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  • Dr. Katie Woodley

3 Ways to Boost Your Pet's Immune Health

Updated: May 25

Why would you ever want your pet to get sick? Many pet parents are unknowingly sabotaging their pet's health with the treats, food, chemicals and medicines they are putting into their pets every day, which is leading to more cases of autoimmune disease, chronic illness and even cancer every year.


Our pet's immune health is the most important part to protect. Your pet is immune from specific diseases by vaccination or as a result of innate or acquired resistance. The immune system is comprised of a complex network of interacting cells and tissues that protects the body from pathogens or other foreign substances, destroys infected and cancer cells, and removes cellular debris that is not benefiting the body.

The thymus, spleen, lymph nodes and lymph tissue, stem cells, white blood cells, antibodies, and lymphokines make up the immune system. Studies have shown that environmental factors and foods we feed to our pets can dramatically affect the immune system. We have seen a significant increase in autoimmune diseases and cancers in pets over the past decade. When these diseases occur, it is due to a true breakdown in the immune system recognizing what is foreign and what is a normal healthy cell. An appropriate response by the immune system is when it can recognize foreign versus self and can rid the body of the cells and pathogens that can lead to disease if they remain in the body.


What are some of the ways that the immune system can be disturbed and mount an inappropriate response?

Many diseases can directly attack the immune system, like viral diseases or other pathogens. Some diseases act by slowly attacking the immune system and cells, so the body doesn't realize what has been happening until it is too late.


The food we are feeding our pets can set up an environment in our pet's bodies that leads to chronic stress and low-grade, chronic inflammation. Processed foods are notorious for creating inflammation amongst other issues. Dry food tends to be much higher in carbohydrate content than is biologically appropriate for most pets. This high carb content leads to insulin resistance and possible disease in the future for pets who are only eating a dry food diet their entire lives.


Chronic stress is another factor which can lead to the body's immune system being overwhelmed. Have you ever been under a lot of stress for a long period of time, and then you finally get to go away on a vacation and you get sick? This is because the chronic stress has taxed your immune system over time. Our pets are the same, so it is worth assessing is their environment stressful. Are we creating a stressful environment for our pets with our own stress? Pets are very in tune with us, and if we are not managing our own stress well, the odds are very high that your pet is feeling the effects of this too.

Vaccines stimulate the immune system, and when used appropriately will help prevent disease from different bacterial and viral pathogens that can make your pet very sick. However when they are overused and titers are not done to show your pet needs a vaccine booster, vaccines can overstimulate the immune system, potentially even an anaphylactic reaction. More commonly, overstimulating the immune system with vaccines leads to autoimmune or chronic illness or even cancer later on in life. However, this can be hard to prove and a reason why most veterinarians refuse to acknowledge the potential for this to occur. Have you ever noticed an issue develop with your pet within a few days or weeks after receiving a vaccination?


Antibiotics can be an aid to the immune system by killing off pathogenic bacteria, but unfortunately will kill the important and beneficial microflora in your pet's gut, skin and other areas of the body. Because of these actions, it is important to only use antibiotics when it is essential and lab tests have shown the need for them. Antibiotics are too often used for skin infections and ear infections when topical medications are more appropriate and are just as effective to resolve the infection. Also, urinary tract infections should be cultured to ensure that there is truly an infection and that the antibiotics being used will actually work against the type of bacteria present.

Corticosteroids are another medication that are widely overused in our pets. Steroids, such as prednisone, are used to calm down an overactive immune system. However, long-term usage of this medication can actually render the immune system ineffective, leading to many other diseases and illnesses. It is important that steroids are being used appropriately and only when truly needed.


What can you do to improve your pet's immune system?

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1. Feeding the most ideal, biologically appropriate and bioavailable diet for your pets.


Nutrition is the foundation for health. If we are not putting the right nutrition into our pets, we are setting them up to have poor health and develop disease later in life. Food is energy for the cells in the body, and food has the ability to change the expression of genes in the body. Ideally we want to turn on or down-regulate gene expression that only leads to increased health and vibrancy for our pets. Nutrigenomics is the entire study on how food is medicine for the body.

The pet food industry is scary and there are a lot of tactics that pet food manufacturers will use to trick consumers into thinking that their food is appropriate and healthy for pets when it will actually lead to inflammation and disease when it is fed every day. Learn how to read pet food labels, but if you are able to transition your pet to a raw, dehydrated, freeze-dried or balanced home-made diet, these will be better options than feeding a kibble diet. There are right and wrong ways to do this and not every pet is the same, so make sure you are partnering with a veterinarian that can help.


Feeding an appropriate diet will reduce the inflammation present in your pet's body which helps boost your pet's immune system. Feeding whole, real nutrition also increases the amount of antioxidants your pet is receiving, which is impossible through the use of kibble. Pets have a high requirement for antioxidants. Fresh organic meat, organs, vegetables and fruits are great natural sources of antioxidants. It is also important to ensure they are the ideal body condition, because excess fat will actually increase the amount of inflammation present in the body.


