Mother Earth Living

Pet Corner: Give Your Pet an Immunity Boost

Give your pets an immunity boost with these herbal remedies, and help keep them healthy all year long.
By Randy Kidd
March/April 1998
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Keep your animal buddy healthy with our holistic vet’s advice.
Photo by Stefan Glebowski

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How to Boost Your Immune System with Herbs

Live well to dodge illness and use herbs to boost your immunity.

I hate being sick, but I hate even more for one of my pets to be sick. When I’m ill, I can at least ask for what I need. Animals aren’t so lucky—they can’t tell us where it hurts or what they need to make them feel better. You can bridge this communication gap, however, by caring for your pet’s immune system and using the appropriate herbs to fend off disease and give them an immunity boost.

The immune system identifies and attacks bacteria, viruses and fungi that invade the body and cause illnesses, such as allergies, colds and gastrointestinal disturbances. It is an integrated, complex system.

A healthy immune system can handle minor invasions, but when any one of its organs is compromised, the immune system likely will suffer. So I like to protect my pets with a few herbal immune-system boosters on a regular basis, and I always follow these steps and give them these herbs when they have a minor illness to try and keep it from becoming more serious.

A Good Start: A Healthy Pet Environment 

The first step toward keeping your pet’s immune system in proper working order is to provide a healthy pet environment, which includes good nutrition, regular exercise, minimal stress and lots of love. Scientific studies have shown that pets living in stressful surroundings have weakened immune responses.

Immune System Support 

An easy way to help your pets stay one step ahead of a cold or infection is to incorporate immune system herbs into their diet. It’s easy to do—on top of their food, just sprinkle a pinch of dried culinary favorites, including thyme, garlic, oregano, turmeric (all antibacterial) and cayenne (it enhances the activity of immune system cells).

The most notable herb for giving your pets an immunity boost is Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia and E. purpurea). Echinacea reinforces nearly all actions of immunity, including white blood cell production and activity and blood protein production. It also helps heal wounds, fight inflammation and, to some extent, counteract tumors and certain bacteria and viruses.

If you catch an infection early, you often can stop it with low doses (1 or 2 drops) of a nonalcoholic tincture of the whole herb, given three to four times a day for a week. For prevention and basic immune care, I generally recommend a low dose to be taken once a day for five days each week.

Animal Doses 

When it comes to pets, herbs and dosages, we just don’t have all the answers. That’s why I prefer to mix food with a weak herbal tea or small amounts of chopped whole fresh or dried herbs. But when I do use tinctures, I adhere to the following guidelines:

• I use less of the herb. Be sure to read the product label, then adjust the dose down to the animal’s size, assuming that dosage on the label is meant for a 150-pound human. For puppies, kittens and elderly pets, reduce the adult animal dose by another half.

• When I suspect a pet is getting sick, I administer 1 or 2 drops of a tincture every two to three hours for the first two or three days to give them an immunity boost, then reduce to three to five times a day for about a week.

• Remember, a cat’s enzyme system is highly sensitive, so introduce any herbs very conservatively.

Sick Pets: When Illness Strikes 

Almost every illness affects the immune system, so when I treat a specific disease with any pharmaceutical, I also use appropriate herbal immune-system “balancers,” or adaptogens. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is my favorite adaptogen because it supports nearly all organ systems. The herb is considered an anti-inflammatory and also helps fight bronchial and abdominal problems. Most pets like the taste of licorice root, so it is an ideal pet medicine to sprinkle on food. Use it with caution, though, because licorice root may cause sodium retention, which is especially dangerous for pets with renal failure or those on heart medication.

When a specific part of the immune system is weakened, I recommend an adaptogen as well as an herb with healing properties specific to that system for an immunity boost. For example, if I diagnose a liver problem, I might include a liver tonic such as turmeric (Curcuma longa) or dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) sprinkled on food until the animal recovers.

All diseases produce toxic byproducts, such as dead cellular debris. My favorite detoxification herbs are burdock root (Arctium lappa) and red clover (Trifolium pretense). Both of these herbs are well tolerated by most pets. The herbs also work well against dry, scaly skin (a common place for immune diseases to manifest).

Remember, as a general rule, herbs are not as potent nor as fast-acting as antibiotics, so be patient. But never let any infection get out of hand before you seek professional help.

Randy Kidd holds doctorates in veterinary medicine and veterinary and clinical pathology. Before retirement, he practiced traditional veterinary medicine and then opened a holistic practice. 

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