The Best Defense Is a Good Offense
The entire country is currently focusing on this mysterious canine illness, what may be causing it, and treatment recommendations.
While there is a lot of guidance leading pet owners to revaccinate in large quantities, I would like to remind folks that pounding your dog’s immune system with vaccines will not only make them vulnerable until their bodies bounce back—it will also afford no protection against this particular health issue!
This article will help you better understand that there are some pretty darn effective natural antivirals, antifungals, and antibacterials that we can use to keep our dogs healthy and mitigate symptoms. Ideally, we want to be proactive and start building a strong immune system in our healthy dog right now.
The best defense is always a good offense, right?
So, what should we focus on to strengthen your dog’s immune system enough to fight anything that comes its way?
Note: This guidance does not replace a vet visit, nor does it serve as a diagnosis. If your dog has a respiratory crisis, please have them seen by a vet.
Priority #1: Gut Health
The gut affects the brain and, by extension, everything else in the body:
- Organ function
- Immune system
- Nutrient uptake
- Food intolerances
Improving digestibility, supporting healthy microbial diversity, and balancing quantities of those diverse good bacteria all play a part in good gut health. If the gut sends the right messages to the brain, the body thrives. If the gut is sending skewed messages- then the body struggles.
Now is not the time to skimp on fresh foods, hydrated diets, and focused supplementation. A fresh diet with whole-food ingredients will provide the body with bioavailable nutrients that can immediately be used for protection. We should NOT feed foods that will bog down the gut and, by extension, the immune system while trying to stay strong in this crisis. If the new “bug” is bacteria, having a good number of healthy bacteria will not allow pathogens to overtake the body.
I mentioned “natural antivirals.”
These natural antivirals do not replace a vet visit if your dog shows symptoms. Still, they provide an extra tool in your dog's health toolbelt against immune crises and any viral infections to which your dog might be exposed.
Read on to learn more about natural antiviral options, such as antiviral herbs, homeopathic remedies, mushrooms, Chinese herbs, and probiotics, to address this threat proactively! This list includes options to bolster the immune system and respond to symptoms as they present themselves.
Bacterial versus Viral: What Does It Mean?
When your dog starts coughing or has a runny nose for a few days, the culprit is likely a bacterial or viral infection.
As their names suggest, bacterial infections are caused by harmful bacteria (as opposed to good bacteria, like the probiotics we give), while viral infections are caused by viruses.
Bacteria are tiny, single-celled microorganisms that live everywhere, including in your dog’s body (hello, gut microbiome!). Most bacteria cause no harm; they just exist to protect your dog from disease. To give you perspective, Rita Hogan says that 1000 bacteria fit inside a single cell—a cell we cannot even see with the naked eye!
Bacteria do this by acting as your dog’s bodyguard against bad bacteria. Improving your dog’s gut microbiome diversity empowers the immune system and keeps it strong.
Viruses are smaller but scarier than bacteria. While bacteria can live anywhere on the planet, viruses are parasitic, meaning they need living cells or tissue to grow. To give you perspective, Rita Hogan says that 1000 viruses can live in one bacterium!
Once a virus enters your dog’s body, it will take over your dog’s healthy cells and use them to multiply. Some viruses even kill host cells as part of this process! Examples of viral infections include the common cold, the flu, and COVID-19.
One of the essential differences between bacterial and viral infections is treatment.
With a bacterial infection, your dog is likely to be prescribed antibiotics. Although effective, they may have concerning side effects (they are bacteria killers—bad and good—they do not discern between the two).
Antibiotics do nothing against viruses. They only help if a secondary bacterial infection exists.
Furthermore, because they damage your dog’s gut and, therefore, your dog’s immune system, taking antibiotics while fighting viruses may cause your dog to weaken or even lose the fight.
That’s why it’s essential to confirm your dog’s infection is bacterial, which your vet can do by taking a culture before resorting to antibiotics.
Now, you might be wondering, what kills viruses without harming your dog’s gut microbiome and immune system?
Viruses—tricky little organisms that they are—come in different shapes and forms, making treatment challenging.
Luckily, you can incorporate natural virus killers into your dog’s life to help protect your dog against viral infections!
What Can I Use to Help My Dog?
Without further ado, here’s a rundown on your natural antiviral options:
- Certain Foods: Dog-friendly foods like garlic and mushrooms have natural antiviral properties.
- UV Light: Research has shown that small amounts of dog-safe UV light kill airborne viruses. Since most of us won’t be blasting our homes with UV lights, a more practical application is buying a UV sanitizer, which you can use to kill viruses on object surfaces.
- Colloidal Silver: Colloidal silver—tiny particles of silver suspended in liquid—has long been touted as a natural virus and bacterial killer when applied directly to the skin. Plain colloidal silver can be put in the dog’s nose and mouth as needed.