If you need help with balancing a home-cooked diet for your pet, or need other guidance, please reach out so we can partner to find the optimal diet for your pet. Click here to learn more.


2. Reduce the amount of toxins present in your pet's environment


Toxins in the environment WILL cause immune system dysfunction. You need to be aware of all chemicals that your pet is coming into contact with, ranging from household cleaners to even the chemicals we put on ourselves with our everyday beauty products. Our pets usually do not wear clothes are socks so they are exposed to many more chemicals every day than ourselves. When we walk with them, they are picking up any chemicals, irritants that are present on the ground. These chemicals range anywhere from pesticides to engine oil, antifreeze, herbicides and so many others! What do many pets do when they come back home? They lick themselves, lick their paws and groom themselves! Now they are ingesting everything they just picked up that we can't visually see! Then if we are using toxic chemicals to clean our floors, spray the windows, wash their bedding in, and lotions with chemicals, your pets are also being exposed to these chemicals.

It is very easy to see how these toxins have an accumulative effect in our pets and lead to immune dysfunction and eventually disease and possibly cancer. I didn't even mention the flame retardants and all the other chemicals that are in clothing, on the bedding, used in carpets and so many other things. Make sure you are using cleaning products and skin care that doesn't contain harsh chemicals. If you wouldn't put it in your mouth, should you be using it?


3. Supporting the immune system with supplements


Avoiding all chemicals, medicine and food that are potentially harmful to your pet is impossible. However, we can use supplements (coupled with diet) to strengthen the immune system and keep it functioning optimally while reducing inflammation that is being generated.


There are millions of products on the market so how do you know what is going to help your pets the best? That's why I'm here to help you navigate what is best for your pet!

Supporting your pet's microbiome is most important. One of the best ways to do this is by feeding a diet that is biologically available to your pet like a home-cooked diet or even raw (if your pet is suited to it). Probiotics are also beneficial to support the microbiome.


Because food sensitivities account for around 75% of allergy symptoms, it is important to use a probiotic that is hypoallergenic. Mega Probiotic-ND 50 DaVinci is a great product that is hypoallergenic and has numerous beneficial bacterial strains that will help your pet maintain or regain health.


Another supplement that has natural anti-inflammatory effects and builds up skin and joint health are omega-3 essential fatty acids. Essential fatty acids include omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

If your pet is on a kibble diet, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is not ideal and can lead to more inflammation in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaneoic acid (EPA). By using omega-3's in your pet's diet, they are helpful in treating many disorders including heart and kidney issues, inflammatory skin conditions, arthritis, and improve cognitive function.


A retrospective study of 146 cats with kidney disease showed a survival time of 16 months when their diets were supplemented with EPA compared to 7 months for the cats who were not on EPA.


Because of EFA's vulnerability to high heat, when they are added to kibble, they lose their bioavailability and are not effective for your pet. This is why we need to be adding this important supplement into the diet. Partner with your veterinarian to ensure you are using a correct dosage and a quality brand that is effective for your pet.


Finally, if your pet has an inflammatory disease or even cancer, these three products can potentially make a difference for your pet in helping to reduce inflammation while supporting the immune system.


Click here to find out more and get your pet started on these products today!

RX Vitamins is an excellent company that creates products for pets that help them thrive and live a long and healthy life. Medicinal mushrooms offer a powerful punch to supporting the immune system. RX Coriolus Forte contains numerous mushrooms. Turkey Tail has received the most attention lately for the research showing how it can treat hemangiosarcoma cancers. However, Reishi has been called "The Immortality Herb" and by combining different mushrooms, the individual positive effects become enhanced and more effective.


Onco Support contains bio-active phytonutrients combined with specialized nutraceuticals function as biological response modifiers that increase patient vitality as well as improved immune system resistance. Onco Support provides nutrient diversity to support the increased metabolic needs of the patient with chronic disease, thus helping to improve patient quality of life.


And finally, RxCurcuWIN ChewTabs provide 40 mg of the powerful curcuminoid complex in each 250 mg hard-chew tablet. This convenient dosage format is small and easy to administer. Curcuminoids have been found, through extensive research, to provide health benefits to the immune system through both up-stream and down-stream cell signaling molecules. The patented, hydro-soluble matrix of Curcuwin™ is why its curcuminoid complex provides vastly improved absorption over every other form of curcumin available today.


Gone are the days of wondering if there is more we can do for our beloved pets! Take action to help your pets thrive and live a long, vibrant life full of love and adventure!


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*Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Dr. Katie Woodley cannot answer specific questions about your pet's medical issues or make medical recommendations for your pet without first establishing a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

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