These days, the term ‘autoimmune disease’ is of serious concern to the veterinary community and dog breeders. Diseases caused by a defective immune system are also of particular concern to many purebred fanciers.
The immune system is characterized by a spectacular defense set-up comprising white blood cells, antibodies and other substances used to fight off infections and reject foreign proteins.
The system is premeditated to differentiate between ‘self’ and ‘non-self’ cells by markers found on the surface of every cell in the body. It is due to this capability that the body rejects skin grafts, blood transfusions and organ transplants.
Autoimmune disease is a type of immune system failure. In this medical condition, the immune system loses its potential to identify the ‘self’ marker, as a result of which it begins to attack and reject the body’s own tissue as foreign. During this disease, the red blood cells may be specifically affected or it may lead to a generalized illness such as systemic lupus. There are many theories that explain the cause of this disease. Some theories highlight that multivalent modified-live vaccines over stimulate the immune system. Others blame environmental pollutants or food preservatives such as ethoxyquin, an antioxidant found in most dog foods. There is also strong evidence for a genetic factor in the development of autoimmune disease in many species. Some cases occur spontaneously, causing damage to kidneys, lungs or thyroid gland.
The physical implications of this disorder may lead to extreme illness or even death. Also, most treatments of this disease require the administration of very high doses of corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs to lower the immune response. Steroids in turn, suppress a bitch's heat cycle, sometimes rendering her incapable of breeding. In case of pregnancy, the daily medications lead to problems such as cleft palates and malformed limbs in puppies and premature labor or spontaneous abortions. Due to the strong suspected hereditary link of these diseases and the potential risks to the bitch and the litter, breeding of dogs diagnosed with any immune disease should be avoided. In fact, many veterinarians also suggest that one should also avoid breeding two dogs having close relatives with autoimmune disease.
The proper working of the immune system is important for a dog’s health. The immune system indefatigably protects the body from parasites, bacterial, fungal, or virus-infected cells. Boosting a dog’s immune system will help its body overwhelm bacteria, destroy toxins or kill viruses. Infected cells produce interferon and other cytokines, which can signal contiguous uninfected cells to intensify their defenses, enabling them to damage invaders. In a weak immune system, bacteria, viruses, microorganisms and toxins can pass the immune defending cells and generate disorders. A lowered immune system function in dogs results in acute or chronic fungi, yeast infections, eczema, food allergy, arthritis, ear infection, slowly healing wounds or fertility disorders.
Nutrient deficiency is an eminent cause of immune system deficiency in dogs. Therefore, in order to keep dogs away from immune deficiencies, their food must incorporate balanced levels of trace elements, minerals and vitamins that are known to enhance the immune system of dogs in order to fight any invading bacteria and viruses.
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