important Disclaimer: I am not a vet. Not even close! My degree is in marketing. My goal is to share my own personal experience and information I have gathered; not to give medical advice.
If you think you want to try something you read about here, talk to your vet! But first read this and many more articles to empower yourself for a good discussion in which you can ask your vet great questions about what you want to try.
Knowledge is power – never forget that!
If your dog receives vaccinations, or if you treat him for fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, or heartworm, the buildup over time of the toxins in these products can stress your dog’s immune system.
Any time the immune system is under stress, it opens the door for numerous health problems such as:
- Digestive Issues
- Heart Disease
Some dog owners choose to do fewer vaccinations to reduce the number of chemicals their dog’s body has to process and the resulting immune system stress. It’s important to work with your holistic vet to make these decisions, they will help make sure you are doing what is needed to protect your dog.
If you would like to learn more about vaccination choices, Dr. Jean Dodds has established a dog vaccine protocol that focuses on developing immunity without over-vaccination. She also discusses using titer tests to determine if your dog needs a new vaccination or if their immunity is still present from the previous one.
Another thing dog owners can do is try to minimize the side effects of vaccines. Dr. Dodds states:
“You can pre-treat dogs with the oral homeopathics, Thuja and Lyssin, to help blunt any adverse effects of the rabies vaccine. For other vaccines, just Thuja is needed. These homeopathics can be given the day before, the day of, and the day after the vaccine.“
There are natural ways to deworm a dog that are a healthier option when possible as they avoid the use of toxins.
If your dog has a serious infestation you may need to use conventional dewormers and instead support your dog’s liver with milk thistle to help it eliminate the toxins.
Make sure you are working with your vet to develop worm prevention or treatment plans, and take in post-treatment fecal samples to be sure your worm treatment was effective.
**Note: this post contains affiliate links. No one paid me to recommend these products, I recommend them because I like them! By using the link to buy the products you are helping support happyynaturaldog.com**
There are an overwhelming number of immunity-building supplements for dogs on the market. Some will stimulate the immune system, others will modulate it.
If your dog has an over-active immune system that is attacking itself, you need a modulator. If your dog has a low immune system, you need a stimulator. This distinction is important and highlights the need to consult with a vet to make sure you are giving your dog a product that will help (and not hurt) them.
Below are a few immunity products that I have either used or read about in the process of writing this article.
This high quality probiotic was formuated by Dr. Peter Dobias and also contains a prebiotic (food for the probiotic).
Another high quality probiotic powder which also contains prebiotics.
Zenapet is an immune support formula containing turkey tail mushrooms, beta-glucan, spirulina, and trans reversatrol.
Colostrum contains immunoglobulins and lactoferrin, both of which support healthy immune function.
These essential oils promote stress release and relaxation.
Contains a blend of pure essential oils: Sweet Orange, Bergamot, Patchouli, Grapefruit and Ylang Ylang with the express purpose of alleviating anxiety and soothing stress
Lavender is known for both it’s antibacterial and relaxing effects.
This is a high quality Omega-3 product made by Dr. Peter Dobias.
Curcumin chew tablets can reduce inflammation.
What is the Best Immune Booster for Dogs?
The answer, of course, is “It depends.”
Some immune-building activities will be proactive. Never underestimate the power of high-quality food, exercise, stress reduction, and love. You will help strengthen your dog’s immune system and prevent many problems.
If your dog is ill, different illnesses will be better supported by different immune system boosters. You need to look at your dog’s history, their current health problem, and work with a holistic vet to determine what key underlying issues you need to address.
Supporting your dog’s immune system at home with some of this article’s immune system boosters for dogs is as important as annual vet visits. Work with your vet to put together a plan for your dog.
Have you had success in treating a chronic or acute illness using immunity boosters? Tell us your story below so others can benefit from your experience!