How To Strengthen My Dog’s Immune System

A question commonly asked by owners, here at My Pet Nutritionist, is ‘how can I boost my dog’s immunity?’, or ‘how do I strengthen my dog’s immune system?’. Well, we’re here to give you some helpful tips on how to strengthen your dog’s immune system – you may be surprised with some of the topics covered, but hopefully you will understand the concepts in this detailed blog post. A healthy immune system is the difference between overall health, and disease, and in many cases, the difference between life or death! We strive to keep our own immune systems strong, and our pets deserve just as much strength in their immune system – they are outside, low to the ground, sniffing public areas barefoot much of the time, after all!

The Immune System

There are various parts to the immune system as a whole. Generally speaking, when an owner wants to ‘boost the immune system’, it’s the Adaptive (or Acquired) Immune System in question – the immunity gained following seroconversion of vaccinations. Here’s a bit about the Adaptive Immune System, which can be split into two mechanisms:

  • Humoral (antibody mediated) immunity primarily involves B-Lymphocytes. During a humoral immune response, when an antigen is detected, with the help of T Helper Lymphocytes, the B Cells go through a differentiation process, which produces Memory B Cells and Effector B Cells, which are both specific to the B Cell they were differentiated from, and therefore are specifically shaped to combat a specific antigen/pathogen. This is the most common immune response, especially following successful vaccination. Titre Tests pick up these antibodies.
  • Cellular, or cell-mediated immunity involves another type of cell – T-Cells. When T-Cells differentiate, they become T-Killer Cells which attach to and engulf antigens. Allergic responses and autoimmune conditions are part of the cell-mediated adaptive immune system.

There are other parts to the overall immune system of a dog, or any other mammal, too. Let’s take a brief look at what these are, and how they differ from the Adaptive Immune System.

  • Active Immunity: this is what is happening when the dog is exposed to a pathogen. The active immune system is the fastest acting system and is the body’s first response to the presence of a pathogen. In the presence of a pathogen, the B-Lymphocytes create and release antibodies.
  • Passive Immunity: this is the immunity passed on to an individual instead of being created by their body. In dogs we call this Maternally Derived Antibodies (MDA). MDA is passed onto the puppies from the mother and is vital to health in the early weeks. It usually wanes between 10 and 16 weeks of age, unless interrupted by vaccination. MDA is passed onto the puppies through the placenta, and through the mothers milk. If a puppy is hand reared, he/she may require extra caution than those who drink mothers milk.
  • Innate (also called non-specific) Immunity: this includes the immunity and defence systems your dog is born with. Barriers like skin, the gastro-intestinal tract, eyelashes etc all help keep pathogens out of the body which is why gut health is so very important – at least 70% of your immune system is in the gut! Defence systems like mucosal layers, saliva, stomach acid etc are also part of the innate immune system. Another immune response included as part of the innate immune system is inflammation – this often acts as a marker to pathogens so they can be destroyed.

There are various day-to-day aspects of life, including diet and lifestyle which can affect your dog’s immune capabilities, so let’s dig deeper into these.

How Gut Health Affects the Immune System

It is becoming more widely known, that 70-80% of the immune system lays in the gut – quite a staggering figure! The all important gut microbiome is naturally perfectly balanced – there are ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ that all make up a healthy gut microbiome, but there’s enough of the ‘good guys’ to keep the ‘bad guys’ under control. When the gut is not healthy, the microbiome is knocked out of balance, and the ‘bad guys’ are able to take over, causing disease within the body.

There are various substances, and other triggers such as stress, which cause damage to the gut wall, too. When the gut wall is damaged, the gut microbiome is again, knocked out of balance as it is leaked from the gut (known as Leaky Gut). When the gut is leaking, the immune system is left very vulnerable, so it’s imperative to keep the gut healthy at all times – and if it’s not healthy, focus on getting it healthy!

The vast majority of systems in the body are connected to the gut very much like a roundabout. These connections are called axis and there are many, for example, the gut-brain axis, the gut-musculoskeletal axis, the gut-liver axis, and the gut-skin axis. The microbiome communicates with this organ systems by creating messengers and metabolites such as probiotics in order to help support function. This is an emerging area of immunity that science is newly delving into. We will delve into some gut health supplements later on in this blog post.

Findings Here
Findings Here

How Diet Affects the Immune System

The diet plays a large role in gut and immune health. Commercial dry food diets being overly processed do not have the live capacity to nourish the gut microbiome like fresh foods do. Moisture in food is incredibly important for all mammalian species, and dogs are no different. Dry food generally has 6-10% moisture; making it dehydrating to the intestinal tract.

We know there are some wondrous foods to feed our dogs to support immunity. Fresh in raw or cooked form is always advisable but there are certain ingredients that we favour as they hold great healing and supportive capabilities. We have a fantastic blog explaining the ingredients we tend to favour, which can be found here.

When we look at ingredients, both in kibble and in their raw/fresh forms, we can see some problematic compounds. The one you may have heard about before, is Lectin. Legumes, such as peas, lentils, chickpeas, and peanuts, and nightshades such as white potato, and tomato, are generally high in lectin. Lectin damages the integrity of the gut wall, which results in leaky gut.

The gut damage that can be as a result of feeding dry food or foods high in lectin, can be very detrimental to immune health and function.

When the gut is not as healthy as it should be due to many factors such as diet, stress, toxins and pharmaceuticals to name a few, food intolerances and the rarer allergies can also become an issue. You can learn more about intolerances and allergies here!

