Categories: Small Dog Preventative Care-Published On: April 17, 2024-

1800 Words; 7 minute read. In this small dog vaccination article about boosting immune health before all the shots, we look at the positive impact of probiotics, omega 3’s, and whole food.

Smiling older woman with white dog

Chloe with My Mom

Supporting Small Dog Immune Health Before Vaccination

So much is written about what to do during or after our dogs’ annual vaccination appointments. Yet, veterinary health writers all but ignore what we can do to boost our small dogs’ immune health BEFORE we load their little bodies with foreign substances. This oversight missed my notice until last year, when my sister Amy asked me how she could boost her pup’s immune system before her rabies shot. 

Amy’s little Havana Silk Dog, Chloe, is in perfect health. She eats a raw, freeze-dried diet, enjoys lively daily exercise, and is full of exuberant personality. However, my sister knew from our experience with Scout and her adverse vaccine reaction, that even pups in top health can stumble when we flood their systems with vaccine virus and its accompanying preservatives. 

When she asked what she should do, I assumed it would be easy to research the answer. 

But it wasn’t. 

Plenty of advice exists regarding what to do during and after vaccine appointments. Very few reputable resources talked about preparing our pups’ systems for the onslaught of virus and chemicals flooding their systems when they receive their shots.

Yet, when our pups are about to undergo any stressful event, it’s wise to consider boosting their immune system. In this post, I’ll delve into the strategies that help provide immune support for small dogs. We’ll look at dietary supplements like probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids, and consider the role of specific foods in boosting immune health.

Generic Probiotic bottle with grey and cream Havanese next to it

Probiotics: A Foundation for Immune Support in Small Dogs

A cornerstone for maintaining gut health, probiotics change the health game for our dogs. According to the Richard P. Riney Health Center at Cornell, 70-90% of our dog’s immune system resides in the gut. Thus, integrating probiotics into our pups’ diets can fortify their immunity, aiding them significantly during the small dog vaccination process. In fact, the Center reports, some veterinarians are so convinced of probiotic advantages, they “suggest using a probiotic routinely.”

Probiotic use in dogs enjoys world-wide approval. Studies, such as those reported in the Italian Journal of Animal Science (June 2023), affirm that certain probiotic strains not only enhance gut health and immunity but also positively affect blood chemistry. 

All these benefits will help our pups’ bodies prepare for the immune-overdrive they face when receiving their annual vaccinations.

Probiotic Immune-Boost Even More Beneficial for Aging Dogs

Probiotics offer remarkable benefits, especially for our aging small dogs. Supplementing with probiotics not only enhances the presence of beneficial bacteria, but also reduces harmful ones, including e. Coli.  This balancing act in their gut flora is crucial. As highlighted in Influence of Probiotic Supplementation on Health Status of the Dogs: A Review, published in a special issue of Applied Sciences, “two months of probiotic treatment also shifted the gut microbiota of elderly dogs towards the composition of microbiota found in younger dogs at the end of the experimental study.” 

This improvement in gut health, whether through foods like kefir or supplements, reduces detrimental bacteria while boosting our small dogs’ overall gut biome health with beneficial microbes. Such dual action not only supports our little dogs’ immediate immune health but also contributes to their vitality and longevity. These enhancements are essential as we aim to keep our small dogs as healthy and vibrant as possible. And there’s probably no better time to give such enhancements than before our pups undergo their small dog vaccination protocol. 

Which Probiotics?

Did you know different species thrive with vastly different gut biomes? For this reason, we can’t share our human probiotics (you’re on these, right?) with our pups. Not only will doing so not help…it could hurt, especially because many human supplements contain additives like xylitol, which can be deadly to dogs.

Instead, it’s essential to choose canine-specific probiotics awarded the National Animal Supplement Council’s safety seal. Some reputable brands earning that seal include Ark Naturals and Finn’s, which offer products designed to improve and maintain a healthy gut flora.

Here’s a complete list of companies earning the NASC’s seal. I’ve also included a shoppable list of our favorite probiotics for small dogs, below.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Balancing Benefits and Risks

While probiotics support gut-based immunity, omega-3 fatty acids (commonly derived from fish oil) are vital for systemic immune health. These nutrients effectively aid in managing inflammation and enhancing the cellular function of immune cells. A 2023 study highlighted that krill oil significantly increases omega-3 levels in the bloodstreams of healthy dogs, promoting a healthy immune system.

Caution with Omega-3’s

However, omega-3’s must be used judiciously. Unlike probiotics, omega 3’s, because they are a fat, can cause adverse reactions.

In fact, a 2013 study (“Potential Adverse Effects Of Omega-3 Fatty Acids In Dogs And Cats”) noted over eleven potential side effects, includingaltered platelet function, gastrointestinal adverse effects, detrimental effects on wound healing, lipid peroxidation, potential for nutrient excess and toxin exposure, weight gain, altered immune function, effects on glycemic control and insulin sensitivity, and nutrient-drug interactions.”

