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The Basics of Dog Immunity and Nutritional Support

Discover the transformative power of nutrition in bolstering your pet’s immune system with Dr. Katie Woodley, The Natural Pet Doctor. With years of veterinary experience, Dr. Katie offers expert insights into holistic pet care, guiding you to optimise your fur friend’s health and vitality naturally.

Dr Katie Woodley aka The Natural Pet Doctor. ProDog expert author.

Author: Dr Katie Woodley

Edited By: Anna Bain

The Basics of Dog Immunity and Nutritional Support

The well-being of our canine companions is a priority for every dog owner. Central to this is understanding the intricate dance between a dog’s immune system and their nutrition. Immunity in dogs, much like in humans, is a complex, multifaceted system that defends against pathogens and maintains health. However, what is often overlooked is the profound connection between a dog’s gut health, nutrition, and immune function. This blog explores the basics of canine immunity, the critical role of nutrition in supporting this system, and how a focus on gut health through specific foods and supplements can enhance immune resilience.

In this article, we feature a nutritional supplement from our range:

COLOSTRUM for immune support

The Canine Immune System Explained

Overview of dog immunity

Your dog’s immune system is an intricate network designed to defend against a multitude of threats, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites. At its core are two main branches: the innate (or nonspecific) immune system, which provides immediate defense against pathogens, and the adaptive (or specific) immune system, which develops targeted responses to specific threats over time. The innate system includes barriers like the skin and mucous membranes, as well as various cells that identify and eliminate pathogens. The adaptive system involves lymphocytes (B cells and T cells), which produce antibodies and remember past invaders, providing long-term immunity.

The role of white blood cells and antibodies

Central to the immune response are white blood cells (leukocytes), which serve as the body’s primary means of fighting infections. Neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, are among the first responders to infection, capable of engulfing and destroying pathogens through a process called phagocytosis. Meanwhile, lymphocytes target specific pathogens: B cells produce antibodies that neutralize or mark invaders for destruction, while T cells either help activate other immune cells or directly attack infected cells.

This orchestrated response ensures that your dog can not only address immediate threats but also build resistance to future infections.

The gut-immunity link

The gut plays a pivotal role in canine immunity, hosting a complex ecosystem of bacteria known as the gut microbiome. This microbiome exerts a profound influence on both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Beneficial bacteria in the gut help regulate immune responses by competing with harmful pathogens, synthesizing essential nutrients, and producing compounds that can modulate immune function. They also influence the development and function of the mucosal immune system, a critical component of the gut’s defense mechanism, which produces immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies. These antibodies are crucial for neutralizing pathogens within the gut, preventing them from breaching the intestinal barrier and triggering systemic infections.

Immune system and gut health interconnection

The health of the gut microbiome is intimately connected to the overall efficiency of the immune system. A balanced microbiome supports effective immune responses, while dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut bacteria) can lead to compromised immunity, making the dog more susceptible to infections and diseases. Factors such as diet, antibiotics, and stress can impact the composition of the gut microbiome, thereby influencing immune health. Nutrition plays a key role in maintaining a healthy microbiome, with certain fibers, probiotics, and nutrients supporting beneficial bacteria and, by extension, immune function.

Enhancing canine immunity through gut health

Supporting your dog’s gut health is a direct pathway to enhancing their immune resilience. Probiotic supplements, prebiotic fibers, and a diet rich in diverse, nutrient-dense foods can help cultivate a robust gut microbiome. Foods like fermented vegetables and specific supplements that introduce beneficial bacteria and nutrients into the gut can bolster the mucosal immune system, ensuring a well-regulated immune response. Regular veterinary check-ups and tailored nutritional plans utilizing minimally processed food can optimize gut health and, consequently, immune function, paving the way for a healthier, more resilient pet.

By understanding the intricate relationship between the gut and the immune system, dog owners can take proactive steps to support their pets’ health through targeted nutrition and care practices.

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Nutritional Support for Dog Immunity: A Key to Optimal Health

In the quest for maintaining our canine companions’ health, the role of nutrition cannot be overstated. A well-balanced diet not only provides energy but also contains crucial components that support the immune system. Certain foods, supplements, and herbs are especially beneficial for boosting immunity, each offering unique mechanisms of action that contribute to a more resilient defense system (5). Let’s explore how incorporating specific nutritional elements can play a pivotal role in enhancing your dog’s immune health.

Medicinal mushrooms

Medicinal mushrooms like Shiitake, Reishi, and Turkey Tail are incredible for boosting the immune system. They’re packed with something called beta-glucans, which are really good at helping the body fight off sickness. Imagine beta-glucans as a kind of alarm system that tells the body’s defenders, called macrophages, to wake up and get to work. These macrophages are like the body’s first responders, rushing to eat up and get rid of any germs or bad stuff that shouldn’t be there. This helps stop infections before they can start. Beta-glucans also help the body make more antibodies, which are like the body’s own custom-made weapons against germs. So, adding these mushrooms to your dog’s diet can really help keep their immune system strong and ready to protect them from getting sick.

