Our immunity systems are our strongest line of defense against viruses, bacterial infections and other illnesses. The same is certainly true for our dogs. For newborn puppies, receiving nutrients through their mother's milk in the first few days of life is essential for building that line of defense. Adult dogs may encounter low immunity issues as the result of fighting other illnesses. In this article, we'll look at why a puppy's first three days are critical for its future health and what can by done for adult dogs with low immunity to help boost their immune systems.
A puppy's first instinct is to suckle from its mother, and it isn't just for comfort. The first milk that the mother produces is called colostrum, and it is rich in antibodies. Because the puppy's body is still too small to create its own immune system, and it only received about 20% of its potential immunity in the womb, it relies on this first milk to help protect it from bacterial infections and viruses. Colostrum only lasts for 72 hours before the regular milk comes in, which also contains a small amount of antibodies but no where as much as in the colostrum. By the time the effects of the colostrum begin to fade, the puppy's own immune system has begun to develop.
These first 72 hours are critical for the puppy. Without the benefit of the antibody-rich colostrum, the puppy runs the risk of immunodeficiency (low immunity) and will be highly susceptible to viruses and bacterial infections that affect the digestive and respiratory systems. Even puppies that receive colostrum but not the milk have a better chance of surviving.
Unfortunately, otherwise healthy adult dogs can develop diseases such as lymphoma or other cancers that can cause very low immunity in dogs. In some cases, a dog's immune system can be so weak that a veterinarian may suggest not performing its usual vaccinations as the immune systems may not be strong enough to protect the body from the vaccination.
Dogs that are suffering from low immunity may benefit from changes in the diet or supplements. Important vitamins and minerals that can help boost the immune system include vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, copper, zinc and vitamin B-12, among others. However, every individual dog is different just as every breed is different, so before starting a supplemental program, it is highly recommended to discuss it with a veterinarian. There is also a growing movement towards feeding dogs a raw diet. Supports of this method claim that commercial cereal based food is lacking in important nutrients and preservatives used in the food can have detrimental effects, including lowering the immune system. Again, anyone interested in this kind of system should talk to their veterinarian before starting a raw diet.