It’s no surprise that people are questioning many of their habits these days, especially when it comes to health. As of late, most of us are concerned with maintaining a healthy immune system and cultivating a healthier lifestyle.
But in the midst of us worrying about our immune health, we can’t forget about our dog’s immune health as well! Do dogs get sick? How can I tell if my dog is sick? Can I be doing more to boost my dog’s immune system and prevent illness?
If you find yourself asking these questions, don’t worry, there’s plenty of ways to boost your dog’s immune system! So keep reading to learn more about how to help your dog’s immune health.
HOW DOES A DOG'S IMMUNE SYSTEM WORK?
A dog’s immune system is like a shield against illness and other environmental toxins. Your dog is constantly exposed to household chemicals, allergens, and vector-carrying insects. All vertebrates, including dogs, have a complicated collection of defense responses to foreign microorganisms called an immune system.
According to Ian Tizard, Professor at College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University, “There are three lines of defense against invaders: physical barriers, nonspecific (or innate) immunity, and specific (or adaptive) immunity.”
Dog’s physical barrier defenses include fur, skin, nails, and the urinary, digestive, reproductive, and respiratory tract. Physical barrier defenses also include fluids and bacteria that live on the barriers, such as saliva, tears, and digestive secretions.
Like humans, a dog’s nonspecific immunity is present at birth, called innate immunity. Nonspecific Immunity is the body’s inflammatory response. When inflammation occurs, white blood cells rush to the area invaded by foreign organisms, remove damaged cells, and kill the pathogens.
Specific immunity is a response that’s acquired, like vaccines. This response can single out the particular antigen (a substance that stimulates an immune response), such as rabies, and constructs the precise attack needed. Each antigen will require a specific design of defense to fend it off.
After the dog’s immune system has encountered the antigen once, it responds faster and more effectively than the previous encounter. Essentially, the immune system remembers how to attack and learns how to beat antigens more efficiently with each confrontation.
Both dog and human immune systems contain the same components: white blood cells, antibodies, bone marrow, and a thymus. However, the number of immune cells present differ from human to dog immune systems.
While it is difficult to measure if dogs have better immune systems than humans, it is safe to say that humans partake in more hygienic activities that increase their defense against pathogens.
HOW STRONG IS A DOG'S IMMUNE SYSTEM?
Measuring a dog’s immune system and immune health is tricky. You would think since dogs are scavengers they have more robust immune systems than humans, but that may not be the case. Many variables must be considered when evaluating a dog’s immune system compared to humans, such as environmental factors, food, and regular exposure to certain toxins.
Humans have developed specifically to the pathogens we encounter and the same goes for dogs. It’s easier for humans to avoid exposure to pathogens because of hygiene. Unlike humans, dogs don’t constantly wash their hands and regularly wash away environmental toxins, bacteria, viruses, and other infectious vectors.
Dogs still get sick but don’t always present sickness in the same ways that humans do. It’s believed that dogs developed their ability to hide their ailments as a survival tactic over the ages. In the wild, an ill dog may be susceptible to competing predators. It is also likely that puppies with poor immune health wouldn’t survive, leaving healthier dogs to pass on their genes.
What truly matters is that your puppy's immune system is efficient!
CAN DOGS GET SICK?
Yes, of course they can! All living creatures get sick, though they don’t present illness the same. Dogs are masters at hiding their pain and sometimes do not show signs of sickness until their condition has progressed.
Like the common cold or flu, most illnesses that affect humans are not zoonotic (jump from animal to human). However, dogs and humans share parvo, West Nile Virus, rabies, Lyme disease, and ringworm.
Don’t worry, your dog can’t catch your cold but they can get sick from other dogs. This is why it’s imperative to keep your dog up-to-date on vaccinations and only allow your pup to play with other furry friends who are up-to-date on their vaccinations as well.
To better protect your little buddy from getting sick, it’s essential to know the signs of common diseases.
Here are seven common dog illnesses:
- Parvovirus: A highly contagious and often fatal disease that can live on surfaces for months. It’s commonly spread by dogs coming in contact with feces of a sick dog. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Vaccination is the best way to protect your dog from this disease.
