When you get a heavy cold, what do you do?
If you’re like many of us, you take a high dose of vitamin C.
The idea is vitamin C boosts your immune system to enable it better fight off the bugs. In much the same way, there are times when it’s appropriate to give your cat’s immune system a helping hand.
From the cat with a snuffle that just won’t shift, to the feline diagnosed with FIV, these are two examples when the body’s immunity needs a boost. This is an intriguing topic because you’re not as helpless as you might fear, and there are different options that can improve the body’s ability to respond in the face of infection.
Firstly though, a good diet is the foundation on which everything is built. It is much better to provide a good, balanced diet that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, than it is to feed a poor diet that needs supplementing. But of course if your cat’s appetite is poor, you have no choice and giving her immunity a boost is a great way to help her feel better.
So let’s take a look at the options.
The antioxidants we’re thinking of are vitamins A, C, E, plus selenium and zinc. Whilst these don’t directly stimulate the immune system, they do make it easier for the body to recover by reducing cell damage from free radicals.
Think of free radicals like exhaust fumes from a car. A sick cat produces more of these harmful waste products, but antioxidants are like a gas mask preventing those exhaust fumes being sucked down into the lungs (or the cells). This allows the body to repair itself more quickly and get the cat back on her paws.
Select a suitable antioxidant supplement by reading the label and looking for vitamins A, C and E, with the addition of selenium and zinc. However, a word of warning. You may think vitamins are harmless and it’s difficult to overdose, but you’d be wrong. For example, vitamin A, when given to excess poses a real risk of toxicity to some cats. Always follow the dosage instructions on the label and don’t be tempted to give a higher dose to beef up the effect.
Arginine is an amino acid, and found in many common foods. The good news with arginine is that it’s said to ‘switch on’ the immune system, making it better equipped to fight infection. Arginine is present in good quantities in chicken, salmon, and eggs, so if you cat has a poor appetite try tempting her with some salmon.
This is a popular therapy, often used to pep up the immune system of cats suffering from respiratory infections. Many cat guardians report good improvements in their snuffly cats’ health whilst using lysine, although be aware that loose stools can be a side effect.
Unfortunately, it looks like science might be turning its back on this remedy. Work done in the lab has found little proof that lysine inhibits the growth of the herpes virus as first thought. But if this is something you want to try you won’t do any harm, and the dose is 500mg per cat twice a day for five days, then a maintenance dose of 250mg daily.
Omega 3 oil
Most cats like oily fish, which is great news for their immune system. The Omega 3 oils in fish compete with the fatty acids that cause inflammation and reduce levels of ‘bad hormones’ that lead to tissue inflammation such as prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes. This is good news for long term illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, and even cancer; where reducing tissue inflammation can help the cat feel better.
This complex sugar is usually derived from Larch trees and has a reputation for stimulating the immune system. When given as an oral dietary supplement it enhances the health of gut bacteria, and provides an energy source for the enterocytes (the specialised cells lining the bowel wall).
It is perhaps a little known fact that 65% of the body’s immune cells reside in the gut, so a healthy stomach lining means a healthy body. In addition arabinogalactans enhance the ability of immune cells called macrophages and also natural killer (NK) cells which target not only bacteria and viruses but pre-cancerous cells for destruction.
Arabinogalactans is available as a powder supplement from VetriScience and from other suppliers.
DMG is an amino acid and has been used as a human food supplement to boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, normalise blood pressure, and optimise athletic performance (amongst other uses!) It has fallen from grace a little since a court in Chicago ruled it was not safe as a food supplement in humans, however it is still widely used and a veterinary version, Vetriliquid DMG is available as a health supplement suitable for cats.
Last but not least let’s not forget the hi-tech option for boosting the immune system. Virbagen Omega is a licensed form of interferon suitable for use to strengthen the immune defences of cats with feline leukaemia or feline immunodeficiency virus. It works in a number of ways, including switching on vital natural killer (NK) cells that target viral invaders, and also by preventing viruses from reproducing. This hi-tech option can be given by injection or made up into an oral form by your vet.
And finally, of course you should also look at the other side of the coin, which is to minimise stress for your cat. Stress is destructive and undermines the immune system, so a relaxed home free from competition between cats and with plentiful resources such as food, water, and safe sleeping places goes a long way towards ensuring you have a contented cat with a strong immune system.
What steps do you take to ensure your cat remains healthy? Have you tried any of these immunity boosters to help your cat build a strong immune system?