Dog Immune System Boosters and Supplements

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A depressed immune response and the accumulation of toxins in organs and tissues are at the root of many chronic canine diseases. The following supplements support the immune system and aid the body in detoxification.

Supplements to Boost the Immune System

Supplements that enhance the body's immune response are useful for most chronic illnesses and can also be used to give your pit bull's immune system a temporary boost during times of stress. These supplements should be avoided, however, if your dog is suffering from an autoimmune disorder.

  • Medicinal Mushrooms - There are a number of very promising studies documenting the effects of extracts from medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, maitake, and shiitake on the immune system. These mushrooms improve the body's immune response and can even suppress the growth of certain cancerous tumors. They also have anti-inflammatory benefits and help protect the liver. Mushroom extracts are helpful in the long-term treatment of chronic diseases as well as for increasing your dog's resistance to viral pathogens in a boarding kennel or at an agility trial. They are frequently used as an adjunctive cancer treatment.

    Recommended Dosage: Depends on the formula, but generally you will want to give a dog with a compromised immune system at least a gram or two a day. The main reason not to go overboard is expense, not toxicity. Mushroom extracts are very safe but unfortunately quite costly. It's fine to give 100% of the recommended human dose.

  • Astragalus - Astragalus is among the most commonly used herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Its primary function is to strengthen the immune system's ability to fight diseases. Astragalus is often combined with echinacea in herbal cold and flu remedies, but unlike echinacea, which is best used for short-term treatment, astragalus is safe and effective for long-term use. There is some evidence that astragalus can inhibit tumor growth. As a result, it is frequently given to dogs fighting cancer. Can be brewed into a medicinal tea (decoction) or given as a powdered or liquid extract. Look for an extract that also contains some of the whole herb. Plants usually work synergistically, so a single isolated compound won't be as effective.

    Recommended Dosage: If you've made a decoction, give 2 teaspoons per ten pounds of body weight up to three times a day. With a powdered or liquid extract, give the dose recommended for adult humans.

  • Echinacea - This well-known herb increases immunity to viruses, bacteria, and fungi by stimulating the body's white blood cells to spring into action. Echinacea is best used for short-term (1-4 weeks) treatment. Helpful if given at the first signs of kennel cough or other infections. Can also be used preemptively when you know your dog will be exposed to an environment with many pathogens or during times of stress. There are different echinacea species, but Echinacea purpurea is generally considered the most effective. Look for a standardized extract containing 15% echinacasides.

    Recommended Dosage: Amounts will vary depending on the formula. Give about 3/4 of the dose recommended for adult humans.

  • Probiotics - Probiotics are friendly bacteria that live in your dog's digestive tract. Probiotic supplements are enormously helpful if your dog is being treated with antibiotics or experiencing digestive problems, but studies show that their benefits go far beyond the gastrointestinal system. Probiotics containing Enterococcus faecium (a bacteria strain specific to dogs) and Lactobacillus sporogenes have been shown to improve the body's immune response in dogs.

    Recommended Dosage: See product label.

Also helpful for immune health: antioxidants such as green tea extract, coenzyme Q10, vitamins A, C and E, selenium, alpha lipoic acid, bioflavonoids, quercetin, garlic, etc.

Supplements to Detoxify the Body

Toxins are all around us: Environmental pollutants, weed killers, insecticides, drugs, chemical additives, antibiotics and hormones in meats, heavy metals in the soil and water--it all adds up. Being lower to the ground and more likely to ingest questionable material, dogs are particularly vulnerable to toxins. The following herbs aid the body in the detoxification process.

  • Burdock Root - Burdock is an effective blood cleanser, helping the body rid itself of heavy metals and other environmental toxins. It may even be helpful against blood-borne parasites such as heartworm, though as of yet, there are no studies to back up this claim. Burdock root is used as a detoxifier in both Eastern and Western herbal medicine. Due to its cleansing properties, it is helpful in cases of skin conditions as well as liver and kidney disease. Best given as a decoction or tincture. Alternatively, fresh burdock root can be pureed in a food processor and added to your dog's food.

    Recommended Dosage: With a decoction, give 1-2 teaspoons per ten pounds of body weight three times a day. With a tincture, give 15-20 drops 2-3 times a day for 40-80 pound pit bulls. If you're using a glycerine tincture, you'll probably need to double this dose.

  • Dandelion - Both the leaves and the roots of this nutritious herb are used as a detoxification agent. Dandelion stimulates the kidneys, while removing waste products and toxins from the liver and gall bladder and then flushing them out through the urinary system. Dandelion preparations come in many forms. The fresh leaves can be pureed in a juicer or food processor, a medicinal tea can be made from fresh or dried leaves (infusion) or roots (decoction), or you can purchase/make a tincture.

    Recommended Dosage: If you're using fresh dandelion leaf puree, give about 3/4 - 1 oz three times a day. With an infusion or decoction, give 2 teaspoons per 10 pounds of body weight three times a day. With the tincture, you'll want to give about 15-20 drops 2-3 times a day for 40-80 pound pit bulls. Double the dose for most glycerine tinctures.

  • Cleavers - This herb acts on the lymphatic system, clearing toxins and wastes from the body via the urinary tract. It's often used for skin conditions, swollen lymph glands, and general detoxification to assist in the treatment of chronic diseases. The dried herb is best used as a medicinal tea (infusion), while fresh cleavers leaves can be pureed in a food processor or juicer.

    Recommended Dosage: With an infusion, give 2 teaspoons per 10 pounds of body weight 2-3 times a day. If you're using the fresh, pureed leaves, you can give your dog a 3/4-1 oz 2-3 times a day.


  • Milk Thistle - In Germany, milk thistle extracts are a government approved remedy for the treatment of hepatic disease, due to the herb's proven ability to detoxify and protect the liver. Holistic veterinarians often recommend milk thistle when they have to prescribe drugs such as heartworm preventatives or to protect the liver from anesthesia. Milk thistle is also recommended in cases of liver disease and elevated liver enzymes. Since silymarin, the primary active compound in milk thistle, is not water soluble, milk thistle infusions or decoctions aren't effective. In fact, milk thistle is poorly absorbed in general, so it must be taken in highly concentrated form. Look for a milk thistle extract standardized to contain 70-80% silymarin/silybin.

    Recommended Dosage: Give 10-15 mg silymarin per 10 pounds of body weight three times a day. So a 50 pound pit bull would get 150-225 mg of silymarin daily, divided into three doses. Use the lower amount (150 mg) for dogs who are basically healthy but need to detox after being exposed to toxins (drugs, insecticides, etc.) and the higher amount (225 mg) for dogs with liver problems.

Also helpful for detoxification: parsley, licorice root, red clover, nettles, marshmallow root, yellow dock, and sea vegetables such as kelp.

How to Use these Supplements

When medicinal herbs are used on a daily basis for many months, they typically lose some of their effectiveness. That's why it's recommended that you give your dog these supplements for 3-4 weeks and then take one week off. For long-term use, it may even be beneficial to take two days off every week in addition to taking a whole week off after a month of supplementation. It's okay to give other, similar supplements during the off days or week.

This information is not intended as medical advice. Its intent is solely educational. Always consult your veterinarian before starting your dog on a supplement regimen.

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