How To Increase IgA Levels In Dogs For Better Gut Health

How To Increase IgA Levels In Dogs For Better Gut Health

Have you ever wondered why more than 80% of the immune system is in the gut? This is because the gut lining is one of the common areas where viruses and bacteria can get inside your dog.

Because the gut is exposed to toxins and invaders, the gut lining houses millions of IgA antibodies. Their job is an important one: they're your dog's front line defense against harmful viruses and toxins.

Let's take a look at why IgA antibodies are critical to your dog's health and what happens when he doesn't produce enough of them.

What Are IgA Antibodies?

White blood cells are a core part of the immune system. Specialized white blood cells called B cells (or B lymphocytes) produce antibodies called immunoglobulins. These include IgG, IgM, IgE and IgA antibodies. These antibodies are unique to different foreign invaders and are typically produced when your dog is exposed.

The antibody's job is to "flag" foreign invaders. Then other immune cells like phagocytes can disable and kill the viruses and other invaders, then clean the debris up.

When antibodies flag foreign invaders, they typically cause inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response used to transport other immune cells to the area so they can do their job.

​But IgA (Immunoglobulin A) antibodies work a bit differently. Unlike other antibodies that float around the body, IgA antibodies live only in the mucous membranes. These line your dog's mouth, nose, eyelids, lungs ... and his digestive tract. In fact, the digestive tract houses 80% of the body’s B cells that make IgA antibodies.

What Do IgA Antibodies Do?

The primary job of IgA is to protect the lining of mucosal surfaces from pathogens (1). IgA antibodies can cross the intestinal wall without being damaged by the acids and enzymes in the digestive tract. And once they’re in the digestive tract, they can coat any pathogens and prevent them from attaching to the intestinal cells.

This is important because if pathogenic bacteria or viruses attach to the cells lining the digestive tract, they'll damage the cells and cause inflammation. You'll know when this happens because it's a major cause of diarrhea.

Gut inflammation of any kind is a threat to your dog's health. If your dog has constant diarrhea, he'll have difficulty staying hydrated and getting enough nutrition from his food. This is also what makes the IgA antibody unique.

Whereas other antibodies create inflammation, it's very important that the immune response in the gut doesn't. With the sheer volume of foreign proteins and toxins that pass through the digestive tract, your dog would be constantly suffering from diarrhea. So IgA antibodies are a passive antibody. They just flag foreign invaders and herd them together so they can be exited out the back door.

IgA is constantly renewing and creating more mucus to continue to track pathogens. And just because there are invading pathogens, you’d expect IgA to trigger an inflammatory response. But it doesn’t. And B and T immune cells (lymphocytes) in the intestines don’t respond like they would to a bite or wound either. Instead, they are always on site, traveling along the intestines in the lamina propria layer of the mucosal lining. They're ready to respond to invaders along with IgA. And this first line of defense is key to preventing inflammation. 

What Is IgA Deficiency?

An IgA deficiency is the body’s failure to produce IgA antibodies. This deficiency can be congenital (present at birth) or acquired.

Beagles, German Shepherds, and Chinese Shar-Peis are breeds that have shown congenital deficiencies of IgA. A 2014 Swedish study also found other breeds with a tendency to low IgA concentrations:. These were Norwegian Elkhounds, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Bull Terriers, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers (2).

An antibody deficiency can happen due to any disease that disrupts the production of antibodies in the body. Tumors like lymphosarcoma and plasma cell myeloma cause increased abnormal antibodies, and lower production of normal antibodies. Viral infections like canine distemper and parvovirus can damage the tissues that produce antibody-forming cells.

There are also puppies that can have a transient antibody deficiency. This puts them at increased risk for respiratory infections in their first 6 months. But these dogs usually improve by the time they are 8 months old.

As a dog ages, reduced antibody production can lead to a deficiency. And puppies who don’t receive adequate antibodies from their mothers may have IgA deficiency. . 

How Puppies Get Maternal Antibodies
Young animals like puppies have immature immune systems. IgA antibodies are a form of passive immunity for young animals. IgA is secreted into mother’s milk, and it’s an important component of the colostrum a puppy gets from the milk. During lactation those B immune cells, discussed earlier, migrate to the breasts to start making IgA antibodies. Then IgA goes to work coating the puppy’s intestinal mucosa to protect them from pathogens.

What Are The Signs Of IgA Deficiency?

IgA deficiency results in a compromised immune system. Dogs with IgA deficiency are prone to chronic or recurring infections, allergies and immune-mediated diseases.

Allergies are often blamed when a dog is itchy or has frequent infections. But it could be a sign that your dog has an IgA deficiency and a weakened immune system. Infections would be especially common in areas where there are mucous membranes.

Here are some signs of IgA deficiency ...

  • Sinus infections, nasal discharge
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Chronic skin infections
  • Chronic respiratory infections
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Recurring urinary tract infections
  • Allergies, atopic dermatitis
  • Intestinal infections, diarrhea
  • Autoimmune diseases like thrombocytopenia, autoimmune hemolytic anemia or lupus

How Do I Treat My Dog's IgA Deficiency?

