Inflammation has a bad reputation … but it’s a vital part of your dog’s immune system. The problem is when it becomes a chronic reaction to ongoing stressors or irritants in your dog. It's important to manage these issues so that inflammation can fulfill its real purpose.
Let’s take a look at healthy inflammation compared to chronic inflammation in dogs.
Inflammation In Dogs
Inflammation is an important part of your dog’s healthy immune response. A healthy immune system triggers inflammation as the first reaction to tissue damage, irritation, infection or exposure to a toxin.
Inflammation helps the body …
- Fight infections
- Repair wounds
- Restore damaged tissue
There are several phases involved.
- It starts with vasoconstriction, a healthy inflammatory response. This reduces blood flow into the damaged area to minimize blood loss.
- Vasodilation follows, letting extra blood flow into the damaged tissues. Walls of the blood vessels become permeable to allow fluid and cells from the bloodstream to shift into the area.
- Immune cells from within white blood cells move into the area to attack any disease … and begin healing. These various white blood cells engulf any bacteria or virus and trigger the production of antibodies.
- This is the acute phase when antibodies release a range of chemicals to continue the healing process. More white blood cells arrive to clean up toxins and debris from damaged or dead tissue. This is the stage where you’ll notice heat, reddening, swelling and pain in the damaged area.
- Now the swelling and pain will settle down. Cells called fibroblasts are released to repair the damage. The result is an increase in connective tissue, and a scar may form. If there’s an infection, the response will begin where the bacteria or virus first entered the body. It becomes more generalized if the disease spreads further through the body.
If the healing fails to begin or make progress, or the pattern continues to repeat, inflammation can become a chronic long-term condition. And chronic inflammation is a problem for your dog.
What Is Chronic Inflammation In Dogs?
There are 2 ways chronic inflammation can happen …
- A long-term low-grade inflammatory process in localized areas or organs of the body, such as arthritis.
- Generalized inflammation, affecting many areas or organs. The immune response starts reacting to things when it shouldn’t. Autoimmune disease is a classic example of this.
Chronic inflammation can cause:
- Tissue damage and rashes
- Chronic pain
- Redness, swelling, itchiness
- Organ damage
- Several symptoms or diseases at once
Unlike healthy inflammation that ends when the wound or illness heals, chronic inflammation is ongoing. The most common complaint is itchy dogs.
Chronic inflammation has been linked to most chronic health problems in dogs. The list of these inflammatory diseases includes:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Kidney failure
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune disease
Causes Of Chronic Inflammation In Dogs
Here are triggers that can set off chronic inflammation:
A Disease With Infection
Infection with any disease can cause your dog’s system to tip into chronic inflammation. This is more likely to happen with diseases like tick-borne diseases. They can trigger inflammatory cascades in the body to hide from the immune system.
When multiple diseases are injected into the body at once they can cause severe immune system dysregulation. The body would naturally meet only one disease at a time through the mouth, nose, or eyes. When the disease is injected through a needle it bypasses the natural immune system.
Chemical flea and tick preventives often produce chronic inflammation in dogs.
Treatment with prescription drugs can destroy gut flora. Prescription drugs, and especially antibiotics, destroy your dog’s natural gut flora that control bad bacteria. This sets off chronic inflammation.
Kibble is a processed, dead food … and it’s inflammatory. The foods are processed at very high temperatures, and contain high levels of carbohydrates … and both are a recipe for inflammation. Over the long term, inflammation continues to build. It could take months or years … and then you wonder why you have an itchy dog “all of a sudden.”
Pesticides and herbicides such as glyphosate, petrochemical pollution, chemicals and artificial fragrances … they’re inflammatory and disruptive to your dog’s immune system.
All of today’s digital technology … mobile phones, network towers, wi-fi routers and other devices … emit radiation that can cause low-grade inflammation. Turning off your wi-fi and devices at night or when you’re out is one way to lower this exposure for your dog.
Too Much Time Indoors
A lack of sunlight leads to inflammation. It’s why people in northern regions usually need vitamin D supplements in the winter when there’s less sun and they’re indoors most of the time.
Stress And Anxiety
Stress and anxiety lead to chronic issues. And your dog is sensitive to your stress and emotions too.
How To Manage Chronic Inflammation In Dogs
Here are ways you can prevent or control chronic inflammation in your dog.
Feed A Whole Food Diet
Your first priority should be feeding your dog a whole food, raw meat diet, preferably with organic foods and pasture-raised meat and poultry.