This same study noted diarrhea as the most common complication of omega-3 supplements.

More concerning than mere gastrointestinal upset, high doses of omega-3’s, especially in conjunction with high-fat diets, could increase the risk of pancreatitis—a common concern in small breeds. (Both Phoebe and Scout have dealt with bouts of this dangerous condition). The fact is, many small breeds are hereditarily predisposed to developing pancreatitis, including terrier breeds, miniature poodles, dachshunds, and miniature schnauzers, and Cavaliers are at increased risk of chronic pancreatitis. (See New Insights Into The Etiology, Risk Factors, And Pathogenesis Of Pancreatitis In Dogs: Potential Impacts On Clinical Practice in the 2022 Journal of Veterinary Medicine.)

While pancreatitis is often listed as a potential risk, fortunately researchers report “An extremely high dosage of omega-3 fatty acids or a fish oil supplement in addition to a very high fat diet would likely be required to induce pancreatitis.” And, in fact, this 2013 study indicated “there are no reports of omega-3 fatty acid or fish oil supplements causing pancreatitis in dogs, cats, or humans.“

Overall, fish oil supplementation is “generally safe.” But one more caution before we go. Just as with human fish oil supplementation, the product we provide should be free of contaminants and administered in the correct dosage to avoid complications like diarrhea and negatively-altered immune responses.

Here’s a list of NASC-approved fish oil supplements. I was pretty upset to learn the brand I’d been using for the girls is NOT on the list of certified companies. Needless to say, we’ll be switching.

Immune-Boosting Foods:

Natural Enhancements to Diet

Cornell’s experts suggest that no more than 10% of a dog’s diet should consist of human foods. (As someone who’s fed some form of raw food for the past 15-plus years and frequently shares healthy meals with her pups, I disagree, but that’s another article, which you can read here.) Cornell does concede, however, certain foods can be powerful allies in immune support for small dogs. Foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins—such as red bell peppers, blueberries, strawberries, spinach, kale, and carrots—can naturally boost the immune system. These should, of course, complement our small dogs’ balanced diet, especially in the lead-up to vaccinations.

Integrating these foods into meals can help ensure that our small dogs face vaccinations with a bolstered immune system and that they maintain overall health and vitality.

picture of healthy foods including strawberries, blueberries and greens

When Should I Start Supplements for My Small Dog?

When to begin immune-boosting supplementation for your small pup is an important, INDIVIDUALIZED decision.

If, like ours, your pups are accustomed to eating a wide-variety of whole foods and don’t experience intestinal upset at the smallest change, you could begin as little as a few weeks away from their annual appointment.

If, however, you stick with only one or two food brands or recipes, or if your pup tends toward vomiting or diarrhea, you’ll want to be extremely cautious. As I’m sure you know, small dogs, especially, can have finicky GI tracts. Suddenly introducing fish oil and probiotics can do the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve.

Consider starting a good three or four months before their vaccines. Introduce the new supplements the same way you’d change their food: slowly.

A Gradual Supplementation

Your veterinarian is your first stop for adding anything significant to your pup’s diet. But as a reference point, here’s my non-medically trained recommendation: 

  • First, Check their Current Foods: Commercially-prepared diets will often market inclusion of probiotics or omega 3’s. But the amount provided in those diets is frequently so miniscule as to be pretty useless. However, your food may actually have enough of either supplement that to add more is not necessary. Double-check to be sure.

  • Introduce Supplements One at a Time. Don’t start both supplements at once. If there’s any reaction, you won’t know whether one or both caused the issue. 
  • Start with the Probiotic First: Since they’re considered so safe, you’re best off first bolstering your pup’s gut with an immune-strengthening probiotic.

  • Build Up to a Full Dose: Begin with ¼ dose for the first several days, then move up to a ½ dose for several days, then a ¾ dose and finally a full dose. Obviously, if any adverse GI issues crop up at any point, stop the supplement altogether.

  • Stay On the Probiotic for a Full Week or Two: Let your pup’s body settle into the probiotic groove before adding the omega-3’s. Then, repeat the gradual dosing with the fish oil supplement. 

  • Consult Your Vet: Remember, your pup’s health and wellbeing depends on you and your vet working together. Do not start doing any of this before you pick up the phone and call your dog’s doctor. Your pup’s medications or  conditions could make these supplements unhelpful or even harmful.

Safeguarding Your

Small Dog’s Health

When we prepare our small dogs for vaccination, integrating strategic nutritional elements like probiotics and omega-3 fatty acids, alongside specific immune-boosting foods, we help their bodies face a necessary challenge. This approach not only supports their immune system in a comprehensive manner but also enhances their overall well-being. As responsible small dog guardians, we want to provide the best care possible, ensuring they are as prepared as they can be for small dog vaccinations.

Remember, always consult with a veterinarian who understands the unique needs of small breeds. This ensures that every step we take is tailored specifically for the optimal health of our own small dogs.

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