Feeding your dog for a strong immune system

dog food

Did you know that your dog’s diet plays a tremendous role in their overall health?

It is imperative that your dog get plenty of exercise, clean water, and a high-quality diet if they are going to maintain a healthy immune system. Want to learn more about how to choose the most beneficial and quality food for your dog? Read this article.

It doesn’t matter if you are feeding a commercial kibble dog food or making your dog’s food at home, it is critical that as an informed owner you make the best possible diet choices for your fur baby.

You can do this by

  • Reading dog food labels
  • Feeding organic and natural as much as possible
  • Knowing your dog’s allergies and digestive issues
  • Feeding to boost their immune system (which we will discuss today)
  • Feeding for life stages such as a senior dog
  • Supplementing where needed with vitamins & minerals

By doing these things, your dog has the best chance at living a long and healthy life.

How do I know if my dog’s immune system is performing at sub-par levels?

Before you start feeding your dog to optimize their immune system you should first determine if their immune system is performing at sub-par or normal levels. This is especially true if your dog is entering senior status as optimizing their immune system through their diet may oftentimes serve to delay the decline seen in many older dogs.

Many times it isn’t quite obvious to owners when their dog’s immune systems are not able to function optimally due to nutritional deficiencies, but some signs may be:

  • Constant lethargy or tiredness
  • Skin issues
  • Lackluster coat
  • Occasional bouts of diarrhea

You may have to discuss getting a baseline blood work with your vet to check their organ function and if possible their vitamin levels (although this isn’t usually performed at many vet clinics on a regular basis)

What are the key nutrients my dog needs?

Let’s take a look at some of the key nutrients that dogs need

The six basic nutrients that every dog needs are

  1. Protein
  2. Fats
  3. Carbs
  4. Water
  5. Vitamins
  6. Minerals

1. Proteins

Proteins are integral parts of your dog’s cell membranes. They help form the framework of organs, muscles, joints, hair, skin, nails, ligaments, tendons, and bones. By feeding your dog quality protein you are providing amino acids that they can’t make on their own but that they need as foundational building blocks to a healthy life.

Since dogs are obligate carnivores they tend to eat a lot of meat, although some people do feed their dog a carefully planned vegan diet. The meat translates to protein by their body’s cells and your dogs may even need a higher percentage of protein in their diets than you.

Good sources of protein are

  • Lean meats – beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo
  • Poultry – chicken, turkey, duck, emu, goose, bush birds
  • Eggs
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat

2. Vitamins

Many times, vitamins act as cofactors in metabolic reactions, they aid enzymes in converting nutrients into compounds the body uses, they help in the breakdown of nutrients that provide energy, have antioxidant factors, and play a major role in the structural function of membranes.

If you are feeding your dog a high-quality over-the-counter diet you shouldn’t have to worry about supplementing your dog’s diet with vitamins as they are usually added in.

While we discuss the critical core vitamins that your dog needs more in-depth here in this article, your dog may or may not need a multivitamin-mineral supplement if they fit one or more of the points below

  • Age: many times older dogs need supplements from multi-vitamins to joint supplements
  • Food type: Are you making your dog’s meals at home or feeding a sub-par over-the-counter food? You will most likely have to supplement your dog’s diet with a vitamin.
  • Pregnancy: pregnant dogs may need vitamin supplements, especially in the last phase of their pregnancy
  • Lactating dogs: If a dog is feeding a litter of pups they will need some sort of supplementation
  • Diseases: Some diseases like auto-immune diseases can cause your pups immune system to function at a lower level

If you do decide to give your pup vitamins never give them human vitamins as they need one formulated just for them and their weight.

Want to know how to choose a great multi-vitamin for your dog? Read this article.

3. Minerals

Minerals are inorganic elements that are essential to the life of your dog. Many essential minerals are provided by vegetables, meats, whole grains, and fruits. If your dog is eating an over-the-counter diet the formulations usually have added mineral content in them,

4. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates like glucose and fructose supply energy to cells and provide molecules important in cell functions.

5. Fats

Dietary fat provides the most concentrated source of energy in the diet which is why they are such an important component of your dog’s diet.  They also improve the palatability of the food and serve as carriers for fat-soluble vitamins.

Fats are essential to your dog’s life and some types of fat are even necessary for proper brain function.

6. Water

Of course, every living creature needs fresh, clean, water to survive and your pup is no different. Water has so many functions in the body that we can’t list them all here (unless you want to read this article for days) but some of the most important include keeping the ion balance across cell membranes intact, transportation of nutrients, elimination of products through the urine, lubricating the joints and organs, and removing heat from the body when necessary.

A pet’s total water intake comes from three possible sources: 

What weakens my dog’s immune system?

dog food


While vaccinations strengthen the immune response to viruses that pose a threat to your dog some owners have concerns about vaccinations actually weakening the immune system and while you don’t want to over-vaccinate your dog, they are integral to your dog’s overall health as they effectively prevent your dog from getting diseases, some which can be deadly like parvo or distemper.

If you are concerned about your dog being over-vaccinated, you can speak with your vet about doing an antibody titer test to see if your pet’s antibodies are within the protective range. Some vets will also give rabies and distemper every 3 years as opposed to annual vaccinations

Environmental Stresses

With all of the chemicals and waste in the environment, it is not surprising that your dog’s immune system can suffer if they are bombarded with things like pollution, pesticides, and radioactive waste. While your dog’s body can naturally eliminate some of the toxins, it can not get rid of them all.

Emotional Stress

We all know that emotional stress can dampen your dog’s quality of life, but did you also know that stress can also shorten your dog’s life? And yes, dogs can get stressed!

Some ways to help decrease your dog’s stress are

  • Train them so they are comfortable when you leave them in the house alone if they have separation anxiety
  • Try external options like the thunder shirt which may help decrease stress in some dogs during stressful times like the fourth of July, by applying a comfortable amount of pressure to their bodies
  • Try antianxiety treats
  • Antianxiety sprays help in some cases
  • Keep dogs separated when feeding if one dog bullies the other
  • Give your dog loads of exercise to help them get rid of an excess energy
  • Keep music on when you leave the home
  • Is there a way to detox my dog’s body? Doggy detox

Lack of sleep

Just like humans, dogs need to get adequate sleep and if they don’t it can affect their immune systems. If you find that your dog isn’t sleeping well due to stress or pain try to alleviate the cause so they can get a good nights rest every night.

How can I strengthen my dog’s immune system with their diet?

There are certain things you can do to support your dog’s immune system like making sure your dog has plenty of fresh air, exercise, water, and a quality diet. In addition, research has shown there are several things you can give your dog to help boost its immune system.


Yes, dogs can have turmeric, to learn other ways turmeric benefits your dog and how much you should give read our latest article about the spice here.

While lots of research has been done on the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric more are focusing on the potential immunomodulatory action of the spice. It has been shown to be able to modulate the activation of the immune system and enhance antibody responses. (1)

It has also been shown that turmeric may be able to decrease cortisol levels in humans, while more research is needed for dogs it may also do the same to decrease their stress levels.

Super Seeds: To learn more about the dangers and hazards of feeding your dog chia seeds read our latest article here.

Dogs can truly benefit from feeding super seeds, including chia seed here are seven that you can feed your dog


Earl Mindell’s Nutrition & Health For Dogs