There are several things you can do to improve your dog’s immune health and his IgA levels. They include lifestyle changes to reduce stress along with adding some immunity-supporting supplements. 

Feed Colostrum 
Colostrum is a good source of IgA antibodies. It’s available as a powdered supplement for dogs of any age for immunity support. Be sure to obtain one that was sourced humanely.

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Add Probiotics To Increase IgA Levels In Dogs
Gut bacteria have been found to improve IgA production. So adding probiotics boosts the beneficial bacteria in your dog’s microbiome and strengthens his gut health. One study found that mice raised in sanitary conditions had reduced levels of IgA (3). But when probiotics and beneficial bacteria were added, they increased IgA production and improved gut function (4). 

And another study on athletes showed those who added a probiotic before training had increased IgA levels over the placebo group (5). 

Include Prebiotics 
Prebiotics feed probiotics to support a healthy microbiome. Prebiotics led to an increase in salivary IgA in rats as shown in a 2016 study (6). 

Fast Your Dog
Studies have found that intermittent fasting improved IgA levels in mice. Another study showed that after a 14-day fast, obese subjects had increased IgA levels.

Ensure Sufficient Vitamin A
Vitamin A is required so IgA can be transported and released across the mucosa as needed. When vitamin A is deficient, IgA levels are lower in the gut where they're needed … even though blood IgA levels are normal. Liver is rich in natural vitamin A, so be sure to include liver in your dog's diet.

Add Mushrooms
A study found that subjects eating white button mushrooms increased IgA. But it’s also been found that Reishi mushrooms can increase the IgA in mice (7).

Reduce Stress 
Chronic stress lowers IgA levels. Have you ever had long-term stress at work, worried about finances, moving, the kids or dogs? And do you seem to get sick during these stressful times? That’s because stress weakens your immune response. Even breast milk has tested lower in IgA when the mother was depressed, angry, tired or anxious. 

Now think about your dog's point of view. He doesn’t understand being left alone ... or moving to a new home. Or adjusting to a new dog or a new baby ... or going on a long road trip. These are stressors and can lower his immune response to infection.

Manage your dog's stress by including one-on-one time with him, add extra walks and treats ... or arrange play dates with other dogs. 

Add Exercise To Increase IgA Levels
Your dog needs regular exercise. By keeping your dog active you’ll be increasing his IgA levels as well as keeping him healthy and happy. But don’t go overboard. Prolonged, high intensity exercise can lower IG levels.

IgA deficiency is rare in dogs. It's thought to be genetic but it's not known how it's passed on. Usually an IgA deficiency in dogs indicates a weakened immune system. But the opposite could happen. Your dog might have higher levels of IgA than usual. 

Can Your Dog Have Too Much IgA?

Dogs can have too much IgA ... but you won’t notice any specific symptoms. That’s because high levels don't cause problems ... but they can be a sign of a problem. High IgA levels are a response to an existing problem that triggers increased IgA production. That can happen when there’s an infection that causes increased secretions of IgA to attack and remove pathogens.

A blood test may show high levels, possibly from chronic inflammation or an infection. Your vet can help you find the cause. Some causes could be obesity, allergies, liver damage, heart disease, IBD or autoimmune disease.

Keeping your dog’s immune system strong is the best thing you can do to ensure his ongoing health and happiness. 


1. Woof JM, Kerr MA. The function of immunoglobulin A in immunity. J Pathol. 2006 Jan;208(2):270-82.

2. Olsson M, et al. The dog as a genetic model for immunoglobulin A (IgA) deficiency: identification of several breeds with low serum IgA concentrations. Vet Immunol Immunopathol. 2014 Aug 15.

3. Karaffová V, et al. Influence of Lactobacillus reuteri L26 Biocenol™ on immune response against porcine circovirus type 2 infection in germ-free mice. Benef Microbes. 2017 May 30;8(3):367-378. 

4. Mudroňová D, et al. Systemic immune response of gnotobiotic mice infected with porcine circovirus type 2 after administration of Lactobacillus reuteri L26 Biocenol™. Benef Microbes. 2018 Dec 7;9(6):951-961. 

5. Michalickova DM, et al. Lactobacillus helveticus Lafti L10 Supplementation Modulates Mucosal and Humoral Immunity in Elite Athletes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Jan;31(1):62-70. 

6. Yamamoto Y, et al. The Salivary IgA Flow Rate Is Increased by High Concentrations of Short-Chain Fatty Acids in the Cecum of Rats Ingesting Fructooligosaccharides. Nutrients. 2016 Aug 17;8(8):500. 

7. Jeong SC, et al. Dietary intake of Agaricus bisporus white button mushroom accelerates salivary immunoglobulin A secretion in healthy volunteers. Nutrition. 2012 May;28(5):527-31. 




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