A cat or dog immune system is the core defender against disease, cancer, and infections. It is the system that identifies what is considered normal and what should (or shouldn’t) be allowed in the body.
Unfortunately, there are times where a pet’s immune system might fail in a couple of different ways. First, the immune system may degrade to the point where it does not recognize a foreign body, like cancer. Second, it might mistake something that is perfectly normal for abnormal and work to destroy it.
Immune system problems surface in a many ways:
• Auto-immune: This is where the body basically attacks itself. Auto-immune hemolytic anemia is a good example. This is where the body fails to recognize normal, healthy red blood cells and begins to destroy them. This causes lethargy, weakness, and depression among other problems for afflicted dogs.
• Neoplasia: Cancer. Cancer occurs when a cat or dog immune system fails to identify a problem. Cancerous cells go un-destroyed and are allowed to grow and circulate.
• Immunodeficiency: This occurs when a pet’s body simply does not respond well enough to fight off infections. Immuno-deficient pets are afflicted with illness at a higher rate. Once ill, they have a much harder time ridding the body of the infection. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in cats is an excellent example. This is similar to human HIV. The virus is not what kills the cat. Rather it is the suppression of the immune system that causes death because the cat cannot fight off illness.
• Hypersensitivity, particularly skin related: Allergies stem from the body’s immune system going into overdrive. A dog with severe allergies has a dog immune system that is responding to multiple stimuli, and allergies can often be difficult to decipher.
How a pet develops an immune problem is debatable. There is certainly some level of inheritance. Environmental stress factors like poor diet and poor living conditions can be contributing factors. Many holistic veterinarians feel that too many vaccinations might be the culprit in numerous immune problems, like cat and dog cancer. And it is important to remember that as any pet ages, its immune system’s ability to protect the body decreases.
Dr. Shawn Messonnier, author of The Natural Health Bible for Dogs and Cats, suggests that the best solution is to provide immunity support throughout the pet’s life. In his article Immune System Support in Pets, Dr. Messonnier offers a few suggestions to help maintain a healthy immune system in one’s pets.
1. Minimize vaccinations and do blood titers to find levels rather than just doing annual vaccinations.
2. Try to use natural flea control for non-toxic flea and tick control which limits the use of chemicals.
3. Feed a high quality, natural diet free of preservatives, or make a well-researched homemade diet.
4. Give them vitamins, minerals and (very important) daily essential herbs for cats and dogs for support.
The general rule of thumb should be not to wait until a pet is ill or advanced in age to care for its immune system. Instead, take actions throughout its life to ensure the highest level of immunity support possible. A cat or dog immune system can only be as good as the vessel it is in, so it is imperative that the pet’s whole body be taken care of.