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healthy canine living
Dog laying on grass

Dogs love to use their senses to explore the world around them, but all that sniffing, rolling around, and licking can do a number on their immune systems. With so many opportunities for germs to enter their bodies, their risk of getting sick is heightened.

Luckily, a healthful lifestyle can give you some peace of mind when your dog goes to sniff every other pup at the dog park. With some simple tricks, like a solid exercise and grooming routine, you can keep your dog’s immune system in tip-top shape.

How a dog’s immune system works

To know how to boost the doggie immune system, you’ll need to understand how it works. Like humans, dogs’ immune systems include antibodies and white blood cells that attack foreign proteins to prevent illness. Your dog’s organs also help fight infection. The skin is the first barrier of entry for harmful proteins. But other defenses include membranes of the respiratory, reproductive, urinary, and digestive tracts.

If any of these are weakened like if your dog has a skin wound, there’s a higher risk of illness or infection. Still, a dog’s body has other ways to fight foreign substances that break through the physical barriers. The dog’s bone marrow and thymus gland produce white blood cells to defend against microorganisms. Some organs, such as the spleen, may trap foreign substances. Then, immune system cells can generate immune responses here.

There are many working parts in the immune system, but if one or more parts are weak due to things like injury or poor diet, there’s a higher risk of health issues for your pet. There are ways to boost your pup’s immune system and keep them happy and healthy.

8 ways to boost your dog’s immune system 

A healthy immune system can quickly attack viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi that cause illnesses. While some dogs may have naturally weaker immune systems, there are ways to give your dog immune support. From talking to your veterinarian about vaccines and supplements to keeping them in a clean, stress-free home, consider these eight ways to improve your dog’s general health.

1. Make sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations

One of the top ways to strengthen your dog’s immune system is to keep your dog on top of their vaccinations. Vaccines can prevent many common illnesses for pets. They help train the immune system to fight specific types of invaders. A vaccine teaches your dog’s immune system exactly how to fight off an illness. You’ll want to make sure your dog has their core vaccines, which include vaccinations against rabies, canine parvovirus, distemper, leptospirosis, bordetella, and canine hepatitis.

Depending on the risk of exposure to extra illnesses, your vet may determine if your dog needs additional, non-core vaccines, such as Lyme and influenza vaccines. Vaccinations often occur in a series that can take several weeks or months, so don’t miss an appointment! Your pup needs all their vaccines to stay healthy.

2. Feed your dog high-quality food

Dogs need a well-balanced diet just like humans do. That means getting enough proteins, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals. Dogs will have different dietary needs depending on their stage of life, breed, size, weight, and any underlying medical conditions. No matter their needs, you should choose high-quality foods made with trusted ingredients.

Keep their diet low in added sugars or sodium to maintain a healthy weight, and make sure they get the right amount of protein. It’s also critical to keep your dog hydrated with constant access to fresh, clean water. If your dog loses 10% to 15% of their body water, they can experience severe illness or even death.

3. Try a doggie probiotic

Probiotics may provide more immune system support for dogs by balancing out “bad bacteria” with “good bacteria”. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) approves of probiotics for dogs for digestive and immune system support. Of course, if you’re considering a probiotic, talk to your vet. These are considered supplements, and your vet can help determine if it’s safe to add these to your dog’s diet. Plus, your dog’s size can affect the number of probiotics they need.

These supplements may come in pill, powder, or even treat or chew forms. Pills can be tricky if your dog is notorious for spitting out or refusing them, but you may be able to cleverly disguise them in a tasty pocket of cheese or a spoonful of peanut butter.

👉 Many powders are made with savory ingredients that you can sprinkle into your dog’s food.

When choosing a dog probiotic, check for multi-strain formulas that can fight off multiple types of illnesses. One of our favorites is the Native Pet’s All Natural Probiotic, which has just four ingredients. This supplement has a multi-strain probiotic blend to help defend against diarrhea, upset stomach, gas, bloating, and other illnesses. It also has a savory beef flavor that dogs love.

We also love Purina Fortiflora, named one of the best probiotics for dogs, because it promotes normal intestinal microflora. It’s also vet-recommended and easy to use thanks to pre-measured packets of probiotics.

4. Consider adding salmon oil to your pup’s diet

Dogs benefit from omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can provide support for the skin, joints, immune system, and brain. Salmon oil offers many of these benefits, and this supplement is usually a tasty treat for dogs. Plus, salmon oil supplements can even help your dog’s seasonal, skin, and environmental allergies, all of which can weaken a dog’s immune system.

Immune supplements can help with some allergy conditions. They may also help reduce certain cancers, arthritis, and certain heart conditions.