- Ozone: Ozone is a naturally occurring, energy-rich molecule embodying unique physio-chemical and biological properties. Ozone therapy damages the viral DNA and upsets the reproductive cycle by oxidizing our viral-invaded cells and eliminating them from our bodies. Some promising studies have examined how ozone can inactivate viruses and stimulate the immune system to speed up healing. Ozone cannot be inhaled, so it must be properly administered (ozone generators come with precise instructions. It may also have side effects, including viral die-off, which often makes people feel worse before they feel better.
- Vitamin C: This may be appropriate when dealing with healthy, unstressed animals, but recent clinical observations indicate that when dogs are sick or stressed, they can rapidly deplete their bodies’ output of vitamin C. The use of vitamin C as a preventative and immune booster is also celebrated. Some veterinarians suggest giving C to dogs before and after vaccination, to dogs that have been exposed to contagious diseases, to pregnant and lactating dogs, and for healthy teeth and gums.
- Pre and Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that live in your dog’s gut and contribute to a healthy gastrointestinal system. Just like humans, dogs have a variety of beneficial microorganisms living in their digestive tract. About 95% of these microorganisms are bacteria, with the rest including a mix of protozoa, fungi, and even viruses. Running out and buying large amounts of probiotics is not the best value for your money. Consider using fermented cabbage—plain sauerkraut, cabbage, and sea salt—as an alternative. The live enzymes are fantastic and immediately active!
Priority #2: Increase Immune-Boosting Supplementation to Protect the Body
You cannot out-supplement a poor diet, so after you have made sure you are feeding the best food possible, look to supplement purposefully to reach the desired outcomes.
Since ancient times, we’ve used herbs as natural treatments for various illnesses, including viral infections. Due to their concentration of potent plant compounds, many herbs help fight viruses. That’s why natural medicine practitioners favor them!
- Echinacea Root: Native Americans have used Echinacea purpurea, a variety that produces cone-shaped flowers, to treat various conditions, including viral infections . Several test-tube studies suggest that certain varieties of echinacea, including E. pallida, E. angustifolia, and E. purpurea, are particularly effective at fighting viral infections like herpes and influenza .Notably, E. purpurea also has immune-boosting effects, making it particularly useful for treating viral infections.
- Cat’s Claw Bark: Cat's claw root and bark contain chemicals that stimulate the immune system, kill cancer cells, and fight viruses.
- St. John’s Wart: Another recognized name among antiviral herbs, St. John’s Wort contains hypericin and pseudohypericin, which fight off viruses that imitate healthy cells.
- Licorice Root: Traditional Chinese medicine and other natural practices have honed the benefits of licorice for centuries. Test-tube studies demonstrate that licorice root extract is effective against HIV, RSV, herpes viruses, and severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (SARS-CoV), which causes a serious type of pneumonia .
- Garlic: Animal and test-tube studies indicate that garlic enhances immune system response by stimulating protective immune cells, thus safeguarding against viral infections .
- Calendula Flower: Calendula has high amounts of flavonoids—plant-based antioxidants that protect cells from being damaged by free radicals.
- Oregon Grape Root: Berberine has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, effectively treating many diseases. This herb is not safe for pregnant and lactating pets as it can stimulate uterine contractions and can affect breast milk.
- Ginger Root: Ginger products, such as elixirs, teas, and lozenges, are popular natural remedies, and for good reason. Ginger has impressive antiviral activity thanks to its high concentration of potent plant compounds. Test-tube research demonstrates that ginger extract has antiviral effects against avian influenza, RSV, and feline calicivirus (FCV), which is comparable to human norovirus .Additionally, specific compounds in ginger, such as gingerols and zingerone, have been found to inhibit viral replication and prevent viruses from entering host cells .
- Elderberry: Elderberry syrup is a great way to keep your entire family's immune system in check. This includes your pets, too! Elderberry syrup is one of the most effective antiviral treatments for colds, flu, and coughs in both humans and dogs. Studies have found that elderberry juice stimulates immune responses and kills influenza. It may also be protective against herpes and HIV/AIDS—both viruses. Studies also show it substantially reduces upper respiratory tract symptoms caused by viral infections.
- Astragalus Root: It stimulates the spleen, liver, lungs, circulatory and urinary systems. Astragalus root treats osteoarthritis, asthma, and the nervous system while also reducing stress and aging by protecting the telomeres.
- Ashwagandha: It helps the endocrine, nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems by regulating metabolism. It also protects cells as an antioxidant, improves muscle strength, balances blood sugar levels, and reduces swelling through an anti-inflammatory reaction. Finally, it boosts immune function and improves memory and brain function.
Other helpful antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial natural resources include:
- Manuka Honey: Manuka honey’s antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties set it apart from traditional honey. It contains methylglyoxal as an active ingredient, likely responsible for these antibacterial effects. Additionally, Manuka honey has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits. In vitro research has been done regarding the effect of Manuka honey and its key ingredient, methylglyoxal, on Influenza A and Influenza B virus strains.
