First Line of Defense part 2

By Ava Frick, DVM, FAIS

(Part 2 of a 2-part article)

Last month focused on the immune system, challenges it faces along the road of life and how stress plays a role in reducing the functions of this system. Nutritional deficiencies or imbalances as well as exposures to various chemicals, drugs and toxins present an ongoing immunological challenge, which can suppress immune function.

Now I will lay out some ways you can help support the immune system so it can be strong and respond quickly when the need arises. It can be broken down into four stages.

Stage 1 is about the overall diet. It is important that adequate energy requirement, good protein (this means real meat and eggs), vitamins, trace minerals and macro-minerals are available every day. Unlike humans, dogs and cats burn fats first and carbohydrates second for their energy source. The ability to access nutrients will be easiest for them when they dine on less processed diets. Using raw or dehydrated formulas, balanced home cooked recipes, or canned rations is preferred over dry kibble. Here is the start to drive signaling mechanisms in the immune system and to enhance your pets overall immune responsiveness.

Stage 2 looks for ways to optimize other available macro- and micronutrients that are important to certain aspects of the immune system. L-Glutamine is an example. It is a substrate needed for cell division and energy production, especially of the intestinal and immune cells. These include the T-cells, B-cells, natural killer cells, macrophages and fibroblasts that were discussed last month.

L-Glutamine also helps to regulate electrolyte levels and the acid/base balance of the body. It is used in the liver to detoxify ammonia and then transports ammonia to kidneys for elimination.

Protein is another component which must be available for optimal immune function. Sources of good protein are muscle meat, lentils, eggs, and whey.

Prebiotics can also be beneficial. They are fermented in the colon by microorganisms. Prebiotics are uniquely able to fuel the growth of beneficial microflora, which naturally help boost the body’s defense.

Stage 3 is doing things to actively charge-up the immune system. We can induce the T-helper cell to protection against microbial infection. Probiotics help to destroy bad cells by supporting good bacterial fighting cells. Reducing the body’s level of inflammation will permit the immune system to focus on other immediate demands. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids are a great way to help in this. These are the DHA and EPA available in fish oils.

Stage 4 looks at each life as a unique individual. Interactions among diet, environment, and genetics ultimately define health status and can be critical in influencing chronic diseases. While there are some facets we may not be able to change this generation, what we put into and onto a body can make a difference in this lifetime. Therapeutic nutritional intervention is the greatest avenue you have to make positive improvement in the health of your pet.

To recap the 4 stages:
Quality diet and fill the gaps with a good vitamin, mineral, amino acid supplement.
L-Glutamine, prebiotics, and whole food protein
Probiotics and fish oils
Special nutritional needs for the specific conditions of your pet. Examples could be glucosamine for joints, chlorophyll for healing ulcers or arthritic joints, kelp for calcium, magnesium and iodine, or added zinc for inflammation, skin, liver, and immune needs.
Stress, inflammation, and age-related changes in the immune system are suggested as some of the main contributing factors that influence life expectancy, morbidity and mortality in all species. The pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory functions of the immune cells are off balance due to constant environmental assaults. Overuse of antibiotics and rising environmental toxicity, poor nutrition and increasingly stressful, on-the-go lifestyles play significant roles in diminishing the immune system’s effectiveness.

The list of possible stressors for pets is very long. They range from parasites and pregnancy to being one for a cat of too many cats in the house or a dog who gets very little attention. Those in shelters are stressed. Owners who have irregular schedules or are gone a lot can upset a dog that is waiting at home for their special persons return.
And what you enjoy doing may not be your dogs “cup of tea.” Agility or flyball, going to parks, being a good citizen dog, making hospital or school visits, may all be fun for you. But not every dog is as thrilled with spending their time that way.

Observe your pet for signs of stress. Emotional outbursts, tearing up things, changes in their house habits, increased shedding, chewing or over-grooming, and excessive drinking could all be signs of stress. Reducing stress in life, stopping to smell the roses, and maximizing nutritional support can all go a long way to allowing the immune system to be ready, willing, and able to respond to infection or disease when the call comes in.

For more information contact Dr. Ava Frick at 636-549-9100 or visit www.AnimalRehabStLouis.com.