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6 ways to boost your pet's immune system and avoid the dangerous dog flu

Julie Sprankles is a freelance writer living in the storied city of Charleston, SC. When she isn't slinging sass for SheKnows, she enjoys watching campy SyFy creature features (Pirahnaconda, anyone?), trolling the internet for dance work...

Terrified your pup will catch the dreaded dog flu? Try these pro tips for boosting your pet's immunity

We all dread when flu season rolls around because it's obviously no fun to be that sick — not to mention the serious danger getting the flu can pose to your health. But while you're doing everything you can to avoid it, well, like the plague, you may not realize you should also be worried on your pup's behalf.

No, your dog isn't in danger of catching the same flu you might come down with. However, your beloved pup could be susceptible to the very real risk of canine influenza. Or, as it is better known, the dog flu.

There are two types of influenza viruses that afflict dogs — an H3N8 virus and an H3N2 virus — and both can lead to serious illness and even death. So what can you do? Are there precautions you can take for your dog like you take for yourself when trying to flee the flu?

More: Dogs may play a key role in a cancer patient's recovery

In a word, yes. Let's explore some of the ways pet experts recommend boosting your pet's immunity and protecting them from dangerous illnesses.

1. Ask your pet's vet about getting vaccinated

For starters, there is an approved vaccine to protect dogs against at least the H3N8 influenza virus. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a large part of curbing and treating the dog flu is helping your dog mount an immune response.

2. Antioxidants

So to speak, a good defense is the best offense. And the best defense is pet antioxidants, says integrative veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Ohio. "For the last 10 years, the word antioxidant has become part of our vernacular. Pet antioxidants are widely recognized as one of the most important weapons in the battle against pet disease," Osborne told SheKnows.

She went on to explain, "All the physiological processes in pets and people require oxygen, which provides us with energy. Unfortunately the byproducts of burning oxygen, which are similar to the sparks given off by a fire, are also produced in your pet’s body. These little sparks are commonly known as free radicals and are the major cause of aging and degenerative disease in both people and pets. Pet antioxidants counteract the damaging effects of these everyday physiological processes in your pet’s body by combating these free radicals."

More: Some dog owners believe their dogs need a low-fat diet, but is it healthy?

Basically, pet antioxidants keep your pet's immune system on its A-game at all times. These antioxidants can come in the form of supplements — such as glucosamine and MSM, which are particularly helpful in healing from musculoskeletal injuries — as well as through the diet, which leads us to the next pro tip...

3. Proper feeding

Osborne specifically recommends feeding a fresh, natural diet at least twice daily. There are numerous health benefits in doing so, including easy supplementation of antioxidants. "It's also important to increase protein, fish oils, seeds, nuts, herbs, fruits and vegetables in your pet’s diet and to limit sugar intake. Feeding nutritious pet foods can reduce the overall risk of heart, kidney and liver disease, as well as diabetes, arthritis, cataracts, allergies and a range of other age-related pet diseases experienced by dogs and cats," Osborne said.

Other antioxidant-rich foods recommended by Osborne (for pets and people!) include small red beans, blueberries, red kidney beans, pinto beans, cranberries, blackberries, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, red delicious apples, Granny Smith apples, pecans, black plums, cooked russet potatoes, dried black beans, plums, gala apples, cabbage, broccoli, wheat and barley grasses.

4. Daily exercise

Not only does daily exercise make for a happy dog, but it also makes for a healthier dog. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of the dogs and cats in America are overweight or obese. Carrying this extra weight puts pets at an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease and several other potentially deadly health issues. Daily exercise, underscores Osborne, helps maintain a healthy body weight and a healthy immune system.

5. Go easy on your pet's immune system

In other words, try to avoid stressing your dog out whenever you can, especially during your pet's developmental years. "Avoid spaying and neutering," advised Osborne. "Wait until your dog is at least over one year of age, preferably two... avoid over vaccination — antibody titers are legally accepted in many states for the core vaccines: distemper/hepatitis and parvovirus, as well as rabies."

6. Pay attention to any changes in your pet

Shrugging off changes in your pet's behavior or health could be detrimental. For example, when trying to avoid the dog flu, assuming a sneeze or cough could be a little cold could open the door to your dog getting sicker. "Canine influenza usually starts out with coughing or gagging that may last as long as three weeks," said Osborne. "Infected dogs can develop a fever as high as 103 to 107 degrees. In the acute and severe form, a viral pneumonia develops that can cause bleeding in the lungs."

More: Are cat sneezes normal — or cause for concern?

Of course, at any potential sign or symptom of illness, you should consult your vet. Osborne recommends visiting your vet annually, although she notes that biannual vet visits are best for senior pets age 7 and over.

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