Here at My Pet Nutritionist, we know that every cell has a job to do, and it needs certain nutrients to do those jobs. The cells of the immune system have a particularly important job to do and so they too need to be fuelled properly.
So, we’ve collated our top foods that you can add to the bowl to support immune function in your dog. The list is not in order of importance, just simple options to pop in!
1) Red Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers contain almost three times the amount of Vitamin C that an Orange does! We all know that oranges are touted for their immune supporting functions, but citrus fruits can sometimes cause some digestive discomfort for our furry friends (not all though).
Vitamin C contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. Vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which as you know if you read our guide to the immune system, they help protect the body against infection.
Broccoli is packed full of vitamins and minerals. You will find vitamins A, C and E, fibre and antioxidants in these little green trees!
Vitamin A helps maintain structural and functional integrity of mucosal cells in innate barriers (skin, respiratory tract etc). It is also important for the functioning of natural killer cells, macrophages, and neutrophils. In the adaptive immune response, vitamin A is necessary for the functioning of T and B cells and therefore for the generation of antibody responses to an antigen. Vitamin A also supports the Th2 anti-inflammatory response.
Broccoli also contains a phytochemical called Indole-3-Carbinol. This compound is formed from a substance called glucobrassicin found in broccoli and other brasscia vegetables such as brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens and turnips. Indole-3-carbinol is formed when these vegetables are cut, chewed or lightly cooked and show some exciting new research on their anti-cancer effect.
Rich in Vitamin C, it is also packed full of antioxidants like beta carotene. Not that you would know it because the chlorophyll hides the yellow-orange pigment. Beta carotene is converted toVitamin A in the body but beta carotene, like all carotenoids is an antioxidant, which protects the body from free radicals. Free radicals are produced by macrophages whilst fighting off invading germs, and these free radicals can then damage healthy cells leading to inflammation, so a diet rich in antioxidants can help mitigate the damage! Best to lightly cook spinach before you offer it to your dog though!
This bright yellow spice has been used for years as an anti-inflammatory, but it is also known as an immunomodulator. It interacts with dendritic cells, macrophages and both B and T cells. But it also interacts with cytokines and this is why we generally note it’s role in the inflammatory response.
The inclusion of turmeric has been seen to increase antibodies to particular antigens and overall, it is seen to improve both innate and adaptive immune function.
There’s a reason why you were always told to eat chicken soup if you felt under the weather! Poultry like chicken and turkey is high in vitamin B6. In the innate immune system, vitamin B6 helps regulate inflammation and has roles in cytokine production and natural killer cell activity. In the adaptive immunity system, vitamin B6 plays a role in the metabolism of amino acids, which are the building blocks of cytokines and antibodies. B6 is also involved in lymphocyte proliferation, differentiation and maturation and it maintains Th1 immune responses.
Stock or broth made by boiling chicken bones is also a great option and contains gelatin, chondroitin and other nutrients that are helpful in gut healing in immune function.
Many types of shellfish are packed full of zinc and this is a particular powerhouse when it comes to immune function. It has antioxidant effects protecting against reactive oxygen species, it helps modulate cytokine release and also helps maintain skin and mucosal membrane integrity (that first line of defence). In the adaptive immune response, zinc has a central role in cellular growth and differentiation of immune cells. It plays a role in T cell development and activation and supports the Th1 response.
Cooked mussels are a great addition to your dog’s bowl and are easily picked up in the supermarket.
Not only are mushrooms a great source of B vitamins, but they contain the less talked about mineral selenium.
There are such things known as selenium-dependent enzymes which can act as redox regulators and antioxidants; so,selenium can help protect against free radicals too! Not only that but selenium is involved in T cell proliferation and it also has a role in antibody production.
Lightly cook mushrooms before offering them to you dog and check out the range of species that have additional health benefits too!
One of the leafy greens, kale is rich in folate, or vitamin B9. B vitamins are required to convert food into energy and the demands placed upon the body during sickness can mean more of a demand on this process.
Not only that but folate plays a role in maintaining natural killer cells and plays a role in mounting a sufficient antibody response to antigens. Folate also supports Th1 mediated immune responses. In cases of folate deficiency, immune function is often impaired.
Whether you opt for cooked or raw, liver is a good source of vitamin D. We find vitamin D receptors throughout the immune system which demonstrates the role it plays in its function.
Vitamin D stimulates immune cell proliferation and cytokine production and it helps protect against infection caused by pathogens. It also demonstrates an inhibitory effect in adaptive immunity, suggesting that it is in fact an immune modulator. This is often why we notice increased cases of autoimmunity where there is low vitamin D.
10) Red Meat
Red meat is a great source of iron. Iron comes in two forms, haem, and non-haem. Haem is from meat sources; non-haem is from plant sources.
But iron plays an important role in immune function. It is involved in the regulation of cytokine production and action, it helps destroy bacteria by neutrophils and it is important in the differentiation and proliferation of T cells. Not only that but it is a component in the enzymes critical for the functioning of the immune cells and supports cell differentiation and growth.
Haem iron is more easily absorbed than non-haem iron, but toxicity is more commonly associated with over-the-counter supplementation.
Whether you already feed fresh, or simply want to add to the bowl, you can include these foods in your dog’s diet. When offering vegetables, lightly cook or blitz them first, just to support digestion and utilisation, and if there are pre-existing health issues, double check with a qualified practitioner if changes to the diet are suitable.
If you would like to support your dog’s health through their diet further, but are unsure where to start, check out our services here.
Thanks for reading!