Health and wellbeing depend on the state of your cat’s immune system. Countless viruses and bacteria could wreak havoc on the well-being of your feline friend, making it necessary to find ways of supporting their immune systems. Not only is a cat with a weak immune system vulnerable to illness, but they also just lack vitality and quality of life.
Therefore, we have compiled a comprehensive list of ways you can support your cat's natural defenses to avoid the complications arising from a compromised immune system.
How To Boost Your Cat's Immune System
The good news is that a few changes to your cat's lifestyle will boost their immunity tremendously. Specifically, diet is the most important determining factor of how healthy the cat will be due to a fortified immune system.
On top of a good diet, other factors promote a healthy immune system, which we shall discuss shortly in the article. These include:
1. Feed A Species-Appropriate, Healthy Diet For Your Cat’s Immune System
Cats have very particular dietary needs that you must meet to ensure they remain in top-notch health. Firstly, felines are obligate carnivores meaning that they must eat meat to survive because they can’t process all the essential nutrients they need from plants.
A diet rich in quality animal protein is a species-appropriate diet for cats. An ideal diet would contain various organs and tissues from animals like turkey, chicken, beef, and fish. Cats utilize proteins for energy to fuel them through the day, and they’re highly digestible.
Compounds such as taurine, arginine, and niacin that are vital to your cat’s immune system simply are not available in plant proteins.
Some critics have denigrated a raw diet, but the less heat processing there is in your cat’s food, the less immuno-suppressing compounds there are such as aldehydes and acrolein.
Cats have short digestive systems that are effective in properly digesting meat. Additionally, the acidic environment in their stomachs eliminates most of the pathogens in the raw meat.
If you have an older cat, you can read about the vitamins they need here.
2. Consider Adding Herbal Supplements For Your Cat’s Immune System
Herbal supplements are products derived from plants and their roots, oils, seeds, or flowers. They come in different forms like liquid extracts, powders, oils, tablets, and capsules. The healing properties of some herbs help to fight infections that would weaken your cat’s immune system.
You cannot overlook the importance of a well-balanced diet, but giving cats herbal supplements every once in a while gives the immune system that extra boost. Herbs such as cat thyme, valerian, echinacea, and catnip (which benefit your cat’s mental health) can help your cat fight off infections.
3. Avoid Overuse of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are essential for bacterial infections. However, it is a double-edged sword with antibiotics because once you overdo giving them to your cats, antibiotics will do more harm than good to your cat’s immune system.
One of the harmful effects of overusing antibiotics is the risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While this can be a naturally occurring phenomenon, frequent use of antibiotics when your cat doesn't need them accelerates the process. Disease caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria is costly and difficult to treat.
If an antibiotic isn't needed to treat an infection, it will inhibit the work that the immune system performs to attack infections. The gut microbiome refers to the bacteria and microbes found in your pet's digestive tracts ("good bacteria"), which promote a healthy digestive tract.In fact, about 70% of the immune system is gut health alone.
Antibiotics can't distinguish between "bad" bacteria that cause infection and the "good" bacteria that keep your cat Healthy. Gut problems like chronic diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation could result from excessive destruction of "good" bacteria.
4. Minimize Stress For Your Cat’s Immune System
Stress encourages the release of the hormone cortisol when your cat is under constant pressure. Cortisol suppresses the effectiveness of your cat's immunity by reducing the number of lymphocytes in the blood and interfering with the usual communication of white blood cells.
Stimulation of the areas of the feline brain that deal with feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety could alter cell-mediated immunity (an immune response that doesn't involve antibodies), thereby compromising the cat’s immune system.
Cats could also mirror their owner's emotional states and what that simply means is that your stress can make your cat sick! So try to create a happy environment for your cat for optimum functioning of their immune system.
5. Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Your Cat Food (EPA & DHA)
Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) are beneficial in preventing the onset of inflammatory diseases such as allergies, arthritis, heart disease, and kidney disease. This capacity to stop inflammation hails from the resolvins formed by these long-chain acids. EPA & DHA are the most bioavailable forms of omega-3s found mostly in marine oils like fish oil. .
Adding a small amount of fish oil to cats' foods has been shown to minimize the risk of the heart developing an irregular heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation) and acts as an anticoagulant preventing the formation of blood clots in cats with heart disease. For cats with failing kidneys, omega-3 fatty acids help minimize the pro-inflammatory compounds that damage the kidneys.
This family of polyunsaturated fatty acids can regulate cell membrane activities. They also play a role in cells' activation from both the adaptive and the innate immune systems. Activated cells work better in immune responses to diseases and infection.
6. Add Omega-6 Fatty Acids to Your Cat's Diet
A deficiency of omega-6 fatty acid in your cat will inevitably lead to a depressed immune system. Omega-6 acids, preferably in the ratio of 5:1 (Omega-6 to omega-3), are an important hedge against immunosuppression. The right ratio ensures a prolonged inflammatory response doesn't occur that could lead to tissue damage or even autoimmune disease.
Sources of omega-6 include chicken fat and vegetable oil such as canola oil. Omega-6 acid promotes cytokine production and mediates normal cellular processes. The cytokines are used in the immune system to regulate the body's response to disease and infection
7. L-Lysine & Arginine
A cat presenting sneezing and wheezing is a nightmare for cat owners. Felines are vulnerable to upper respiratory infections that share symptoms with Feline Herpes Virus (FHV-1).
