Sick as a dog? It's that time of year when we're coughing and sneezing up a storm. Our pups, on the other hand, don't seem to be susceptible to bad cases of the sniffles. But they do have an immune system that's pretty similar to humans: dogs have white blood cells that fight infections, and they make antibodies to prevent disease, says Judy Morgan, a veterinarian and author of From Needles to Natural. And while they might not benefit from Emergen-C, there are other ways you can help keep them healthy.
Get the lowdown on dog illness
There's a pretty logical explanation for why dogs don't get sick as frequently as humans: "They aren't confined in high-density populations," Morgan explained. "Kids go to school and sit in a classroom full of germs, adults go to an office filled with germs." Most pups are lounging on the couch or running around outside. But those who go to doggy daycare and boarding facilities are more susceptible to upper respiratory diseases like kennel cough (the canine common cold), in addition to the canine flu, digestive problems, and other issues. Younger or elderly dogs, pregnant dogs, and those with preexisting conditions have lowered immunity and are more susceptible to these illnesses—but even those with a strong immune system can suffer.
Make diet changes to boost immunity
Probiotics are one of the best immune boosters for dogs because they provide good bacteria for the digestive system. Give your dog plain, unsweetened yogurt or live active cultures if he's lactose intolerant. Probiotics can help, too. Foods high in vitamin C such as red bell peppers and broccoli and the antioxidants in blueberries, mangoes, spinach, and kale can boost immunity. The dark leafy greens should be finely ground or gently cooked for optimum nutrient absorption. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K are important for immune system health and fighting off illness, as well. "One of the best sources is egg yolks, which can be fed raw or gently cooked," Morgan said.
Feed your pup to fight sickness
For respiratory problems, honey will soothe and moisten your dog's throat and lungs. Small dogs should get a teaspoon daily, while large dogs should get a tablespoon—but be cautious if he is diabetic, as this will raise his blood sugar level. Alternatively, mix a little green tea or green tea extract powder into food, Morgan says. Coconut oil has antiviral and antibacterial properties that strengthen immunity but make sure it's hand-pressed, unrefined, virgin coconut oil. If your dog has kennel cough or canine flu, foods high in zinc, including grass-fed beef, ground pumpkin seeds, and spinach can help them fight it off.