- Canine influenza: A viral disease that exhibits symptoms similar to kennel cough. Symptoms include a runny nose, fever, and a cough. The virus can survive on surfaces for up to 48hrs and spreads through respiratory secretions.
- Canine distemper: A virus spread through respiratory secretions and is highly infectious. Distemper is often deadly. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, seizures, runny nose, and fever. The best way to protect your pup from this deadly disease is by vaccination.
- Heartworms: Parasites transmitted by mosquitoes. These invaders infect and destroy the dog’s heart and lungs. Ultimately if gone untreated, heartworms cause death. Symptoms include lethargy, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Preventative medications like topical ointments, pills, and shots are the best way to protect your dog from infection.
- Kennel Cough: Commonly caused by a bacterium called bordetella. In most cases, dogs infected with Bordetella are also infected with other viruses such as the canine herpes virus and distemper. Kennel cough spreads through respiratory secretions and is highly contagious. Symptoms include eye discharge, coughing, runny nose, and sneezing. Vaccination is the best way to protect your dog from kennel cough.
- Rabies: A fatal disease contracted through the bite of an infected animal. Rabies is zoonotic and there is no cure. Symptoms include fever, pain at the wound site, and hyperactivity. In the United States, there’s no longer a natural spread of rabies in dogs; nonetheless, vaccination is imperative to keeping your dog safe.
- Lyme Disease: A disease from tick bites. Often this disease is spread by tick-carrying deer. Once the bacterium from the tick enters the bloodstream it causes joint pain and can be deadly if left untreated. Symptoms include lack of appetite, limping or lameness, and fever. Regularly checking your pup for ticks and preventative medications are the best ways to protect your dog.
If your pup is exhibiting any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately.
IS MY DOG SICK?
Determining if your canine companion is ill may be difficult since they mask their pain. In some instances, dogs may show no signs of illness until their sickness has progressed. But, having a close bond with your dog will take some of the detective work out of figuring out if they’re feeling under the weather.
One of the most significant signs that your dog is feeling unwell is a lack of appetite. What dog doesn’t get excited when you start filling their bowl with food? If your furry companion is disinterested in mealtime, you may need to schedule a visit with the vet to determine if your pup is suffering from a severe illness.
Lethargy is another indicator your dog may be sick. Your little buddy may not be as excited to greet you at the door when you come home or rushing to fetch their favorite toy. Sneezing, watery eyes, or wheezing are all signs of illness. If your dog has diarrhea or persistent vomiting, you should call your veterinarian.
While some ailments may simply be an upset stomach due to rich food, some illnesses may be more severe. Therefore, it is always best to err on the side of caution and call your veterinarian when your dog is not acting like themself.
HOW DO I CARE FOR A SICK DOG?
Like humans, when dogs are ill, they want to take it easy, curl up, and rest. No one likes to see their dog out of sorts. You want to do all you can to help and especially don’t want to see your buddy in any discomfort.
While you may not be able to make your dog’s sickness go away, you can alleviate some of their distress and keep them cozy.
Here are some tips for caring for your dog while their immune system fights off sickness:
- Keep them hydrated: Dogs need water to help their organs function correctly and support their immune system to fight off whatever is ailing them. If regular water isn’t managing to keep them hydrated, diluted low sodium chicken broth may entice them. Another way to trick your dog into consuming their liquids is by offering them ice cubes.
- Offer something softer on the palate: If your dog is used to kibble, some boiled chicken and rice may be easier for them to digest.
- Hold back on the treats: While it may be tempting to encourage your dog to eat by giving them their favorite treats, it may not be the best option while they are sick. Treats aren’t always the most nutritious option, and they tend to be rich and can be hard on the stomach.
- Get some fresh air: If your dog has the energy, light exercise like a walk can do them some good. Keep an eye on your pup for any signs of distress, and keep the walk short.
It is best to follow your veterinarian’s instructions and keep your dog as comfortable as possible as they recover.
WHAT CAN I DO TO BOOST MY DOG'S IMMUNE SYSTEM?
