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Immune Deficiency in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Like humans, dogs have a natural defense against infection called the immune system. The immune system works to identify potentially harmful “intruders” in the body—bacteria, viruses, fungi, allergens, and parasites—and fights them off. 

If the immune system is not working effectively, though, then the body is unable to fight off illnesses and diseases. This is called an immune deficiency. 

Considering our pets’ eager, inhibited exploration of the world around them and constant exposure to germs and substances, that immune system is absolutely crucial. So, what happens if Fido has an immune deficiency?

What Causes Immune Deficiency? 

Immune deficiency can be separated into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary immune deficiencies are genetic or hereditary, while secondary immune deficiencies are caused by underlying health conditions. 

Specific causes include: 

  • Viruses 
  • Bacterial or fungal infections
  • Diseases, such as canine cancer
  • Genetics
  • Ear and eye conditions
  • Immunoglobin deficiency 
  • Phagocytic deficiency 
  • Allergies 

Some breeds are predisposed to immune deficiency disorders, while others may develop a weakened immune system in other ways. Basically, immune deficiencies can cause diseases, and diseases can cause immune deficiencies. It’s important to be aware of your dog’s genetic predisposition, and do what you can to boost his immune system as much as possible. 


Symptoms of Immune Deficiency

Symptoms of immune deficiency include: 

  • Recurring infections/prone to infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness/decreased energy
  • Appetite loss
  • Skin issues, such as sores, lesions, itchiness, and flakiness
  • Joint pain or mobility issues
  • Anemia
  • Seizures

You know your pooch best. If you notice any changes in his behavior or appearance, it’s never a bad idea to contact your vet. 

Treating Immune Deficiency

After you contact your vet about your dog’s symptoms, they may perform bloodwork to assess the quality of your dog’s immune cells. They may also do genetic testing, especially if your dog’s breed is predisposed to immune deficiency disorders. 

Specific treatment options vary depending on the type of immune deficiency. If your pup’s immune deficiency is the result of an underlying health condition, then treatment would also require diagnosing and treating the specific illness or disease accordingly. 

Unfortunately, there are currently no cures for genetic immune deficiency disorders. With that in mind, it’s especially important to minimize your dog’s risk of exposure to infections. Fortunately, there are still plenty of treatments available to help ease the symptoms, which may be prescribed by your vet.



There are also several simple ways to help strengthen your dog’s immune system:

  • Healthy diet. Your dog’s diet plays an essential role when it comes to immune health. A diet low on grains and starches and full of meat and vegetables will help to reduce inflammation and support a healthy microbiome. Talk to your vet before making any significant dietary changes.

  • Regular exercise. Daily walks and playtime boost immune health by burning fat, which leads to less inflammation, which prevents diseases. Sufficient exercise also improves your dog’s overall health by helping him maintain a healthy weight and even improve his mental health.

  • Proper hygiene. Keeping your canine clean is a crucial factor in boosting his immune health. While the immune system does naturally fight off bacteria and germs, washing your dog on a regular basis is still important. If you keep your pup clean,  the immune system is able to focus on the more threatening bacteria. If your dog is TOO clean, though, this can actually be counterproductive and weaken the immune system. Talk to your vet if you’re unsure about how to maintain a healthy hygiene balance.

  • Reduce stress. Stress isn’t just a mental health issue. If your dog is frequently stressed, his immune system can be compromised, resulting in additional health ailments. Exercise is a good way to release pent-up energy, which can sometimes turn into stress. It’s also a good idea to keep as much of a routine as possible—dogs like to be able to predict what’s coming next, whether it’s a nap, meal, or playtime. Crate training can also be an effective long-term solution for soothing a stressed out pooch.

  • Regular vet visits. Going to the vet isn’t an activity that’s limited to times when your furry friend is sick or injured. Regular check-ups give your vet a chance to check your dog’s immune system and any unnoticed health issues so you can start treating any issues sooner rather than later. The vet can also provide vaccines and other protection against viruses, bacteria, parasites, and germs that may otherwise harm a pup with an immune deficiency.

  • Supplements. PetHonesty’s Allergy + Immunity Booster 3-Pack supports your dog’s immune system, promotes joint health, and helps with seasonal allergies. The 3-pack contains: 
  1. Allergy Support Chews, which promote healthy inflammatory pathways and histamine responses. 
  2. PetHonesty’s 10-for-1 Multivitamin Chews, which supports overall wellness and immune system health. 
  3. Turmeric Joint Health Chews, which reduce inflammation and promote healthy joints and immune health.

Sources: 

https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/genetic/c_dg_primary_immunodeficiency_disorders
https://wagwalking.com/condition/immune-deficiency-diseases
https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-health/natural-ways-improve-your-dogs-immune-system
https://tractive.com/blog/en/health/simple-steps-to-boost-your-dogs-immune-system