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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?
I had not heard of a lot of these health supplements. I feel like I have been neglecting my cats! Thanks for providing such thorough information!
The DIY Dog Mom says
What a great amount of resources! I’ve recently been using cod liver oil for myself and my pups!
Cathy Armato says
Thanks for all this great, detailed info, I’ve never heard of many of these substances. I constantly hear about the benefits of Omegs 3’s though, so I’m convinced I must add a salmon allowance for my dogs diet! That photo of all the kitties with the Raw fish is so adorable, love it!
Talent Hounds says
What an interesting list of ideas for boosting immune systems. My human kids have immune and gut problems- definitely related. It is an area I am doing more research on thanks. Also on inflammation. thanks S
The Daily Pip says
Great information! I am going to keep this for future reference. My cats eat very well and I also give them salmon on a regular basis – I had not heard about arginine, but glad to hear it is in salmon!
Tenacious Little Terrier says
Mr. N used to get probiotics and fish oil but he’s not on anything right now.
Molly Mednikow says
I wonder if these suggestions are useful for dogs! Do you know offhand?
Sweet Purrfections says
Very informative information. I’m putting the girls on L-Lysine for a little while to see if it helps.
We do a home cooked diet and alternate with a high quality raw diet. Real food, real nutrition. We also add supplements, minerals and probiotics. Thanks for the post.
Our pets are so much like us, and thrive on natural vitamins and minerals. I am a firm believer in going back to the basics in health for us, and our cats and dogs!
Totally agree … healthy gut is vital. We don’t have cats but my little Chi gets krill oil and probiotics every day!
Fascinating information, I do not currently have a cat, however when i did I was sure to provide them with the best diet I could afford. Thanks for this great resource for the cat community.
Susan FriedlandSmith (@SaddlSeeksHorse) says
I don’t currently have a cat, but I give my dogs Omega 3s. I have never hear of arabinogalactans or Larch trees. Now I’m intrigued to do some Googling! Thanks for the new knowledge.
What a detailed and extremely informative piece on keeping our felines in tip top condition.
Puppy Tales Studio says
Great post! I also believe in high quality food for pets, but like you said, some pets have a very poor appetite! Pippa for example, only eats half of what she should be eating a day! I might have to look for some supplements!
Wow, this is such an interesting and informative post! We love learning the things that help our cats stay healthy. 🙂
The Swiss Cats says
Very interesting ! Claire has just begun to add salmon oil and a supplement with vitamins, minerals, trace elements and taurine to our food from time to time. Purrs
More goes into keeping us kitties healthy than you might think!