Beyond enhancing the immediate immune response, medicinal mushrooms contribute to the body’s long-term defense mechanisms by supporting the proliferation of natural killer (NK) cells (1). NK cells are vital for identifying and eliminating cells that are

infected with viruses or have turned cancerous. The presence of beta-glucans from medicinal mushrooms in the diet has been linked to increased activity and effectiveness of these critical immune cells, providing an added layer of protection against complex health threats. Incorporating these mushrooms into your dog’s diet not only enhances their ability to fight off infections and diseases but also supports overall immune health through a multifaceted approach. This nutritional strategy can be particularly beneficial in maintaining the health and well-being of dogs, safeguarding them against a variety of pathogens, and potentially reducing the incidence of tumors and viral infections.

Probiotics and their importance

Probiotics, including specific strains such as Saccharomyces boulardii and those originating from soil-based organisms, play a pivotal role in bolstering the gut microbiome, an essential component of the immune defense mechanism (5). Saccharomyces boulardii, a beneficial yeast, is instrumental in safeguarding the integrity of the gut lining, mitigating inflammation, and thwarting pathogens. It achieves this by inhibiting the adhesion of harmful bacteria to the intestinal wall and by stimulating the production of secretory Immunoglobulin A (sIgA), a crucial antibody for maintaining gut immunity and overall health.

On the other hand, soil-based probiotics, which are derived from the natural bacterial ecosystems present in the soil, possess a remarkable ability to withstand the acidic conditions of the stomach, thereby reaching the gut effectively. Once established, they contribute significantly to the digestion of nutrients, the synthesis of essential vitamins, and the suppression of pathogenic bacteria.

This complex interaction between soil-based probiotics and the gut microbiome not only enhances digestive health but also fortifies the immune system, underscoring the importance of incorporating these probiotics into the dietary regimen for optimal health outcomes.

Fermented foods

Fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut are not only nutrient-rich but also enhance gut health and immune function in dogs through their probiotic content and the production of beneficial compounds such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These foods undergo lactofermentation, a process that breaks down sugars and starches, increasing the food’s digestibility and enriching it with vitamins, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria. This helps improve nutrient absorption, supports a healthy gut microbiome, and strengthens the immune system by increasing the production of natural antibodies and immune cells.

The SCFAs produced during fermentation, such as butyrate, acetate, and propionate, have anti-inflammatory properties and play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the gut barrier. This not only aids in reducing inflammation but also supports a balanced immune response, crucial for preventing overreactions to non-threatening antigens that can lead to allergies and other immune-related disorders (4).

Incorporating fermented foods into your dog’s diet can offer a multifaceted approach to health, bolstering gut health and immune function. It’s important to introduce these foods gradually to ensure they are a beneficial addition to your dog’s nutrition plan.


Colostrum plays a vital role in the early life of puppies, providing them with a rich mixture of antibodies, growth factors, and essential nutrients crucial for the initial stages of immune development. This first milk, produced immediately after birth, is nature’s way of transferring immunity from mother to newborn, offering protection against various pathogens during the first few weeks of life. Beyond its immediate benefits, colostrum continues to support immune health as puppies grow, helping to lay the foundation for a robust immune system capable of warding off infections and diseases.

In adult dogs, colostrum still offers significant health advantages. Its high concentration of antibodies provides an additional defense against gastrointestinal pathogens, supporting the body’s ability to fight off infections. Furthermore, the growth factors present in colostrum play a critical role in maintaining and repairing the gut lining, ensuring the integrity of the gut barrier (8). This is crucial for preventing the entry of harmful substances into the bloodstream, thus maintaining systemic health and enhancing gut-based immunity. The inclusion of colostrum in the diet of adult dogs can contribute to a balanced and effective immune response, highlighting its value not just for puppies, but for dogs at all stages of life.

Discover ProDog’s Colostrum

Herbal Therapy for Immune System Support


Astragalus stands out for its remarkable immune-boosting benefits, particularly valuable for individuals with immunosuppressive diseases and those prone to allergies. This herb enhances the body’s immune capabilities by promoting the production and maturation of stem cells within the bone marrow and lymphatic tissues into vital immune cells. This action is crucial, as it strengthens the immune system’s ability to fend off infections and diseases, offering a beacon of hope for those dogs whose immune systems are compromised. By bolstering the production of immune cells, Astragalus helps fortify the body’s natural defenses, making it better equipped to deal with a variety of health challenges.

Moreover, Astragalus’s ability to stimulate the production of interferon, a pivotal protein in the immune system’s antiviral arsenal, is particularly beneficial in the context of immunosuppressive conditions and allergic responses (7). Interferon plays a vital role in signaling cells to raise their defenses against viral invaders and reducing the body’s over reactive responses to allergens, which can exacerbate conditions like atopic dermatitis. By enhancing the interferon response, Astragalus not only aids in protecting against viral infections but also helps moderate the immune system’s reaction to allergens, potentially alleviating the symptoms of allergic diseases. Through these mechanisms, Astragalus contributes to a more balanced and effective immune response, offering support to those dealing with immune-related health issues.


Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, stands out for its exceptional anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It significantly influences the immune system, particularly by reducing the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are key players in triggering inflammation throughout the body. Diminishing their activity, curcumin effectively mitigates inflammation at its root, offering considerable benefits against chronic inflammatory states. Additionally, it strengthens the body’s antibody responses, which are essential for defending against various pathogens and upholding the immune system’s integrity. This combination of effects not only aids in addressing current inflammatory issues but also plays a preventative role, establishing curcumin as an integral component for maintaining a dog’s health throughout all life stages.

The therapeutic potential of curcumin further extends to managing autoimmune diseases in dogs, conditions characterized by the immune system erroneously targeting the body’s own cells. By fine-tuning immune functions and minimizing unwarranted inflammatory reactions, curcumin can alleviate the symptoms associated with such diseases, enhancing a dog’s well-being. Its antioxidant capacity further contributes by safeguarding cells from oxidative damage induced by free radicals, which can accelerate the progression of chronic diseases (2). Incorporating curcumin into a dog’s diet thus supports the immune system in various ways, helping to control and prevent the impacts of chronic inflammation and autoimmune disorders, and promoting overall health and longevity in dogs.

Incorporating these different elements into your dog’s diet represents a strategic approach to nutrition that can significantly enhance their immune system. By focusing on foods and supplements that provide targeted support, you can contribute to your pet’s ability to fend off diseases and lead a healthier life.

ProDog utilize many of the superfoods and herbs mentioned here in their supplement range. For example, Protect contains turkey tail and Boost Reish mushroom and probiotics, meanwhile Flexx joint support supplement contains curcumin as a key ingredient. I recommend exploring their whole range of dog supplements to discover targeted nutritional support that covers the key area of canine health.

Implementing Nutritional Strategies for Your Dog

When incorporating these supplements and herbs into your dog’s diet, it’s crucial to start with small, controlled amounts and observe your pet’s response. Each dog is unique, and what works for one may not suit another. Always consult with a veterinarian or a canine nutritionist to ensure these additions are appropriate for your dog’s specific health conditions and dietary needs. Proper dosage and the quality of supplements and herbs are paramount to ensure safety and efficacy.

The ProDog team have certified canine nutritionists on hand to provide free nutritional advice, contact them today for help and guidance.


Understanding the role of supplements, probiotics, medicinal mushrooms, and certain herbs can play a significant role in supporting your dog’s immune system and offers a pathway to enhancing their health through nutrition. By carefully selecting and incorporating these natural aids into your dog’s diet, you can help fortify their defenses against diseases. Remember, a holistic approach that includes regular veterinary care, a balanced diet, and a healthy lifestyle is essential for maintaining your dog’s overall well-being.


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  2. Chamani S, Moossavi M, Naghizadeh A, Abbasifard M, Majeed M, Johnston TP, Sahebkar A. Immunomodulatory effects of curcumin in systemic autoimmune diseases. Phytother Res. 2022 Apr;36(4):1616-1632. doi: 10.1002/ptr.7417. Epub 2022 Mar 18. PMID: 35302258.
  3. D’Angelo S, Fracassi F, Bresciani F, Galuppi R, Diana A, Linta N, Bettini G, Morini M, Pietra M. Effect of Saccharomyces boulardii in dog with chronic enteropathies: double-blinded, placebo-controlled study. Vet Rec. 2018 Mar 3;182(9):258. doi: 10.1136/vr.104241. Epub 2017 Dec 6. PMID: 29212912.
  4. Dimidi E, Cox SR, Rossi M, Whelan K. Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2019 Aug 5;11(8):1806. doi: 10.3390/nu11081806. PMID: 31387262; PMCID: PMC6723656.
  5. Jacquier EF, van de Wouw M, Nekrasov E, Contractor N, Kassis A, Marcu D. Local and Systemic Effects of Bioactive Food Ingredients: Is There a Role for Functional Foods to Prime the Gut for Resilience? Foods. 2024 Feb 28;13(5):739
  6. Pilla R, Suchodolski JS. The Role of the Canine Gut Microbiome and Metabolome in Health and Gastrointestinal Disease. Front Vet Sci. 2020 Jan 14;6:498. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2019.00498. PMID: 31993446; PMCID: PMC6971114.doi: 10.3390/foods13050739. PMID: 38472851; PMCID: PMC10930422.
  7. Qi Y, Gao F, Hou L, Wan C. Anti-Inflammatory and Immunostimulatory Activities of Astragalosides. Am J Chin Med. 2017;45(6):1157-1167. doi: 10.1142/S0192415X1750063X. Epub 2017 Aug 22. PMID: 28830214.
  8. Rossi L, Lumbreras AEV, Vagni S, Dell’Anno M, Bontempo V. Nutritional and Functional Properties of Colostrum in Puppies and Kittens. Animals (Basel). 2021 Nov 15;11(11):3260. doi: 10.3390/ani11113260. PMID: 34827992; PMCID: PMC8614261.


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Dr Katie Woodley

BVSc, GDVCHM, CVMA, otherwise known as The Natural Pet Doctor, is a leading force in the world of holistic pet care and a valued consultant vet for ProDog. With a passion for canine well-being and a commitment to promoting holistic approaches, she is dedicated to enhancing the lives of our fur friends.


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