Most of the dogs we have during our lifetime do very well. They have no persistent health issues and have little need for veterinary care. However, once in a while, we come across that one dog that seems to require constant care and multiple visits to the veterinarian with anything from kennel cough, diarrhea, ear infections, or skin and coat problems that are often difficult to diagnose or treat successfully.
It is both perplexing and frustrating when you have a puppy that seems fine and then develops chronic diarrhea that continues after medications are finished and changes to its diet have been made. You deal with this and then a urinary tract infection pops up and that leads to hair loss or skin infections. More trips to the vet result in more medications and treatments. What makes one puppy so healthy and another seem like it’s a magnet for every problem imaginable?
Usually there is not just one cause. It can be due to a variety of insults to the immune system. One might be that the puppy didn’t get a good amount of colostrum from its mother during the first 24 hours after birth. Colostrum provides good immunity and IgA A, which helps reduce infections and viruses from the entering via the mucus membranes. The first day is very important because colostrum is only effective in for 24 hours. After that, the puppies (or humans) digestive tract changes and it can no longer digest or absorb the good nutrients in the colostrum necessary for good health. Another cause may be that the puppy might have been vaccinated too young and/or too often. Vaccinations can suppress the immune system for two to three weeks allowing opportunistic problems to take hold. Repeated vaccinations further reduce the puppy’s ability to fight off normal pathogens that a healthy puppy can avoid. The puppy’s immune system is immature compared to an adult and it can take until the puppy is 7 to 18 months to fully mature depending on the puppy’s health history. If continued stressors occur before and during this maturity window, other bacteria and viruses have an opportunity to affect the puppy’s health. This can include staph bacteria, yeast, kennel cough, parvovirus, parasites (roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, giardia and coccidia) pneumonia and other infections that can affect the skin and coat.
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A common concern and worry among puppy owners is that their puppy has a sensitive stomach, has allergies, food sensitivities, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, or other adult dog issues. Generally, most dogs don’t get food or environmental allergies until they are older. It takes months, and sometimes years, for a dog’s system to develop an autoimmune response to a normal substance. As for ‘sensitive stomach’, most dogs simply get an inflamed or irritated digestive tract that will remain if the dog continues to get a high fiber diet. Dry dog food diets, regardless of the quality or if it is a prescribed dry diet, is not an ideal diet. The irritation and inflammation will continue as long as the dog is on a poor quality and poor protein diet, eventually affecting the immune system.
What is the best approach to helping a puppy develop a strong immune system so it can fight off the common health issues and insults in the environment?
The first and necessary tool is to get a full work up from your veterinarian. Blood tests and urinalysis is important to rule out anything immediately treatable, such as parasites, antibiotics for bacteria and infection (i.e., UTI, skin infections, etc.). Once that is accomplished, the next step is to examine the dog’s diet.
High quality protein that is easy to digest is what helps with organ, skin and coat health. It is also important to offer a wide variety of quality proteins. Sticking with just one protein source CAN set your puppy up for allergies to that food later on in its life. I suggest using a variety of red meats such as beef, pork, lamb, and venison, as well as poultry to include chicken, duck and turkey. Adding some canned fish (mackerel, salmon and sardines packed in water) twice a week is also good. You can also feed eggs, plain yogurt and cottage cheese for more variety. This variety can be provided over a week’s time.
Dogs with health issues need a fresh food diet. This can either be a raw diet with bones or a home-cooked diet that contains about 75% animal-based protein and 25% well pulped or cooked vegetables for fiber. Processed dog food, such as dry or canned, is cooked at high heats and most contain high amounts of carbohydrates (grains, vegetables, fruit and fibers). High quantities of carbohydrates are used in commercial dog foods because they provide for a longer shelf-life (obviously meat and fat won’t have a long shelf life) and they are cheaper and used as fillers. A fresh food diet contains fewer ingredients which offer less chance of a dog having a reaction. Commercial dog foods contain preservatives, additives, and fillers such as grains, clay, beet pulp, oat bran and other carbohydrates which can increase the dog’s chances of having a reaction.
