A long healthy life for our animal companions depends on a resilient immune system that can resist disease. You may already be incorporating some of these suggestions, but combine all five to promote optimal wellness.

The immune system is what keeps us and our dogs alive. Regardless of the disease, proper care and support of this vital system determine our health and our lifespan.

While supporting immunity during illness is vital, it’s also important to maintain a healthy immune system when your dog is well to help stave off disease.

1. Minimize Vaccines

When the immune system responds appropriately, the proper use of vaccinations can help prevent disease. However, when dogs are over-vaccinated, the risk of an inappropriate immune response increases, posing danger to the animal. Inappropriate immune responses can cause immediate allergic reactions or chronic problems such as autoimmune disorders and even cancer. Most dogs are able to mount effective immune responses to minimal vaccinations. A simple and inexpensive blood antibody test called a titer can determine if and when your dog may require a vaccine after completing the first adult booster vaccination visit. Dogs with serious and chronic immune disorders should never be vaccinated following diagnosis, or they risk coming out of remission from their diseases.

2. Minimize Chemicals and Medications

Overuse and misuse of chemicals and conventional medications can harm the dog’s body in numerous ways, and that includes causing adverse effects on his immune system. Whenever I feel that a chemical product such as a flea preventive or conventional medication, like a steroid or antibiotic, is needed for a patient, I always ask myself two important questions. First, is there a safer natural alternative I can use? (There usually is.) Secondly, what is the lowest dose I can use to heal my patient (usually, lower doses of many chemicals and medications can be used safely and effectively)?

I believe doctors often over-prescribe chemicals and medications for the following reasons: incorrect diagnosis, a lack of knowledge of safer natural therapies, and, unfortunately, to increase practice income. Any time I see a dog being treated with a chemical or medication when I know he may not require it, I always ask his person why the product was prescribed. I’m never surprised to hear, especially when it comes to flea chemical preventives, that even though the dog has never been exposed to fleas, the prior veterinarian “said that all dogs should take this”.

The only way to begin helping our dogs heal from disease and stay healthy is if more veterinarians practice personalized medicine and only prescribe those therapies the animal actually needs and from which he may receive some noticeable benefit.

3. Feed a Great Diet

No matter what else you do to keep your dog healthy, feeding him a great diet is critical, and it’s the one thing you totally control. Many pet foods are, in my opinion, full of unhealthy ingredients that may not be healthy for your dog’s immune system. Animal and plant by-products, which typically are scrap from the food processing industry, provide little if any positive health benefits and may actually be harmful to your dog. Added chemicals, flavorings, and colorings have no specific health benefits and may harm his DNA through oxidative damage, resulting in various immune problems such as cancers.

My recommendation is to feed a good natural diet, either homemade or purchased from a reputable company that specializes in healthy natural foods.

4. Exercise Your Dog

As with people, a sensible exercise program for your dog is important for many reasons. First, exercise increases the bond between you. Second, it keeps the musculoskeletal system in great shape and mimics the natural activities your dog’s wild relatives experience every day. Thirdly, regular exercise keeps the cardiovascular system in shape. Finally, it enhances well-being and strengthens the immune system.

5. Supplement your dog

I’m a big fan of supplements. I use them every day for my patients (and my own family members, both two-legged and four-legged).

Here’s what I’ve noticed with my patients who are properly supplemented: they tend to live longer and feel better, their families believe they are happier, and even when they have serious problems like cancer from which they may not recover, they are healthier/stronger/happier while battling the disease.

Often, people only think of supplementing their dogs when they’re ill. However, proper supplementation of normal healthy dogs is also important. While we can never make guarantees, I believe the proper use of nutritional supplements in healthy people and animals helps most of us live longer and reduces visits to the doctor due to illness.

Here are some of my favorite supplements that I use in practice every day, and a few of the indications for which they are used:

  • Formulas that contain enzymes, probiotics, glucosamine, vitamins, fatty acids, and minerals help support the normal dog’s overall constitution.
  • I use choline for senior animals with cognitive disorders to reduce their symptoms (and in normal older animals to reduce the chances of developing cognitive disorder). I also use it in animals with liver disease or diabetes, and it’s my number one supplement for those with seizures.
  • I love supplements that reduce any type of anxiety or phobia, and also find they can reduce itching in allergic patients with an obsessive component to their scratching. The products I like contain chamomile and tryptophan.
  • Olive leaf extract is not only good for immune support but is used to help animals with infections of the ears and skin (it’s my favorite alternative to antibiotics and anti-yeast medications).
  • A cancer and immune support supplement containing scute, cordyceps, Poria, American ginseng, and coix is good for any animal with an immune disease, such as chronic infections and especially cancer.

So there you have it! Five easy and inexpensive steps to keeping your dog’s immune system healthy. By making just a small effort, you’ll find they’ll extend his life and reduce trips to the doctor.