Top 5 steps for optimal immunity


A long healthy life depends in large part on strong and resilient immunity for disease resistance. You may already be incorporating some of these suggestions, but combine all five and you have a powerful recipe for ongoing wellness.

The immune system is what keeps us and our dogs alive. Regardless of the disease, proper care and support of this vital system determines our health and our lifespan. While supporting immunity during illness is vital, it’s also important to maintain a healthy immune system when your dog is well to help stave off disease.

1. Minimize vaccines

When the immune system responds appropriately, the proper use of vaccinations can help prevent disease. However, when dogs are over-vaccinated, the risk of an inappropriate immune response increases, posing danger to the animal. Inappropriate immune responses can cause immediate allergic reactions, or chronic problems such as autoimmune disorders and even cancer. Most dogs are able to mount effective immune responses to minimal vaccinations. A simple and inexpensive blood antibody test called a titer can determine if and when your dog may require a vaccine after completing the first adult booster vaccination visit. Dogs with serious and chronic immune disorders should never be vaccinated following diagnosis, or they risk coming out of remission from their diseases.

2. Minimize chemicals and medications

Overuse and misuse of chemicals and conventional medications can harm the dog’s body in numerous ways, and that includes causing adverse effects on his immunity. Whenever I feel that a chemical product, such as a flea preventive, or conventional medication, such as a steroid or antibiotic, is needed for a patient, I always ask myself two important questions. First, is there a safer natural alternative I can use? (There usually is.) Secondly, what is the lowest dose I can use to heal my patient (usually, lower doses of many chemicals and medications can be used safely and effectively).

3. Feed a great diet

No matter what else you do to keep your dog healthy, feeding him a great diet is critical, and it’s the one thing you totally control. Many pet foods are, in my opinion, full of ingredients that may not be healthy for your dog’s immune system. Animal and plant by-products, which typically are scrap from the food processing industry, provide little if any positive health benefits and may actually be harmful to your dog. Added chemicals, flavourings and colourings have no specific health benefits and may harm his DNA through oxidative damage, resulting in various immune problems such as cancers.

4. Exercise your dog

As with people, a sensible exercise program for your dog is important for many reasons. First, exercise increases the bond between you. Second, it keeps the musculoskeletal system in great shape and mimics the natural activities your dog’s wild relatives experience every day. Thirdly, regular exercise keeps the cardiovascular system in shape. Finally, it enhances well being and strengthens immunity.

5. Supplement your dog

I’m a big fan of supplements. I use them every day for my patients (and my own family members, both two-legged and four-legged).

Here’s what I’ve noticed with my patients who are properly supplemented: they tend to live longer and feel better, their families believe they are happier, and even when they have serious problems like cancer from which they may not recover, they are healthier/stronger/happier while battling the disease. Often, people only think of supplementing their dogs when they’re ill. However, proper supplementation of normal healthy dogs is also important. While we can never make guarantees, I believe the proper use of nutritional supplements in healthy people and animals helps most of us live longer and reduces visits to the doctor due to illness. Supplements you might consider include probiotics, fatty acids, and enzymes.

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Veterinarian Dr. Shawn Messonnier wrote The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, The Natural Vet's Guide to Preventing and Treating Cancer in Dogs, and 8 Weeks to a Healthy Dog. He's the pet care expert for Martha Stewart Living's "Dr. Shawn — The Natural Vet" on Sirius Satellite Radio, and creator of Dr. Shawn's Pet Organics. His practice, Paws & Claws Animal Hospital (, is in Plano, Texas.