How to Build up a Dog's Immune System

By Betty Lewis

Your dog's immune system consists of an innate defense system and an adaptive defense system. The innate system is his first line of defense, working to keep harmful elements out. His skin, respiratory mucus, stomach acid and certain blood cells are all innate defense mechanisms. When there's a specific threat, such as an infection, his adaptive defense kicks in, deploying in specific parts of his body to fight off invaders. These two systems work together to keep your dog healthy. Your dog's immune system really is a system, composed of a host of pieces and parts that work together to keep him healthy. That means you have a variety of ways to boost his immune system.


A quality nutritious diet is the foundation of a strong immune system. Dr. Jennifer Coates of reports that the gastrointestinal tract is home to 65 percent of a dog's immune cells, linking diet and immunity. Providing higher levels of key nutrients -- vitamins, minerals and proteins -- helps strengthen your dog's immune system.

The amino acid arginine has been linked to improved T-cell immune function; flaxseed, eggs, chicken, salmon and soybeans contain high levels of arginine. The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) help reduce inflammation in the body, helpful in fighting disease such as arthritis and diabetes. Certain fish oils and flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Antioxidants in the form of vitamins and minerals, such as selenium, zinc and vitamins A, C and E, are especially helpful for a sick dog fighting an increase in free-radicals. Fruits and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants.

If you want to boost your dog's immune system through his diet, look for pet food that contains chicken, eggs and other arginine-rich ingredients close to the top of the ingredient list, as well as other immune-strengthening ingredients. If you want to feed your dog a raw or home-cooked diet, consult your veterinarian or animal nutritionist beforehand to ensure the dog's medical and nutritional needs are met.


A walk does more than give your dog a chance to relieve himself -- it provides an opportunity for exercise. Exercise stimulates the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. Exercise also relieves stress, which can negatively affect the dog's immune system. The muscle activity helps remove toxins from the body.


If your dog is experiencing a health challenge, you may want to give him a boost with supplements. There are a host of anti-oxidants available to help your dog, including Vitamins C and E, grape seed extract, ginkgo biloba and coenzyme Q-10. These help decrease chemicals that cause cell damage and provide immune system support. You can use the herb echinacea intermittently to stimulate the immune system and act as an antimicrobial. Probiotics work to strengthen your dog's intestinal tract -- the largest immune organ in his body.

If you are interested in using supplements to build up your dog's immune system, discuss options with your vet to ensure you choose quality products that don't interfere with any medications the pet may be taking.

Alternative Therapies

A little therapeutic touch in the form of massage will increase your dog's lymphocyte production to help ward off illness. As well, massage may help your dog relax, which is good for his emotional health and ultimately helpful for his immune system. Acupuncture may help balance his body and ultimately build his immunity.