Considering how vital the dog’s immune system is to helping to protect against disease and fight off any illnesses that they may develop, not many dog owners are particularly well informed about it, in terms of how it works the way it does and what makes it work at all!
Additionally, the dog’s immune system is something that changes over time, strengthening from puppyhood through to adulthood but that can also become weakened, compromised or unable to perform properly if attacked in a certain way, or if the dog’s lifestyle is not optimum for health and fitness.
Learning the basics of how the dog’s immune system develops, strengthens and works-and how it can be compromised-can help dog owners to ensure that they do everything possible to support their dog’s health, and keep their immune system strong.
In this article, we will look at how the immune system of the dog protects them against ill health and problems, and the different factors that help it to do this. Read on to learn more.
The dog’s immune system as a whole is formed of two different parts that work together to provide protection, and these are called the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system respectively.
The innate immune system is the dog’s first line of defence against potential threats to the health of the body, and these work to keep pathogens and threats from invading the body in the first place, or taking a hold. This part of the immune system has a specific set of reactions that do not adapt or vary over time, which means that every time the immune system faces a certain threat, it will respond to that threat in the same manner.
The immune defences of the skin, mucous membranes and the saliva inside of the dog’s mouth are the largest elements of the innate immune system.
The adaptive immune system, on the other hand, is adaptive, as the name implies! This means that the adaptive side of the immune system grows and “learns” over the life of the dog and exposure to different threats, varying its response to threats and dangers depending on what it is faced with, and how it resolved the problem the last time it faced the same or a similar problem.
The adaptive immune system has its own cellular memory of foreign substances and pathogens that it has faced before, and responds to them appropriately based on how effective their responses were the last time, and if the substance or pathogen itself has changed, evolved or adapted since the body experienced it last time.
Ultimately, the adaptive immune system is designed as a back-up if the innate immune system, which functions as a first line of defence, fails to repel the threat. Ergo, the innate immune system is generally concerned with repelling problems and threats to the body, while the adaptive immune system is tasked with attacking threats that manage to bypass the innate immune system.
Before a litter of puppies are born, they are protected in utero by the immune system of their dam, and after they are born, they continue to receive a level of protection from their mother’s milk. Vaccinations cannot be given to puppies until they reach a certain number of weeks old because the natural immunity provided by the mother’s mile can affect the body’s responses to their vaccinations, meaning that they will interfere with the action of the vaccines and render them ineffective.
However, there is only a short window of time after weaning during which the dam’s milk continues to provide protection for the pups, which is why vaccinations should be given before the pups go outside and begin to face threats to their own immune systems.
As a dog ages, they will be exposed to ever-more different potential pathogens and threats, which contributes to the dog’s own natural immunity as the adaptive immune system begins to build up a reference library of sorts of things that it has faced and eliminated.
However, if the dog faces a pathogen that their immune system could not fend off or eliminate, this can lead to illness, and also the potential for the immune system to become weakened and less able to see off other threats.
Certain health conditions can weaken or compromise the immune system, making it less able to protect the dog and leading to a higher likelihood of the dog suffering from a range of minor or not-so-minor ills, and having a problem shaking them off. In some cases this can be a short term issue and the immune system will return to full strength given time, while in others this can be a chronic problem that will require special care to keep the dog in good health.
Dogs that are not well looked after, such as that are exposed to poor living conditions, fed an inappropriate diet or that are underweight too are likely to have weaker than normal immune systems, all of which can make them much more likely to catch diseases and suffer from problems. Other chronic or ongoing issues such as allergies can have the same impact.
Additionally, as dogs reach old age and their bodies begin the gradual shut-down that accompanies their twilight years, their immune systems will begin to become less effective too.
A healthy dog needs a healthy immune system, and this requires taking a holistic approach to how you care for your dog. Ensuring that they receive all of their vaccinations and have boosters annually, keeping them fit and lean, feeding an appropriate diet and getting any potential health problems checked out promptly all helps!