As a vet, I see sick animals on a daily basis. Lately, many of my clients have asked what I recommend to strengthen their pets’ immune systems with alternative medicines, such as herbs and supplements. Prevention is the best medicine, and although we can’t control all the environmental factors, we can provide proper nutrition, routine annual exam and bloodwork, proper exercise, weight control, and add-in nutraceuticals (probiotics, herbs, omegas, etc.) for support.
Just like humans, it’s important to keep your dog’s immune system strong. You and your family may be taking supplements or herbal remedies to support your body, especially during the cold and flu season.
Natural, whole-food nutrition is the cornerstone to a healthy immune system. You can incorporate nutrient-packed fruits and berries into your dog’s diet all year long for an antioxidant boost. Good sources, as mentioned in this super foods article, include raspberries, blueberries, bananas, and pitted cherries. Unless they are locally-sourced in season, it is best to use frozen, no sugar added berries for optimal nutrition. Most dogs enjoy the crunch of a frozen berry or banana slice as their daily treat!
For your dog, herbs like Astragalus, Echinacea, and Ginseng are all very beneficial in aiding immune function. These herbs are often included in over-the-counter canine dietary supplements. Some formulas are designed with a specific purpose in mind, like Echinacea to support dogs with seasonal upper respiratory tract infections, while others are designed to be an over-all immune system regulator.(1)
Types of mushrooms, such as Maitake, Shitake, Cordyceps, and Reishi, also have multiple benefits. Mushrooms may be beneficial for canine cancer cases and boosting weak immune systems.(2,3) The mushrooms mentioned above are generally safe and can be given at the same time as many conventional medicines.
If your dog is receiving chemotherapy treatments, some herbs should not be used with certain drugs or can be discontinued two days before a chemo treatment and restarted four days after. If your dog is suffering from an acute infection, be careful with herbal products. If a patient has a fever, herbs that stimulate the immune system may not be ideal. I recommend consulting with your holistic veterinarian or veterinary herbalist before starting nutritional supplementation with patient receiving chemo treatments.
Supplements can be administered in a variety of ways. Some are in pill form, while others are in soft gel form or liquid. If you need your dog to swallow a pill, it’s best to disguise it (whole or crushed) in a tiny bit of tasty food, such as cheese or peanut butter.
Immunity support supplements can be given for a multitude of reasons, including recovering from surgeries, struggling with food and environmental allergies (atopy), a variety of skin conditions, asthma, lung infections, inflammatory bowel disease, ear infections, and birth. Any dog with a weak immune system that is struggling with recurring and chronic infections can benefit from an immunity support supplement. Always consult your veterinarian before giving supplements to pets that have active infections and discontinue their usage if the signs of disease get worse or if any side-effects like vomit/diarrhea or anorexia occur.
Although the benefits of using alternative medicine to keep your dog’s immune system healthy are endless, remember that these remedies aren’t a quick fix! Building up the immune system takes time, 3-6 months in some cases. Be patient and you will see the rewards of holistic medicine’s benefits in time.
Written by Dr Cindy Lizotte, DVM, MBA, CVFT (CHI institute), CVA (IVAS), Grad Dip Vet Western Herb Med (CIVT) Cert CVHM (IVAS)
- Reichling, J. et al. Echinacea powder: Treatment for Canine Chronic and Seasonal Upper Respiratory Tract Infections. Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd. May 2003; 145(5):223-31.
- Konno, S. Potential Growth Inhibitory Effect of Maitake D-fraction on Canine Cancer Cells. Vet Ther. Winter 2004;5(4):263-71.
Silver, R. Integrative Oncology: Blending the Best of Conventional with Evidence-Based and Supportive Complementary Therapies. 2013 Holistic Veterinary Medicine Club Symposium Proceedings.