These immune and non immune challenges when exposed to the gut consistently, can cause many symptoms and a cascade of inflammation in the body. Prolonged periods of the gut health not being addressed and trigger foods being fed can have a huge impact on the immune system and the overall health of your dog.

Findings Here

How Routine Treatments Affect the Immune System

It may seem an odd association, but it’s important to look at all aspects of your dog’s lifestyle to be able to keep immune function healthy. Part of this, is flea, tick and worm treatments, as well as repeated vaccination. How do these affect the immune system? Let’s dive deeper into the connections between these routine treatments, and immunity.

Flea, tick, and worm treatments can be very damaging to the gut. These products are full of toxins, and gut damaging ingredients. In order to kill worms, wormers are particularly harsh on the gut, which again links back to the connection between gut health and immune strength.

When looking at vaccines, it’s important to understand the concept of over-vaccination, which you can read more about here. When a pet is vaccinated, the immune system is temporarily supressed, while the vaccine seroconverts. As immunity has been proven to last a lifetime for distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis, this recurrent vaccination is not only unnecessary, but potentially damaging to the integrity of the immune system, not to mention the toxins and heavy metals in the adjuvants, which stimulate the vaccine’s effects. If you vaccinate regularly, it may be wise to reconsider, and have a titre test carried out instead.

Findings Here
Findings Here

How Stress Can Affect the Immune System

Due to the gut-brain axis, and added pressure on the body, and brain, stress can have an immense effect on the immune system. Keeping your dog free from stress is important for a healthy gut, and in turn, a healthy immune system.

Stress is such a huge part of disease, that we have a whole blog dedicated to the subject, which you can read here.

Findings Here

Exercise and the Immune System

Another unusual sounding link to a healthy immune system, is exercise. You may be wondering how exercise effects immunity… but let us answer that for you! In order to answer this, we need to look at another axis linking the gut to the body – this time, the musculoskeletal-gut axis.

The musculoskeletal-gut axis plays a large role in immune strengthening, and exercise supports immune function, as exercise acts as an immune regulator. During exercise, and immediately after, lymphocyte circulation increases (white blood cells – the part of the immune system which attack invading pathogens), pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines are released, and general cell recruitment occurs, which helps keep the body functioning well.

An added benefit to exercise, is the affect it has on mental health, but we won’t go into this now.

Findings Here

Detoxification and the Immune System

Detoxification has so many health benefits, one of which, is improved immune function. Feeding a fresh diet, packed full of antioxidant rich plant matter, high in prebiotics (food for probiotics), and inclusive of a variety of vegetables for their phytonutrient and polyphenol content, all aids detoxification.

The household cleaning laundry and fragrance products you use can be swapped to natural alternatives to aid the detoxification. The less exposure to toxins, the better!

Massage can help stimulate the lymphatic system, and ultimately detox. The Tellington T-Touch method has impressive health benefits, and is well worth learning about. You can find your local practitioner online!

All of the aforementioned associations with the immune system, from stress management, to increasing exercise, to improving diet, will all contribute to detoxification.

Findings Here

Boosting the Immune System with Dietary Supplementation

There are a broad range of dietary supplements, and beneficial foods which can help strengthen the immune system. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular ones!

Gut Work

Since immune system health is very much down to gut health, some gut supplements may be very useful for your dog. A mucilage herb such as slippery elm, marshmallow root, or deglycyrrhizinated liquorice can help heal the gut wall, and a good, high quality probiotic helps the gut microbiome flourish, keeping the immune system strong.

Our supplement, Gut Guardian, may be your dog’s best friend, as it is a mix of all three recommended mucilage herbs, soothing chamomile, and high quality probiotics. You can purchase it here!


Bringing their fantastic anti-inflammatory effect, omega 3 is important for all aspects of life, and especially for immune health. Reducing inflammation in the body, reduces stress, which in turn aids immune function. you can read more about feeding fats to your dog here.


A zinc deficiency is a huge contributor to a weak immune system – so supplementing it into your dog’s diet may have some powerful benefits for your dog’s immune system!

If your dog is deficient in zinc, the development of acquired immunity is dampened due to the effects it has on T Lymphocyte function. Antibody production is heavily compromised by a zinc deficiency.

Findings Here


Mushrooms are a great source of Vitamin B and Selenium. Selenium can act as an antioxidant, which keeps free radicals under control. It is also involved in T cell proliferation, and plays a substantial role in antibody production.

Mushrooms purchased fresh from your supermarket are safe for dogs to consume.


Fresh garlic is a great immune support! It acts as an immunomodulator, and is also highly anti-inflammatory. These are fantastic for immune health, and strengthening.

There’s a popular myth that garlic is toxic for dogs, however in the correct dose, it is safe for most, and is best fed 15 minutes after crushing to allow the active ingredient, allicin, to become more potent. Garlic should be avoided for Japanese breeds, and puppies under 6 months of age.

Findings Here

We hope this blog post has helped you understand more about your dog’s immune system, and how you can support it to be the healthiest it can be! As so many diseases are largely down to poor immune health, it’s super important to focus on immune function in your pets. If you feel you would like tailored, 1-2-1 help with this, our consultations may be just what you are looking for! Our Optimise package will help you make the necessary changes in your pet’s lifestyle, and our Personalise package can help you help your pet with disease caused by poor immune function! Book in today, here!

Team MPN x

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