Dr. Dwight Alleyne

betterpet veterinary advisor

One of our favorite fish oil supplements is Natural Dog Company’s Salmon Oil. It has just one ingredient — wild-caught salmon oil — and can be pumped right into your dog’s normal food. If fish oil capsules are easier to give your pup, try the Nordic Naturals Omega-3 Pet Soft Gels, which support joint, heart, coat, and overall health. These capsules are even made following sustainable fishing practices in a zero-waste facility.

5. Support their immune system with colostrum

In the first few days of a puppy’s life, the mother’s mammary glands produce colostrum, a fluid that passes antibodies and growth hormones to the pups. But adult dogs may also benefit from colostrum supplements. Studies are still limited, so you’ll need to speak with your vet before giving this to your dog.

But some research has shown that colostrum boosts immune support and may even improve immune response to vaccines, including the core distemper vaccination. Colostrum also helps stabilize microflora in the gastrointestinal tract. Colostrum is typically sold in powder form that can be mixed into wet or dry food.

6. Give your dog a stress-free environment

Your dog can’t feel their best if they are constantly exposed to a stressful environment. Some dogs are naturally anxious, but creating a safe haven at home can help them feel more at ease. In turn, their immune system will perform better. Look for signs of stress in your pup, such as incessant scratching or licking, pacing, or a tucked tail.

Then, consider ways to ease the stress, like exercise, a solid routine, and a quiet place to rest. If your dog has separation anxiety, you may want to try these tips to ease their anxiety. You can also talk to your vet to identify ways to help your dog feel more relaxed.

7. Make sure your dog gets lots of exercise

Exercise can help relieve stress and anxiety for dogs, but regular movement is also important for mental and physical health. Exercise will look different for every dog. For example, puppies may have skeletal trauma if you take them on long runs, so stick to shorter excursions with your new friend.

👉 Overweight or obese pups and brachycephalic dogs will also have different needs compared to dogs of an average weight. 

Creating a regular exercise routine is important, and you should aim to keep your pet at a healthy, average weight for their age and breed. For dogs, obesity can lead to health issues that weaken the immune system, including cancer and diabetes, and shorten a dog’s life span.

8. Keep your dog and their surroundings clean

Germs are the immune system’s enemy. These foreign substances can collect in dirty food and water bowls, or they may thrive in that mud puddle Fido just rolled in. Maybe your pup loves to sniff, lick, and roll around with other dogs at the dog park. Either way, all this germ exposure can be overwhelming for an immune system. Keeping your dog clean and groomed is important to keeping them healthy. You should also keep their environment clean.

Plan to give your dog a bath at least once every 3 months . If you both love hikes, long walks, or dog park dates, you may need to give the dog baths more often about every two weeks if needed. Grooming is also essential. Brush short-haired dogs about once per week, and give long-haired dogs daily attention. Keep their ears, eyes, noses, paws, and nails cleaned, too.

To keep their surroundings clean, plan to wash your dog’s food and water bowls daily. Wash dog toys about every two weeks. Clean the couch, rugs, and carpets of dog hair regularly. Don’t forget to deep clean their kennels, beds, collars, and favorite blankets and pillows often, too.

Annual checkups are key to your dog’s health

Even if you give your pet a nutritious diet, plenty of exercise, and a clean, stress-free environment, there could be underlying, asymptomatic health issues. The best way to make sure your dog stays in good health is to keep up with annual checkups.

Your vet can detect, diagnose, and manage or treat any issues early if you are consistent with regular visits. On top of these tips for boosting your dog’s immune system, make sure you’re taking your dog to the vet on a regular basis for checkups.

Frequently asked questions about dog immune systems

When is a dog’s immune system fully developed?

According to a recent study , it takes from birth to about 6 months of age for a puppy’s immune system to mature.

Do dogs have weak immune systems?

All dogs have weak immune systems for the first several months of their lives. Older dogs can also be immuno-compromised. Some dogs may also have immuno-deficiency diseases that weaken their immune systems. These diseases include lupus, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, anemia, and pyruvate kinase deficiency, among others. These diseases may be caused by bacteria, viruses, tick diseases, cancer, infections, or they may be genetic.

What vitamins are good for a dog’s immune system?

Like humans, dogs will benefit from a robust diet with varied vitamins and minerals for better immune support. Your dog’s health will benefit by meeting recommended amounts of omega-3s, B vitamins, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. Most high-quality diets contain all the vitamins and minerals a dog needs to live a healthy lifestyle. If you are uncertain if your dog is on a good quality diet, talk to your local vet to see if your dog’s current diet is a good choice for them.

What foods are good for a dog’s immune system?

In general, plan to give your dog their own dog food and any supplements approved by your vet. If you decide to give your dog some human food, consider healthy options like carrots, green beans, broccoli, bananas, blueberries, and sweet potatoes. Just be sure to avoid these foods that are bad for your dog, like grapes and onions. Don’t give your dog human foods that are high in fat either, such as steak, bacon, nuts, or potato chips, as these foods can cause pancreatitis.