Winter is upon us! I look out the window and can see the snow falling. The mornings are crisp and clear. We bundle up to head outside during the day and relax by a warm fire to stay cozy at night.
As the seasons change, it’s a great time to take a look at what you’re doing for your pet’s health. In the winter we do a few things to help aid our animals (and ourselves). And that includes winter immune support for pets.
In this post, we’ll run through a few of the things you can do now to help set your pet up for success health wise now, and moving through the winter season.
Winter Immune Support for Pets
When it comes to winter immune support for pets, there are many things you can do.
1. Immune Supportive Supplements
It’s very easy to add variety of supplements to the rotation for winter immune support for pets.
- Medicinal mushrooms – turkey tail, chaga, reishi, mitake – these are all immune modulating mushrooms, meaning they help to regulate the immune system. They enhance the immune system by supporting the body’s cells, helping create a resistance to viruses. The triterpenes stimulate the immune system, produce macrophages and help regulate productive immune cells.
- Pre and probiotics – you had to know this would be on the list! If as much as 80% of the immune system is in the gut, it only makes sense to support the gut! Add some pre and probiotic foods to your animals bowl, or find a supplement that contains both. If you feed probiotics regularly, consider rotating through different quality supplements (for example, switch from Love Bugs to Fido’s Flora to Gut Soothe…).
- Omega 3s – omega 3 fatty acids can help support the immune system by strengthening the cell walls, including the membranes of the immune cells. This includes a type of white blood cell called a macrophage, which plays a key role in eliminating pathogens from the body. They can also support the skin, which can become dry over the winter months.
- Antioxidants – antioxidants destroy free radicals that can build up in the body, thereby protecting the structural integrity of cells and tissues. This can significantly improve certain immune responses. They also defend against oxidative stress, which is like rusting in the body. It’s sort of like car rusting. And that’s not good. Our go-to is Phyto Synergy. It has high, high levels of Superoxide Dismutase – the King of Antioxidants!
2. Helpful Herbs
For herbs, we turn to our good friend, Canine Herbalist Rita Hogan. Herbs are the ideal go-to for winter immune support for pets. These herbs are all incredibly valuable when it comes to proactively protecting immunity.
- Andrographis – an anti-viral acting against many strains of influenza and other viruses. Native to India, andrographis is also antibacterial and anti-parasitic. It strengthens the immune system and protects the heart or cardiac system.
- Astragalus – a warming root that helps support and simulate the immune system by flushing metabolic waste through the kidneys. Astragalus increases antibodies, white blood cells, T-cells, NK cells, immunoglobulin and macrophages. It can help the body fight viruses, but is more beneficial when taken before getting ill.
- Boneset – a powerful antiviral herb that is used for coughing, lung ailments, and influenza. You can use it for treatment of influenza and assist in the prevention of influenza in small drop doses. Boneset helps balance out heat in the body including fever and heat in the respiratory system. Boneset is bitter so put it in juice before putting it in your mouth. You can also take capsules.
- Ashwagandha – supports the stress response and the immune system with its antioxidant activity. It has an effect on macrophages as an antiviral as well as increases white blood cells and antibodies. Ashwagandha is good in the recovery period of illness. (NOTE: avoid with hyperthyroid)
- Burdock root – helps the liver and digestive tract, which in turn helps boost the immune system as well as keep the systems of elimination open, which is important with any type of influenza.
- Calendula – an excellent lymphatic that warms the core, and it is also an immune tonic. It helps balance out cold, deficient conditions, helping maintain the fluid balance in the lymphatics. It helps with elimination, which is key with dealing with influenza and the immune system. Lymph maintenance must be addressed when trying to rid the body of the effects of viral flu.
- Echinacea – acts upon the immune system by helping decrease inflammation, move lymph, cool fluids, and increase white blood cell counts. Echinacea increases macrophage production as well as T-cell production. It is best used as a preventative like elderberry to help prime the immune system. To balance its cooling effects, combine with ginger.
- Olive Leaf – high in antioxidants and is an immune booster as well as an antiviral. It increases white blood cells and helps the immune system destroy viruses and bacteria. Olive leaf helps keep viruses from replicating.
For each of these, either find a product made for pets specifically and follow the directions, or work with an experienced herbalist.
[RELATED] For more on helpful herbs for immunity, check out this post from Rita Hogan.
3. Do a Winter Detox
Spring and fall aren’t the only times to do a body clean-out. We also like to do one in the winter to help clear out any toxic buildup that happened over the last few months.
Your pet’s body, like your own, is built to detox on the regular. Sweating, urinating, and defecating are all ways that our bodies get rid of the toxins we take in. Much of our detoxification is done in 3 body systems: organs (liver and kidneys), the gut, and the skin. These systems help to filter out the nasty substances in the body, helping to clear the build-up.
The problem is, that build-up really builds up. If your pet’s toxic load (the harmful chemicals that accumulate in the body) is too much to handle, these systems are not going to be able to perform at their optimal level. And this can really affect the immune system.
A semi-annual organ cleanse will help the organs get back to homeostasis and function as they should.
These are some of the best herbs for cleansing and detoxifying the liver and kidneys.
- Milk thistle works to stabilize liver cell membranes and acts as an antioxidant to protect liver cells from free radical damage.
- Powder: 100mg per 10 pounds of body weight, 1 to 4 times daily. Divide the dose equally if you give it more than once a day
- Tincture: 1 to 2 drop per 10 pounds of body weight, 1 to 4 times daily. Divide the dose equally if you give it more than once a day
*Don’t use this all the time unless your animal has a chronic liver disease (speak to your vet) – a few times a year is good. Also, don’t give to pregnant or lactating animals
- Parsley isn’t only good for flavouring your favourite dishes. It can freshen your dog’s breath and help support the kidneys. Its diuretic properties help it filter toxins through the body and out through urine. Chop up and add a few pinches of fresh parsley to your dog’s meals on a regular basis.
- Dandelion root supports bile secretion and healthy digestion, as well as healthy liver and kidney function. It also supports the removal of toxins from the body. With dried dandelion root, work up to 1 tsp per 20 lbs of weight. With dandelion root, be careful with pets on diuretics – speak with your vet first.
PRO TIP: Adored Beast Liver Tonic contains the ideal detoxifying herbs!
4. Spend Some Time Outside
Get outdoors and breathe in the wild. Forests and nature have different molecules that help produce a healthy immune system like negative ions and photons. Exercise is also a great stress reliever. And the winter is the perfect time to do it! With the crisp, cold air flowing through our lungs, there’s nothing better! Go for a long winter hike through the woods and breathe deep.
Sunshine is also important when it is available. 20 minutes a day will do wonders for you. It actually helps your body produce anti-microbials when you’re exposed to it. This is particularly important in the winter when many of us tend to get fewer hours outside.
For winter immune support for pets, Mother Nature gives us a wide array of options. All of these are simple, but can have a huge impact on our animals’ (and our own) health. But taking this time of transition as a time of renewal, we can help the immune system rebuild itself.