Veterinarians often prescribe and recommend L-lysine as part of the treatment regime for this feline herpes. However, lysine can interfere with the arginine levels in cats and inhibits the replication of the FHV-1 virus because both amino acids (lysine and arginine) compete for absorption into the body.
Both lysine and arginine are critical for your cat’s immune system. Arginine deficient cats could even die of hyperammonemia since arginine expels ammonia from the blood. Therefore, look for a cat food that adds both amino acids to the food.
Taurine deficiencies in cats suppress the immune system because taurine has antioxidant properties that protect tissues from oxidative stress. This cytoprotective effect of taurine promotes proper cell function, especially with an elevated level of inflammatory cells.
Taurine deficient cats are susceptible to health conditions like feline central retinal degeneration (FCRD), where retinal cells of the eyes degenerate resulting in gradual loss of vision. Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM) is another health complication of inadequate taurine.
Glutamine is a preferred energy source for cells lining the digestive tract, especially for ailing cats. This amino acid could be beneficial in treating intestinal damage or inflammation. Cats have no dietary requirements for glutamine because they can synthesize it themselves but some of them have issues with its absorption.
Ailing cats with Feline Parvovirus and chronic bowel disorders could have lower glutamine levels. Consult your vet before adding glutamine to your cat’s diet to ensure that it’s safe. In cats with seizures, severe liver disease, and severe behavior disorders, you should use glutamine cautiously. However, you can supplement a cat’s glutamine levels naturally with plenty of fish and chicken in their diet.
10. Vitamin E & C For A Cat’s Immune System
Both vitamin E and C are powerful antioxidants. They assist the antioxidant defense system of the immune system by slowing down damage to cells by free radicals. These are naturally-occurring compounds found in the body that become harmful in excess.
Cats with compromised immune systems such as those battling disease or senior cats benefit from these acids. Recent studies have shown that Vitamin E is effective in reducing prostaglandins that could lead to higher incidences of conditions like arthritis.
11. Zinc & Selenium For A Cat’s Immune System
Zinc is essential in every aspect of cat immunity. It helps the cells lining the organs to keep pathogens away as it's involved in making physical barriers. It also ensures the proper functioning of macrophages which are vital white blood cells involved in eliminating pathogens.
Selenium is a mineral found in animal-based proteins such as fish and meat. It aids your cat in producing antioxidants that will help fight off free radicals that cause disease and suppress the immune system. Vitamin E and selenium also form powerful antioxidant compounds in the body that support a cat’s immune system.
12. Keep a Healthy House
A clean house means fewer pathogens present for your cat's immune system to fight off. A clean and healthy environment exposes your cat to fewer bacteria and viruses. These harmful microbes could attack their immune systems and eventually lead to illnesses.
13. Encourage Your Cat to Exercise
Frequent physical activity promotes the overall health of your cat and supports the immune system in the process. A sedentary lifestyle could lead to health complications such as heart diseases, high cholesterol, and early onset of diabetes, leading to compromised immunity.
The body releases pro-and anti-inflammatory cytokines during and after physical activity. Similarly, the circulation of lymphocytes involved in immune processes increases during exercise and higher cell recruitment. These factors promote better immune responses in case of an infection leading to a healthier cat.
If your cat is overweight, you can see our article here.
14. Your Cat Only Clean Water
Dirty water contains high levels of harmful microbes, and cats will fall sick if they drink it continually. Cats have a low thirst drive which reduces the likelihood of drinking dirty water which likely has an odor.
Cats that fail to drink adequate water will suffer from chronic dehydration, leading to bowel issues and urinary tract infections. Ensuring that clean water is always available for your cat to drink will encourage them to hydrate.
Increasing the time your cat spends playing has many health benefits. It lowers stress, which positively affects your cat’s immunity because the mind is at ease. Playtime ensures that your cat meets the daily exercise requirements, keeping them at a healthy weight.
Cats that play outside must be fully vaccinated and neutered or spayed because they will come into contact with strays and other sick cats. This exposure poses health risks such as contracting viral infections like Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
Best Immune Supplements For Your Cat
Some cats will do well with a boost in their immune systems. Senior cats and ailing cats have frail immune systems and will benefit from immune supplements. Some cats may have absorption problems, causing vitamin deficiencies even if they eat a complete diet.
A healthy cat may not need to take immune supplements because their immunity is strong enough. Unless the vet allows extra supplementation of various nutrients, the additional vitamins and minerals may strain the body as it filters them out. Adding too many vitamins through supplements will lead to oversupply causing issues like Vitamin A/D toxicosis.
A quality multivitamin can make up for nutrients lacking in your cat. Taurine supplements are especially beneficial to the health of your cat’s heart and eyes. Glutamine and lysine supplements boost the immune system by promoting healthy immune cell function.
A nutritionally complete diet is crucial in maintaining a robust immune system in your cat. A cat lacking some nutrients is vulnerable to diseases because the immune system isn’t functioning optimally. Cats get most of their nutrients from quality animal proteins like turkey.
Lifestyle changes such as more exercise and a cleaner house also support your cat’s immune system. Some cats have difficulties absorbing nutrients from their diets resulting in nutrient deficiencies that necessitate supplements.
Old and ailing cats have compromised immune systems that need special care to maintain normal functioning. If the vet recommends, these cats will benefit from an addition of supplements such as multivitamins that function as immune boosters.