The best way to keep disease at bay and amplify your pup’s quality of life is by boosting your dog’s immune system. Creating a regimen that focuses on your dog’s immune health helps your dog’s quality of life.
Taking the time to foster preventative habits is simple with these easy tips:
- Exercise: Your dog’s immune system can function more effectively when it is free of joint inflammation. Plus, your pup most likely loves it! Exercise also alleviates stress and depression. Keeping your dog active benefits their joint and mental health while boosting their immune system.
- Fresh Water: Just like humans, dogs need fresh water to optimize organ function and flush toxins from the body. Dogs are exposed to toxins from pesticides and herbicides in the air they breathe. While dogs will happily drink from a puddle or dirty stream, it doesn’t mean they can’t get sick from contaminated water (Giardia? No, thank you!). Give your dog the same fresh water you drink.
- Nutritious Food: Ensuring your dog is eating the proper amount of nutrients is another cornerstone of a dog’s immune health. It’s suggested that you purchase the best quality food you can afford. But, not all dog foods are created equal. The quality and sources of the ingredients determine the caliber of food. Your pup’s diet should consist of fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins. Dogs are omnivorous, which means they need nutrition from both plants and meat.
- Regular Checkups: Keeping your dog up-to-date on their vaccinations is the first defense against life-threatening diseases like rabies and kennel cough. Regular checkups also help monitor any changes in your dog’s immune health.
- Oral Hygiene: Healthy gums and teeth help keep your dog’s immune health in top shape. Preventing dental disease can also prevent heart disease, diabetes, and other infections later on. So keeping your dog’s teeth clean is an excellent way to boost your dog’s immune system.
- Stress Less: Dogs are very susceptible to stress, which can lower their immune system. Avoiding stressful environments and making time for naps, exercise, and play can regulate your dog’s immune health. Massaging also helps relieve your dog’s stress. Working sore muscles can help release toxins and promote healthy circulation. Brushing sessions can both alleviate stress and prevent any environmental hazards like ticks or toxins.
- Alternative Pesticides: If you have a lawn or take your dog to the park, chances are they’re going to roll in the grass. Toxins from fertilizer, weed killer and pesticides can linger on your puppy's fur and paws. Since humans bathe regularly, we avoid these toxins; however, it’s unlikely that you bathe your dog every day. If you have the opportunity, consider utilizing organic and natural methods to eliminate pests.
- Alternative Tick and Flea Treatment: Liquid pesticides that you apply directly to your dog’s skin can make them sick. Tick and flea preventative liquid treatments work by absorbing into your dog’s bloodstream and poisoning their blood, which poisons the parasites. In addition, these treatments can weaken your dog’s immune system. Consider alternative methods to “spot-on” liquid pesticides.
- Supplements: Even if you’re a vigilant dog owner, your dog’s food may still lack vital nutrients. Supplementation boosts your dog’s immune system by providing essential vitamins they need to flush their system of toxins. Probiotics are great for gut health (a large part of a dog’s immune health) and healthy bacteria. Fish oil supplements help with skin, nails and relieve inflammatory problems. Antioxidants can be found in many fruits, help with inflammatory issues, such as arthritis, and slow the aging process.
KEEP YOUR DOG HAPPY AND HEALTHY
Dogs are rugged and sometimes seem practically indestructible, but they still need help supporting their immune health. Understanding how your dog’s immune system works saves you and your dog from those dreaded sick days when they just aren’t quite themself.
Luckily, exercise, nutritious food, and supplements are significant ways to boost your dog’s immune system. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” may not necessarily apply to your pup, but developing simple habits can help you and your dog share more happy days together.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. Disease risks for dogs in social settings. Accessed April 2, 2021, at https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/disease-risks-dogs-social-settings
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Domestic Animals. Accessed April 2, 2021, at https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/surveillance/domestic_animals.html
- Merck Manual Veterinary Manual. Immune System Responses in Dogs. Accessed April 2, 2021, at https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/immune-disorders-of-dogs/immune-system-respo nses-in-dogs
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