- Bee Pollen: Unlike honey, bee pollen is a product of bees that’s still widely misunderstood. But this nutrient-dense powerhouse supplement is packed with vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, protein, and fats, and it’s a great dietary addition for both humans and their canine companions. It has one of the most complete nutritional profiles in the world, made up of 35% protein and 50% carbohydrates. It’s also high in chromium, cobalt, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, iron, folic acid, and much more!
Some key reasons to add bee pollen include:
- It protects and promotes a healthy liver and assists in the healing process for a compromised liver. This makes it a good option for dogs who need to detox.
- It improves muscle mass.
- It boosts metabolism.
- The quercetin in bee pollen helps reduce allergy symptoms and allergic reactions.
- It’s anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral.
- It Improves blood flow to the nervous system, helping to relieve stress and anxiety.
- It contains trans-cinnamic acid, which is a natural antibiotic.
- It supports and can improve digestion via anti-microbial properties that rid the GI tract of invading pathogens.
3. Chaga Mushrooms: By promoting the formation of beneficial cytokines—specialized proteins that regulate the immune system—Chaga mushrooms stimulate white blood cells, essential for fighting harmful bacteria or viruses . As a result, this mushroom helps fight infections, from minor colds to serious illnesses. Animal and test-tube studies suggest that Chaga extract positively impacts immunity by reducing long-term inflammation and fighting harmful bacteria and viruses.
4. Turkey Tail Mushrooms: Best known for cancer-fighting, healing after an injury, Regulating blood pressure, reproductive health, kidney, and urinary health, supporting the immune system, promoting healthy normal cell growth, and healthy inflammation response.
5. Reishi Mushrooms: Known to support anxiety and stress, the immune system, a healthy histamine response, the body’s ability to cope with oxidative stress, healthy liver function, healthy cardiac function, the ability to grow healthy cells, and healthy inflammation response.
6. Shiitake Mushrooms: Known to support healthy digestive function, regulate blood pressure, liver health, the immune system, normal cell growth, and healthy inflammation response.
7. Maitake Mushrooms: Known to support healthy sugar metabolism, regulate blood pressure, the female reproductive system, immune function, normal cell growth, and healthy inflammation response.
8. Artist’s Conk Mushrooms: Known to support the immune system, respiratory strength, healthy skin, a reduction in the exposure to harmful microbes and viruses, the body’s response to pain, sugar metabolism, healthy mucus production and elimination, normal cell growth, and healthy inflammation response.
9. Red-Belted Conk Mushrooms: Known to support self-healing, healthy histamine response, digestive function, healthy inflammation in the gut, immune system, normal cell growth, and healthy inflammation response.
10. Homeopathic Remedies:
a. Aconitum napellus: Use this at the first sign of any cold or flu-like symptoms.
b. Antimonium tartaricum: Use this when you hear rattling in the bronchial tube because mucus is present, but no expectoration.
c. Argentum nitricum: Use this when there is throat inflammation, the dog is chilly, or has IBS, anxiety, or conjunctivitis.
d. Belladonna: Use this for fever, dry cough, and oppressed respiration.
e. Drosera: Use this if the cough is deep, hoarse, and produces yellow expectoration.
f. Hepar Sulph: Use this for a runny nose, thick, offensive discharge, rattling, cough, and low immunity.
g. Hydrastis canadensis: Use this for thick, yellowish, ropy secretions.
h. Ipecacuanha: Use this for continued sneezing, coryza, cough, and vomiting.
i. Kalium bichromicum: Use this for a red tongue, plugged sinuses, and cough.
j. Mercurius solubilis: Use this for sneezing, green discharge, mouth smells, cough, and weakness.
k. Phosphorus: Use this for restlessness, congestion of the lungs, and pneumonia.
l. Spongia tosta: Use this for wheezing, asthmatic cough, and runny or stuffed-up nose.
11. Chinese Herbs: Both in vitro and in vivo studies confirm that some Chinese herbal medicines have a strong action against viral infections. Yin Qiao San, a classical herbal formula developed in the 17th century during the Qing Dynasty, fights against infectious respiratory diseases, including influenza. The effects of Yin Qiao San include inhibition of viral replication, clearing Wind-Heat, relieving the Exterior, and detoxifying. Western Medical indications prevent and treat respiratory conditions, including influenza, acute laryngopharyngitis, acute bronchitis, pneumonitis, and bacterial pneumonia.
In conclusion, the best defense is a good offense.
While your dog is healthy, take steps to bolster the diet, and choose preventive supplements to power up the immune system. All of this proactive thinking will pay off because your dog will stay healthy and strong, no matter what this mystery illness turns out to be. Note: If you have never worked with herbs, homeopathy, and mushrooms, you can use pre-made tinctures or contact an herbalist, nutritionist, or holistic veterinarian for help. This list will help you ask the right questions, better understand what natural resources exist, and empower you to think about something other than a reactive approach to dog health. You’ve got this!
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