How to keep your dog’s immune system strong

We’ve spoken about what can happen when the immune system turns from a friend to a foe.

While it’s important to know how and when this can happen – and what you can do if it does, it’s also important to remember that for most dogs, their immune system is working fine. Not only that, it’s protecting them on a daily basis.

And you can help it do its job even better. How?

Lifestyle factors

There are reports that lifestyle factors including diet, weight and stress levels can play a role in determining how well your dog’s immune system works.

The link between these behaviours and the immune system isn’t yet fully defined. But there’s no denying that evidence shows what you feed your dog, how much they weigh and how much they exercise can influence how strong and well their immune is functioning, and in turn, their overall health.

Fill your dog’s bowl with fruits and vegetables

Napoleon Bonaparte once said that ‘an army marches on its stomach’. This is true of your dogs immune system army, too.

Fruit and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and other compounds through to specifically play a role in strengthen your dog’s immune system and their health overall.

Look for fruits and vegetables that are rich in color and feed a rainbow of them to insure your dog get a mix of the different nutrients they offer.

Good options are: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, kale, broccoli, spinach, raspberry, blueberry, apples and banana.

Plain frozen fruits and vegetables are okay and a great alternative if you can’t get your hands on fresh. Overripe fruits might not taste great to you but they’re just fine for your dog.

Make your dog a lean machine

It’s well established that dogs who are overweight are at increased risk of developing health issues compared to dogs of a healthier weight.

And while not yet fully established, there’s evidence to suggest that one of the ways being overweight damages your dog’s health is by putting ‘stress’ on the immune system.

That’s why it’s important to remember that keeping your dog slim is about more than just aesthetics – it’s also important in order for them to maintain a strong immune system and good overall health.

If you’re unsure about whether your dog is overweight, checkout some online guides.

Get moving

The jury’s still out on how exactly exercise can help keep your dog’s immune system strong and functioning at optimum levels.

Nonetheless, there is evidence to show that physical activity can boost the immune system considerably, and can protect against certain diseases, including cold and flu.

One theory is that exercise causes a physiological change to the immune system that mean it’s better at seeking out and destroying potentially harmful bacteria and viruses.

Another is regular physical activity can increase the production of immune cells that attack and kill bacteria and other foreign entities.

And of course, there’s the fact that exercise will keep your dog leaner and fitter overall, which will also have a positive effect on their immune system.


Vaccination involves giving your dog different vaccines which protect them from a range of illnesses.

The concept of vaccines and vaccination was first proposed by Edward Jenner in 1796. He observed that milkmaids who developed cowpox did not catch smallpox. He believed that something about having cowpox prevented these women from developing small pox.

Believing something about having cowpox prevented these women from developing smallpox, he injected an 8-year-old boy with some fluid from a cowpox blister. A few months later he did the same thing, only this time with some fluid from a smallpox blister. The boy never developed smallpox.

We now know that what was happening was when people had cowpox, the specific part of their immune system learned what it was and developed ways to fight it.

Then, if these people were injected with smallpox, because the diseases were similar, the immune system recognised the smallpox virus as something that shouldn’t be there and so killed it.

This is the underlying principal behind vaccines and vaccination. Inject a small, diluted amount of a harmful foreign substance (usually a virus of some kind) to your dog’s body. This stimulates the specific immune system to mount a mild response and kill the vaccine. Then, if the virus ever tries to enter the body again, cells of the specific immune system kill it off, meaning your dog doesn’t get sick.

While vaccines won’t actually cause your dog to develop a disease, they may be a little under the weather for a while and experience some side effects including:

  • Pain or swelling in the area where the vaccine was given
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite for a few days
  • Vomiting and / or diarrhoea

On rare occasions, some dogs can experience more severe side effects, but this isn’t very often. Nonetheless, it’s best to work together with your vet to determine which vaccines are best for your dog, along with how and when they should be given.

The take home message

Your dog’s immune system is an incredibly complex thing. And it’s something that researchers are still learning more and more about.

Right now, we don’t have all the answers. But nonetheless, there is evidence to suggest that following these tips – feeding your dog fresh fruit and veg, maintaining their weight at a healthy level, exercising them regularly and vaccinations – can all help keep your dog’s immune system strong and working properly.

And in doing so, they’ll go a long way to ensuring your dog lives a healthier, and potentially longer, life.

Learn more

How your dogs immune system can go wrong – Allergies – Part I

How your dogs immune system can go wrong – Autoimmune disorders – Part II

How your dogs immune system can go wrong – Cancer – Part III

Should you boost your dogs immune system?

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