Dogs with intestinal issues such as gas, diarrhea and vomiting have more trouble with carbohydrates in the diet. The dog’s digestive tract is short and simple compared to ours and it is designed to efficiently process animal proteins and fats. They do not have a long intestinal tract and therefore have little ability to ferment high-fiber foods or process and break down carbohydrates. Eliminating these types of foods from your dog’s diet, or reducing them to less than 25% in a home-cooked diet eases the strain on the intestines. This in turn, gives an irritated or inflamed intestinal lining a chance to heal.
After evaluating the diet and making the needed changes to improve the nutritional value and feeding foods that are easy for your dog to digest (always moist please!), what supplements can be offered to help support the immune system and keep it strong? Let’s take a look at some good and effective choices.
While probiotics are live bacteria or yeast, the best choices are the probiotic blends that contain lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus, and the various strains of this form, helps fight diarrhea and produce better-formed stools. Bifobacterium, also known as Bifidus, helps with IBD and other similar gut problems. These help with skin problems (by keeping the good bacteria in the gut in good amounts and they reduce yeast), help fight against urinary tract infections and can help prevent allergies and colds. Probiotics are a good friend to the immune system! You can add some probiotics to the diet through cultured milk products, such as yogurt, cottage cheese and buttermilk; however, I would add a good powdered Probiotic supplement, such as the Berte’s Ultra Probiotic Powder. I would add to each meal for at least one to three months and then reduce to once daily.
Omega 3 fatty acids help enhance the immune system, immensely help the coat and skin, are renal, heart and liver protective, help with vision and brain development and can help fight inflammation. Dogs need omega 3 fatty acids from animal-based sources. Plant fats contain omega 3 fatty acids in ALA form which dogs cannot convert to a usable form. The best types for dogs are fish oil in capsule form. A good dose is one capsule (at 180 EPA and 120 DHA per cap) at 10 to 20 pounds of the dog’s body weight daily.
Antioxidants and vitamins are important in supporting the immune system. Vitamins C and E are antioxidants and help fight free radicals in the dog’s system. B complex is great for the nervous system, immune system, and skin and coat. Vitamin D3 helps the immune system, as well as protects from cancer and viruses. The Berte’s Immune Blend also contains probiotics and digestive enzymes for good digestive health, as well as l-glutamine, an amino acid that helps keep the digestive tract lining healthy.
An important immune helper is Mycotriplex liquid extract. This is a blend of mushroom extracts that are thought to help slow down cancer cell growth and give the system support in fighting off infection and illness. This compound is given orally, with an attached dropper, directly into the mouth or it can be added to food. Mushroom extracts are in a family of immunomodulators that enhance immune function. They are normally used for about 4 weeks for developing a stronger immune system, to daily for adult autoimmune problems or cancer. Dogs seem to do best when given directly in the mouth and about an hour before meals.
The Berte’s Digestion Blend is the most helpful for digestion upsets. This includes diarrhea, ‘sensitive stomach’ and vomiting. It contains good amounts of probiotics, animal-based digestive enzymes that help predigest fats in the stomach before it reaches the small intestine and liver, and l-glutamine, which helps to heal the digestive tract lining. This supplement typically only needs to be given for 4 to 8 weeks to repair and heal the digestive tract, but may be needed longer in older dogs who may be dealing with long term damage. After that, the smaller amounts of probiotics, enzymes and l-glutamine contained in the Berte’s Immune Blend will help keep the digestive tract in good health.
It does takes many weeks and sometimes months for the Immune System to become stronger and mature, but the beginning of good results and improvement should be seen after two weeks of feeding a good, moist nutritional diet and adding the recommended supplements. Always continue to monitor your dog’s health with your veterinarian. Remember, it takes a good diet and good supplements to help enhance the immune system and time to let the healing occur!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
While chocolates and sweets are delicious, these are not what your dog needs or craves.
Good treats include beef or chicken jerky, string cheese or cheese cubes, hard boiled eggs and dehydrated chicken or turkey hearts!
Good, healthy longer chew treats are bully sticks and dried beef tracheas!
Your dog will LOVE you for it!