If you live in a cold climate, winter can be a very exciting time of year. It’s a time for sledding, ice skating and playing in the snow. But unfortunately, it’s also a time for coughing, sneezing and itching. Winter is known for weakening our immune systems, and the same holds true for our pets.
Cold weather can make dogs more susceptible to getting sick. The wind, ice and snow hamper their ability to fight off viral and bacterial infections. Thankfully, pet parents can help prevent illness by taking steps to boost their dogs’ immune systems.
Here are some easy ways to keep your pup healthy this winter.
- Update your dog’s vaccines: Puppies need several rounds of vaccines within their first year of life to support their developing immune systems. Once your puppy becomes an adult, they need booster shots every few years to help defend against viruses. Winter is a great time to check if the vet needs to update your dog’s vaccines. Generally, dogs need rabies and DAP (distemper, adenovirus and parvovirus) boosters once every one to three years. It’s important that your dog stays up to date on their vaccines during winter, since the cold can hamper the immune system.
- Limit their time outdoors: Despite their thick, fluffy coats, most dog breeds aren’t meant to endure the cold for long periods of time. Snow, strong winds and extremely low temperatures can put stress on the body, reducing the immune system’s resiliency against viruses and pathogens. Keep bathroom breaks short and let your dog back inside as soon as they’re done relieving themselves. Also, divide long walks into several shorter ones to avoid prolonged exposure to the elements.
- Exercise your dog every day: Exercise is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system. It can boost your dog’s immunity by improving the circulation of lymph fluids through the body. The lymphatic system can prevent your dog from getting sick because it helps expel toxins, such as viruses, pathogens and harmful bacteria. The type of exercise doesn’t matter too much, as long as your dog gets up and moving!
- Give them a probiotic supplement: Your dog’s gut and immune health are closely linked together. In fact, approximately 70 percent of a dog’s immune cells live in their gastrointestinal tract. By supporting their gut health, you can ensure your dog’s immune system stays strong all winter long. Ask your vet about adding a daily probiotic supplement to your dog’s diet. Probiotics increase the amount of good bacteria in the gut microbiome, which helps protect the immune cells from damage.
- Add antioxidants to their diet: Antioxidants are essential for protecting your dog’s immune system. They neutralize free radicals, which are unstable molecules that attack healthy cells. This puts extra stress on the immune system as it attempts to protect and repair the damaged cells. Antioxidants can alleviate some of the burden on your dog’s immune system. Add antioxidant-rich foods to their meals, such as berries, broccoli, potatoes and cooked beans.
- Wash their toys and food and bowls: Keep your dog’s immune system strong by reducing the amount of bacteria in their environment. Toys, bedding and food bowls are the ideal breeding grounds for harmful bacteria that could potentially lead to illness. Toss plushies in the washer and wipe down hard toys with a damp cloth. Wash food bowls with warm water and nontoxic dish soap. Make sure everything is completely dry before returning the items to your dog’s living space.
- Incorporate a daily immunity supplement: During the winter, your dog’s immune system needs a little more help than usual. Consider incorporating an immunity supplement into their daily diet to defend their body against disease-causing viruses. Immunity supplements are packed with organic medicinal mushrooms, such as turkey tail, maitake and reishi. These mushrooms provide general support to the immune system, and maitake in particular can have anti-viral effects in the body.
- Minimize your dog’s stress levels: Stress can have a negative effect on the immune system. Stress isn’t just psychological—it manifests in the body, as well, making it harder for vital systems to function properly. Chronic, ongoing stress can suppress the immune system’s ability to fight infection. This winter, help protect your dog’s immune system by minimizing stressful situations and environments. Learn what your dog’s triggers are and do your best to avoid them.
Immune health is important year-round, but it should become a top priority during the cold months. Frigid temperatures can dampen the immune system, making it more likely that your dog will come down with a canine cold. By following these tips, your dog can remain illness-free all winter long. Immunity is key to a happy, healthy pup!