Minimize inflammatory foods like …
- Nightshade vegetables including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers
- Carbohydrates, and preferably feed no grains at all
- Starchy veggies like pumpkin and sweet potato
Feed Anti-inflammatory Foods
Anti-inflammatory foods are filled with natural phytochemicals and antioxidants. Add these to your dog’s diet:
- Berries such as blueberries, blackberries and cranberries. They have anthocyanidins, which have antioxidant, cardioprotective, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.
- Cruciferous vegetables to include are broccoli, bok choy, cabbage,cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. Broccoli has high levels of sulforaphane, which inhibits cancer cells, and a high content of the antioxidant vitamin C.
- Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and collard greens are high in the antioxidants vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
- Edible mushrooms like portobello, shiitake, enoki and oyster have lots of selenium, a powerful antioxidant.
- Fruits like kiwi, mango, pineapple, apples, cherries and melons are all high in vitamin C, some much higher than citrus fruits. But they’re high in sugar so use moderation.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame, chia, pumpkin and Brazil nuts are huge sources of vitamin E and selenium. But use moderation because of the fat content, which is especially high in Brazil nuts.
- Eggs are a good source of vitamin E as well as selenium, lutein and zeaxanthin, along with vitamin D, K, B6, calcium and zinc. Eggs should come from pasture-raised hens that produce more antioxidants.
- Fresh beef, pork and poultry from pastured animals that provide selenium and phytonutrients from the grasses they eat.
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Support Gut Health
You can support a healthy gut with prebiotics and probiotics … and it will help dogs with gut inflammation issues. Fasting your dog also gives his gut a rest and time to heal. And giving bone broth provides a wide range of nutrients to heal his gut over time.
There are also some cases when a fecal transplant can help severe gut inflammation. And CBD oil has been helpful in severe cases of inflammatory bowel disease (more about CBD in a moment).
Don’t over-vaccinate your dog. Most vaccines given during puppyhood protect your dog for life, so he doesn’t need to be revaccinated every year or 3 years. Vaccines can sensitize your dog’s immune system and lead to chronic inflammation and disease.
You want to ensure you’ve found natural and trusted sources of supplements like probiotics, essential fatty acids and vitamins and minerals. Vitamins C, E and A can help reduce or heal chronic inflammation in dogs. But avoid synthetic versions as they aren’t well-absorbed and can actually be harmful over time.
Boost antioxidant-rich supplements like these …
- Green tea has the compound epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant (1) (it should be steeped overnight in cold water to avoid extracting caffeine)
- Colostrum has proline-rich polypeptides (PRPs) that regulate and balance immune response to help reduce inflammation.
- Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce inflammation. Use a non fish oil source if you can, because fish oil can be toxic, and is environmentally unsustainable.
Use CBD Oil
CBD is one of the best remedies to fight your dog’s chronic inflammation (2). It’s been shown to reduce chronic pain by affecting endocannabinoid receptor activity and neurotransmitters in the brain. And there’s also evidence from rodent studies that CBD may have positive effects on pain and inflammation related to arthritis (3).
Other Ways To Fight Chronic Inflammation
A dog with a severely dysregulated immune system may need more than diet and supplements.
- If your dog is in distress, you’ll need the help of a skilled holistic veterinarian or homeopath. You may need to explore a range of herbal or homeopathic solutions. If you can’t visit one in person, there are many who’ll do an online or telephone consultation. You can search these holistic directories: theavh.org or ahvma.org
- Acupuncture or acupressure are also options to consider.
- Never underestimate the value of fresh air and sunshine. Time away from technology is good for you and your dog!
- Remove chemical cleaning supplies and personal care products from your home … getting rid of anything with artificial fragrances will literally clear the air.
- And don’t forget to take care of yourself. Your mood and demeanor can stress your dog.
Your dog will always be subjected to toxic chemicals, irritants and stressors in his life that can lead to inflammation. That’s why he needs a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants to manage the effects of these irritants and fight off inflammation before it becomes a chronic problem.
1. Ohishi T, et al. Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea. Med Chem. 2016;15(2):74-90.
2. Darkovska-Serafimovska M, et al. Pharmacotherapeutic considerations for use of cannabinoids to relieve pain in patients with malignant diseases. J Pain Res. 2018 Apr 23;11:837-842.
3. Fitzcharles MA, et al. A cautious hope for cannabidiol (CBD) in rheumatology care. Arthritis Care Res. (Hoboken). 2020 Mar 7.